And she was predictably impressed. Here are a few observations that came up for me, about the categorically rewatchable sci-fi/horror movie that keeps on giving. (Yeah, I know I sound overly preoccupied with this movie, and that’s weird, but I’m just really into movies. And John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is the same kind of classic for monster movie fans as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is for people who like Christmas movies.) [THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS.]
1) It was fun watching “The Thing” with someone who was seeing it for the first time. Not only did I have to stifle a chuckle at her cry of “That poor dog!” during the opening credits, but I also watched while she guessed (incorrectly, as most of us did) at which characters had been assimilated by the shape-shifting monster as the story progressed. (I noticed something ironic last night that I couldn’t mention. When MacReady delivers his short “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me” speech, all of the men he’s addressing are also still human … Unless I’m mistaken, Norris and Palmer are elsewhere.
Which brings me to what at first occurred to me as a … remotely possible plot hole in this otherwise perfect masterpiece. If The Thing truly wants to escape Antarctica and prey upon the rest of the world, it doesn’t need to assimilate (or “Thingify,” as I like to think) everyone in the camp. It only needs to overtake a single human. (This would be the silhouetted figure that the dog first approaches; my money’s on Norris.) Think about it … nobody stationed at Outpost 31 remains at the research station indefinitely. They’d cycle out at the end of a shift of … six months? Eight months? Longer? (And what about vacations and holidays?) Sooner or later, they’d fly home. And, having perfectly replicated a human’s anatomy, The Thing need only sustain itself until that departure by eating the same food the other humans were eating. Then, as soon as it arrived at any other, warmer location on earth, it could attack life in its abundance.
But this morning I realized that my analysis here is faulty. First, the humans were already getting wise to The Thing and its means of procreation — thanks to a pre-diabeetus Wilford Brimley wisely intoning, “That ain’t dog.” Maybe The Thing was smart enough to realize the humans could effectively quarantine it. Second, I am assuming in my criticism that “The Thing” is acting as a single entity. Yet it shouldn’t act that way at all; this is the entire point of MacReady’s “blood test.” While one incarnation of The Thing is safely munching on canned goods disguised as a human, a separate incarnation was sitting in storage, exposed — presumably only until the humans finally realized it needed to be destroyed somehow. That iteration of The Thing needed to attack and duplicate Redding if it wanted to save itself.
2) The Thing actually shouldn’t need to reach civilization in order to begin attacking all life on earth; it only needs to reach the Antarctic coast. If it enters the water and begins assimilating sea life (and why shouldn’t it be able to?), then it’s game over. I said last night that “a fish can travel wherever it wants,” which my friend found pretty funny, but it’s true. A Thingified fish (or its fish-Thing progeny) could arrive at any continental coastline.
3) If The Thing replicates a human perfectly on a cellular level, then … might it be reluctant to kill anyone else, because it would basically be a human? (Obviously, the film’s plot-driving antagonist has no such reluctance, but … still, think about it.) If it perfectly replicates a human brain, right down to its cellular structures and chemistry, then wouldn’t it have a conscience and experience empathy? My friend pointed out the reductionist nature of my question, though — it assumes that conscience and empathy can have only physical origins.
4) The movie’s characters (and most viewers) assume that The Thing is “a lifeform” or an organism. Is it, or is it simply “live” tissue? Somebody on the Internet Movie Database message board pointed out long ago that it’s “just cells,” and that’s … literally true; the film even shows this via crude 80’s-era computer graphic. Is it an “organism” if it is simply tissue that replicates? Or is it no more a “lifeform” than a cancer, or tissue grown in a lab?
5) I honestly opine that the film is perfect, or very nearly so. It is the paragon of sci-fi/horror movies. And I’d put it on par with other films that I hold virtually perfect, like “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “Alien 3” (1992) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001).
6) My friend reaaaally likes Kurt Russell’s hair in this film.
Okay, enough. I’m sorry about this. Hey, at least I’m not obsessing over comics tonight.
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) is a pop-culture sacred cow that needs to be skewered. I’d rate it a 2 out of 10 for being a surprisingly inept and poorly scripted 1980’s “classic.”
I just don’t understand the fervent popular reverence for this movie among people in my age bracket. It was a minor legend when I was growing up. I was a fourth grader in 1982, and gradeschool boys could be divided into two groups: 1) those who had seen the “Phoebe Cates pool scene” and 2) those who had not, but wished they had. When I mentioned on social media a couple of months ago this year that I’d never actually gotten around to seeing this movie, my friends were roundly astonished.
Why do they think this film is indispensable viewing? Maybe there’s something I’m missing. I’m tempted to group “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” together with other beloved 80’s films that just don’t resonate with me — like the understandably campy “Tron” (1982) or the unexpectedly sleep-inducing “The Big Chill” (1983). (I couldn’t even finish the latter.) But I can’t compare, because I know those movies are objectively good in a lot of ways, even if they weren’t to my taste.
Nor am I squeamish about raunchy sex comedies. (C’mon.) I pretty fondly remember “Porky’s” (1981), “Porky’s II: The Next Day” (1983), and “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984). I mentioned “Porky’s” to the friend with whom I watched “Fast Times” — I told her that it wasn’t highbrow entertainment, but I still remember it being crudely, blasphemously funny.
This movie was just a thinly scripted small collection of vignettes, with no overall plot outside of teenagers having sexual encounters that are … awkward and bluntly sad, for the most part. (Sean Penn’s character does drugs.) The dialogue is terrible. None of the characters are likable — even the story’s nerdy, well-meaning protagonist is grating.
I didn’t really laugh once at anything the director intended — I only laughed at the haircuts and the clothes. I just can’t believe that the screenwriter here was Cameron Crowe, who also wrote what is possibly my favorite movie of all time — the widely but unfairly maligned “Vanilla Sky” (2001). (Crowe apparently adapted the screenplay from a novel he wrote.)
There is some enjoyment to be had in watching Penn’s stoner character. It was fun seeing a well known serious actor in an early comedic role. Penn is a decent character actor, and it looks like he was having fun. I do get why kids in the 80’s found him funny.
It’s also fun seeing the handful of other young actors who would go on to great careers (Judge Reinhold is always funny) but, again, this is something that the filmmakers can’t take credit for.
Hey, if you want a slice-of-life dramatic comedy about teenagers in the 1980’s, then go rent “The Breakfast Club” (1985). It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good movie that tackled many of the same issues as this movie, but with intelligence and effective humor. Or, try the oddball “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). Both movies portray teenagers in the 80’s who are smart, likable and emphathetic, in varying degrees. I myself went to high school in the 1980’s, and I assure you they were around.
“Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”
— Sofia, “Vanilla Sky”