The Thing Is What It Used To Be… And More

Monday, November 27 2017
The Thing Is What It Used To Be… And More

John Carpenter is an intrinsic figure in the history of home entertainment, particularly in the UK, his career having been aided hugely by the arrival of VHS, just as it had been boosted previously by the support of cinemas on these shores during the theatrical release of Assault On Precinct 13.

That title, his breakthrough hit, made its name first in Great Britain and, in the early days of the video rental boom, became a mainstay of the fledgling mom and pop independent stores springing up around the country. (As the story goes, incidentally, he was so pleased with the job that indie distributor Vestron had done with Assault On Precinct 13 in the UK, knowing that its success here had helped the film in the US, that he promised the company’s Michael Myers that he would name a character in his next film after him.) 

The next big hit, Halloween, started big first at cinemas and then not only proved to be a success on VHS (and Betamax), but further spawned a whole generation of stalk and slash horrors that followed in its wake, most of which proved to be fodder for the nascent rental business.

Later, more mainstream successes, notably They Live and Big Trouble In Little China, also made their name on bulky black cassettes after theatrical, creating a legion of Carpenter fans that have flocked to buy anything Carpenter related in recent years.

Titles such as Halloween, Assault On Precinct 13 and The Thing have been at the forefront of every development in the video industry throughout its history – the nascent retail market, low price catalogue fare on labels such as 4 Front, then on to DVD during the first wave of the move towards a disc-based model (having all had a brief moment in the sun on LaserDisc), as DVD special editions (the first two of those Carpenter titles have had their fare share of distributors over the years too, incidentally) and now, finally, on Blu-ray as all-singing, all-dancing editions too.

So it’s perhaps fitting that the new Blu-ray release of The Thing has become another landmark home entertainment success for Carpenter and beyond.

It illustrates perfectly where the catalogue market is at in 2017 and the opportunities still there to canny distributors such as the Arrow Video imprint.

Fro the start – the packaging. Newly-created artwork, both in the two limited edition forms (which sold it in minutes), as well as the newly-released standard version. The word “standard” doesn’t do it justice, for it’s far superior to most releases served up. It really does feel like it’s a special release.

Arrow’s work on the actual film itself, in terms of the restoration, is masterful and truly can lay claim to being the definitive version of the film. For this writer, the Blu-ray version is every bit as good as the first time I saw the film, having snuck into see it in my local ABC cinema some 35 years ago as a fresh-faced 16-year-old. The opening scene, with Ennio Morricone doing his best John Carpenter impression on the score, looks and sounds as good, if not better than ever.

We won’t get too bogged down in the technical details of it all, there’s a very good blog piece by Arrow’s own James White over here, and, as the restoration expert notes: “The chance to oversee a new restoration of The Thing, one of my favourite films of the 1980s and my favourite John Carpenter film (tied with The Fog), was a rare opportunity that I honestly never expected to come along, given how widely available the film has been always been. It has already been remastered twice, and enjoyed not one, but two separate Blu-ray releases. It seemed that The Thing was a done deal, at least as far as Blu-ray was concerned. But once we reviewed the previous work, and considered how we ideally wanted to approach the project – with access to the original film materials as well as full collaboration with the filmmakers – we realised the potential of revisiting The Thing once more.”
Arrow accessed the original negative, the only time it has been used for such a purpose. As White further adds: “Going this route has resulted in a dramatic leap in image quality over previous editions. The film now exhibits a finer, more detailed image with true, natural film grain and a richer, more nuanced palette, making full use of the colour range present on the negative. Details previously lost in the dark areas and the highlights are now distinct. At the same time, the dated remastering processes which resulted in video artefacts exhibited on previous masters are a distant memory. The Thing now looks and feels like celluloid as it was always meant to.”

“Extras”, like standard packaging, is a term that does a disservice to the additional material that Arrow has pulled together. Not one, but two feature-length documentaries – which would work together as a package on their own, are among the highlights.

It has all added up to a near-perfect release for Arrow Video, with both 4,000 limited edition versions disappearing from online sites almost as soon as they went up. In a further mark of the way its product is permeating the mainstream, Arrow’s burgeoning relationship with a grocer such as Sainsbury’s had it on its shelves at the same time too, which added to its impact – and helped push it into the Official Charts Company’s listings in its release, breaking the top 10 in the midweeks.

As Arrow’s Pete Thompson said on the first release date to The Raygun newsletter: “We’re delighted that The Thing surpassed the 10,000 units milestone and, in doing so, becomes the best-selling week one title in the history of Arrow Video. The limited edition and Steelbook skus sold-out within 72hrs and Sainsbury’s, who have supported the standard blu-ray SKU, are outselling verses forecast.” 

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