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13 Fascinating Facts About The Thing

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“You gotta be f***ing kidding!” is arguably the most recognizable line in John Carpenter’s horror classic, The Thing. Oddly, it’s one of the scant moments of levity in the film, which is intentionally bereft of levity. Whether it scares you because of its musical score or with its creature, which was festooned with enough K-Y jelly to fill a swimming pool, The Thing’s sole function is just that: to scare.

The first film in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (it was followed by 1987’s Prince of Darkness and 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness), The Thing is gory and violent, portends the end of the world, and, ultimately, flies in the face of hope—and it’s one of Carpenter’s personal favorite movies. Here are 13 things you might not know about the 1982 cult classic, which was released 35 years ago today.

1. IT WAS A FLOP WITH AUDIENCES AND IT WAS PARTLY E.T.’S FAULT.

What The Thing lacks in comedy it makes up for tenfold in claustrophobia, paranoia, loneliness, and some of the most incredibly frightening practical effects in film history. Yet audiences were none too receptive to the film, at least at first, as The Thing earned just shy of $20 million at the domestic box office.

“The movie tanked when it came out,” Carpenter admitted in a post-screening Q&A at the CapeTown Film Festival in 2013. “It was hated, hated by fans. I lost a job, people hated me, they thought I was … horrible, violent—and I was. But now here we are 31 years later, and here you are filling the theater.”

Part of the problem was that The Thing opened two weeks after E.T. And while E.T. featured a benevolent alien and a happy ending, The Thing starred a violent, evil alien and had an ending that left audiences scratching their heads a bit.

“I’d made a really grueling, dark film and I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that,” said Carpenter. “They wanted to see E.T. and The Thing was the opposite.”

2. CRITICS HATED IT, TOO.

Critics looked on the film just as unfavorably as fans when it was released in June of 1982. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote:

“John Carpenter’s The Thing is a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the ’80s—a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratory-concocted special effects, with the actors used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated as—guess what?—more laboratory-concocted special effects.”

Roger Ebert was only slightly kinder with his two-and-a-half-star review in the Chicago Sun-Times, writing:

“The Thing is a great barf-bag movie, all right, but is it any good? I found it disappointing, for two reasons: the superficial characterizations and the implausible behavior of the scientists on that icy outpost. Characters have never been Carpenter's strong point; he says he likes his movies to create emotions in his audiences, and I guess he'd rather see us jump six inches than get involved in the personalities of his characters … The Thing is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen. There's nothing wrong with that; I like being scared and I was scared by many scenes in The Thing. But it seems clear that Carpenter made his choice early on to concentrate on the special effects and the technology and to allow the story and people to become secondary. Because this material has been done before, and better, especially in the original The Thing and in Alien, there's no need to see this version unless you are interested in what the Thing might look like while starting from anonymous greasy organs extruding giant crab legs and transmuting itself into a dog. Amazingly, I'll bet that thousands, if not millions, of moviegoers are interested in seeing just that.”

3. IT’S NOT A REMAKE.

Though it’s often cited as a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, it’s really not. Though the two films do share the same source material—John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 story, “Who Goes There?”—Carpenter was clear that he “didn’t want to compete with the old film, which was greatly beloved by me. So I went back the novella [on] which both films were based.” Unlike the 1951 film, Carpenter’s movie features a creature that can perfectly imitate its victims.

Carpenter does, however, pay homage to the earlier film, most notably in the scene where he shows the alien’s icy tomb that has been removed from the snow and in the main title sequence.

4. A DOUBLE AMPUTEE WAS USED TO CREATE THE FILM’S QUINTESSENTIAL SPECIAL EFFECT.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie (often referred to as the “chest chomp”) occurs when Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator. As he presses the paddles to his patient’s skin, Norris’ chest opens up and Copper’s forearms disappear into the cavity, where they are severed below the elbow by a set of jaws inside Norris’ chest.

In order to pull this off, special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin (known for his work on Robocop, Total Recall, Se7en, and Fight Club) found a man who had lost both of his arms below the elbow in an industrial accident. Bottin fit the man with two prosthetic forearms consisting of wax bones, rubber veins, and Jell-O. Then, for the wide-angle shot, he fit the man with a skin-like mask taken from a mold of Dysart’s face (à la Hannibal Lecter) and placed the ersatz arms into the chest cavity, where a set of mechanical jaws clamped down on them. As the actor pulled his arms away, the Jell-O arms severed below the elbows. The rest is practical effects history.

