Episode 574: Setup, Setup, Setup, Punchline… Chomp!

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).

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Jordan Stokes joins Mark Lee and Matthew Wrather to consider, “What even is a thing?” as they overthink John Carpenter’s seminal 1982 horror film, The Thing.

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  • The Thing
  • Jibblies from the Homestar Runner Wiki
  • Hoxter, J. (1996) “The Evil Dead, Die and Chase: From Slapstick to Splatshtick” (good luck finding it though)


7 Comments on “Episode 574: Setup, Setup, Setup, Punchline… Chomp!”

  1. John C Member #

    John Campbell’s original novella (minor correction) comes from 1938, and now looks like was edited down from a nearly-complete novel that Campbell never published (a Kickstarter recently did so), as part of that weird batch of pulp magazine (and related) writing that looks a lot like superhero comics but isn’t. Probably the biggest idea of the novella that didn’t (as I recall; it’s been a while) make it to the movie is the possibility that the Thing might replace a bird, slowly spread into reproducing across the bird’s entire flock, and potentially reform into a single being at the other end of a migratory path, and the obvious implications if it got at a significant human population.
    Unfortunately, as Jordan points out, the characters all think they’re the impartial narrator/class lecturer. Campbell was seriously into this sort of character, with Aarn Munro (super-genius engineer who grew up on Jupiter) possibly the biggest offender, with lines like “I’m going along. I’ll bet my neck on it, anyway. Physics is usually a safe bet,” and spouting lovingly detailed descriptions of nonsensical technology that would make Geordi LaForge roll his eyes.
    Also maybe interesting, given the political climate of 1938 and given that Campbell’s views on race were cartoonishly bad, rather than the Communism allegory of the movie(s), this dresses up anti-Semitic canards as an explicit monster. I mean, the Thing is literally an invading “globalist” (the bird flock) looking to “replace us.” Granted, the line between anti-communist garbage and anti-Semitic garbage has been a bit blurry since the ’20s, but Campbell doesn’t seem to ever care about economics, whereas Carpenter and an ’80s audience would.
    Carpenter took a great approach to adapting the story, though. It reads kind of well (though, today, could probably do with a strong editor), but there’s little to no action and the Thing has psychic abilities and potential access to a ship that only doesn’t work at the poles. Tearing the story down to the core and building a movie around that takes better advantage of the medium than, say, just having a bunch of actors all play slight variations of MacReady.
    Odd adjacent thought, though: In a hypothetical Thing Cinematic Universe where different aliens show up in other movies, what are the odds that those aliens have been replaced by Things? Heck, even in the movie, what are the odds that the Thing was the only Thing, rather than a bunch already spreading through the population for millions of years…?


    • Stokes #

      Campbell actually touches on that last possibility, just a bit! In the story, they’re the ones who dig up and defrost the alien, so they get to see it in its true form — but one of the guys is like, “well hang on, couldn’t it have just been disguising itself as one of the aliens that were flying the ship?”


      • John C Member #

        Ooh, I forgot all about that! I admittedly get a kick out of the idea of a space opera universe where everybody is actually just a forgotten appendage of the same creature, including our heroes.


  2. Mike #

    ‘The Thing, it’s about homosexuals, no wait cold war, no wait women, no wait transgenders.’
    Maybe The Thing was the friends we absorbed along the way.


    • John C Member #

      Nice (I’m being VERY generous) try, but apart from the deliberately dehumanizing language of the thought, you’re not going to find science-fiction (or, really, any art) that people care about, but isn’t a mirror held up to the issues the author perceived in their society.


  3. clayschuldt #

    One of my favorite pieces of trivia about this film is many say it bombed at the box office because of E.T. being released earlier the same month, which showed a more positive human/alien encounter. Also, Blade Runner came out the same exact weekend and was about people uncertain of who was really human. Film going audiences had a tough choice to make in June 1982.


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