5. MAKEUP EFFECTS ICON STAN WINSTON WORKED ON THE FILM, UNCREDITED.

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The making of The Thing was, by all accounts, a physically grueling process, especially for Rob Bottin. By the end of the film, Bottin succumbed to exhaustion and had to be hospitalized (he also had double pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer). In order to finish the laundry list of creature effects the film needed, Bottin enlisted the help of Stan Winston to complete what turned out to be one of the film’s most stunning, and earliest seen, effects.

Winston, known for his work on movies like Aliens, Predator, Edward Scissorhands, and Jurassic Park, would not accept credit on the film, however, as he was adamant that it was “Rob’s film.” Winston was thanked in the final credits.

6. KURT RUSSELL ALMOST KILLED HIMSELF WITH A STICK OF DYNAMITE.

Russell threw an actual stick of dynamite during a scene toward the end of the film. He did not, however, anticipate it being so powerful. Russell was literally blown backwards after the device detonated; this take was left in the film.

7. LEGENDARY COMPOSER ENNIO MORRICONE PENNED THE SCORE.

John Carpenter famously writes the music for most of his movies. However, being that The Thing was his first studio film, and because he was short on time, he asked Ennio Morricone to do the honors. Morricone, a five-time Oscar nominee known for his work with Sergio Leone, obliged and crafted a synthesizer-laden score very reminiscent of Carpenter’s own composing style.

8. THE U.S. CAMP AND THE NORWEGIAN CAMP WERE ONE AND THE SAME.

John Carpenter comes from the school of low-budget filmmaking and, as such, knows how to stretch a dollar. Instead of building an entirely new set for the Norwegian base camp scenes that appear early on in the film, Carpenter simply filmed those scenes in the charred remnants of Outpost 31, after it was blown up for the movie’s climactic finale.

9. IT FEATURES AN ALL-MALE CAST.

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The only females in the movie are the women appearing on a taped version of Let’s Make A Deal, Adrienne Barbeau’s (uncredited) voice as MacReady’s computer, and a blow-up doll that never made it into the final cut.

10. ROB BOTTIN WAS SENSITIVE ABOUT HIS CREATURES.

“Rob [Bottin] was always very sensitive about his creatures,” recalled cinematographer Dean Cundey. “Whether there was too much light on them. We always sort of joked: If it was up to Rob he would build the creatures to be incredibly interesting and imaginative and then not put any light on them because he was afraid of showing them.”

11. CARPENTER FEARED THAT AUDIENCES MIGHT LAUGH AT THE FILM.

Carpenter was very nervous about how the audience might react until he saw some of Bottin’s effects in person. “When I started seeing some of the effects that Rob created—it was one in particular, one particular sequence where Charlie [Hallahan’s] head comes off the table and the tongue shoots out and it pulls across and turns over and grows stalks and walks across the floor—when I saw that I realized a great sense of relief because what I didn’t want to end up with in this movie was a guy in a suit,” said Carpenter. “Even as great as [Alien] was, and Alien was a terrific movie … in the very end, up stood this big guy in a suit.”

12. A STOP-MOTION SEQUENCE WAS FILMED BUT NEVER MADE IT INTO THE FINAL CUT.

For a pivotal scene near the end of the film where MacReady battles the enormous “Blair-Thing," Bottin called upon stop-motion expert Randall Cook for help. Cook created an entire miniature model of the set and filmed the wide angle shots of the monster using stop-motion animation. Despite only taking up seconds of screen time, the sequence took countless hours to create. Ultimately, Carpenter decided not to use the footage as his own eye could detect the stop-motion animation.

13. AN ALTERNATE ENDING WAS FILMED, JUST IN CASE.

John Carpenter and editor Todd Ramsay shot and cut an alternate ending to the film that was never used. Ramsay was concerned that the bleak, ambiguous ending would not test well with audiences, so he suggested that Carpenter cover his bases and have a spare ending ready to go. They filmed an additional scene where lead character MacReady (Kurt Russell) is rescued and appears in a room where he is given a blood test to determine whether he has been assimilated, which he passes. Fortunately for fans of the film, this alternate finale was not needed as Carpenter stood firmly behind the movie he had made—ambiguous ending and all.

Additional Sources:
The Thing: Collector's Edition, Special Features
John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said, “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

Warner Bros.

Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes?” Hanson said “Dean Martin.”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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