- "This thing doesn't want to show itself; it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies. Nobody left to kill it. And then it's won."
- ― R.J. MacReady.
The Thing is an extremely hostile shape-shifting extraterrestrial organism and the primary antagonist of the 1982 science-fiction film The Thing, its prequel, video-games and literature. The Thing has the ability to assimilate other life forms in order to survive and spread. The original physical characteristics of The Thing and its motivations are unknown as it could have assimilated hundreds if not thousands of other species before it crashed on Earth.
Unlike most creatures, the Thing possesses no inherent standard anatomy. It may very well be that the Thing is a colonial organism whose assimilation instructions are carried on the genetic level. The Thing's shape-shifting nature means that the biology can be the same as the organism it has replicated, or is in the process of replicating. The Thing has the ability to reconstitute itself following immense damage, and is invulnerable to most conventional forms of attack. However it is vulnerable to fire and potentially molecular acid since they both destroy the creature at a cellular level. It is very tolerant of cold, placing itself in cryogenic stasis until found by unsuspecting victims. When changing form, it bursts open and allows a variety of strange and terrifying forms and bits of previously assimilated anatomy to form, such as: tentacles, insect-like limbs, eyes, teeth, claws, even faces, eventually re-arranging its cellular structure to mimic its desired shape. The Thing is also capable of continuing normal functions even when lacking eyes, ears, sense of smell or other ways of interacting with the environment and is capable of producing said organs/appendages to accomplish those functions.
In the 2011 prequel film The Thing, American paleontologist Kate Lloyd discovers the creature is unable to mimic non-living/inorganic material such as metals or plastic, when she finds a small pool of blood with metal fillings; surmising the creature spat them out when it assimilated its victim.
Any form of the Thing is capable of frightening amounts of strength, speed and stamina, such as the case with the Kennel Thing, which subdued and assimilated multiple sled dogs, and especially the Centipede-Thing, which overpowered Jonas in moments, despite the vast size difference.
- "Probability that one or more team members may be infected by intruder organism: -75%-"
- —Blair's 1st projection
- "Projection: if intruder organism reaches civilized areas...
entire world population infected 72,000 hours from first contact"
- —Blair's 2nd projection
The Thing is a shape shifting organism, but it must come into contact with its host in order to begin the process of analyzing and copying its cellular structure. To do this, the cells begin digesting and replicating the host, eventually taking over the entire body. The Thing will also only assimilate freshly killed or still living prey; any organism that has been dead for an extended period of time will be ignored by it. This may be due to it being largely ineffective to more intelligent prey if it mimicked a member of their society that was known to have been killed. Alternatively, it may rely on the blood stream to rapidly assimilate prey. Copper was killed by the Norris-Thing biting off both his hands, and so presumably was exposed to Thing infection; yet his corpse showed no signs of "reviving" as an imitation (and a post-mortem blood test came up negative). Presumably he bled out so quickly that the infection had no time to spread before his biomass was rendered useless by death.
After The Thing has assimilated an organism, it is capable of imitating them exactly down to their memories, characteristics, mannerisms, and all of their traits. Even anatomical anomalies and health defects like Norris' weak heart are replicated. When a part of The Thing becomes cut in two, both of those pieces become their own creatures and operate separately. For example, when the Norris-Thing's head grows legs and attempts to escape. The replication varies depending on the occurrences at hand and whether or not the attacking Thing is smaller or is injured. If the assaulting Thing in question is injured in any way, much smaller than the prey or under pressure, it will usually just add the bio mass to itself and either mimic the prey or add the mass to its original frame to increase its size and strength to counteract any threats within the area. If however the Thing successfully assaults the prey in a safe location, it will just feed on the prey and make a copy of the victim then revert back to its cover before searching for another victim to assimilate.
The Thing has only assimilation and self-preservation in mind. As seen, The Thing will selfishly save itself or even attack other forms of itself in order to avert attention and suspicion. When The Thing is left alone with a suitable target, it will begin to split open and fire out tendrils, which grab the target and begin to assimilate it. In certain cases after discovery or high chance of discovery, The Thing will sometimes perform "divide and conquer" tactics, as in the case of the Edvard-Thing which split up into three separate forms. One engaged and began assimilating Jonas, another limb scuttled away for potential assimilation in a safer location, and the main body of the Edvard thing killed Derek and successfully assimilated Adam Finch. This is also performed, albeit much less successfully, by the Norris-Thing. When exposed, Things will react depending on how big they are compared to the threat. Smaller Things will generally attempt to escape and ambush prey when the individual is more vulnerable. However a larger Thing will usually attack prey head on and attempt to overwhelm any hostiles instead of escaping, although if it has not completely lost its cover it will attempt to flee.
The Thing's level of intelligence is a function of its size. The larger the Thing, the more intelligent it is likely to be. The smaller the Thing, the less intelligent it will be. MacReady's blood test is directly dependent on this idea by proving that a smaller creature such as a petri dish of blood would defend itself violently for self preservation whereas a larger creature (like a human imitation) would be smart enough to stay hidden. The novel has Mac explaining his theory in greater detail than the film:
- "When attacked, it looks like even a fragment of one of these things will try to survive as best it's able. Even a sample of its blood. Of course, there's no higher nervous system, no brain to suppress a natural instinct like that if it's in the best interests of the larger whole to do so. The cells have to act instinctively instead of intelligently. Protect themselves from freezing, say. Or from incineration. The kind that might be caused by a hot needle, for instance"
- ― Alan Dean Foster.
This perhaps also accounts for why the Norris-Thing's spider-head scurried from its hiding spot when it did. Maybe its body mass was not sufficiently large enough to form an intelligent brain center. Consequently, it didn't know enough not to blow its cover when the men still presented a danger, likely assuming they would be too distracted by the breaking down of it's primary body to notice it.
On the other hand, a full-sized Thing is extremely intelligent. It is theorized that it has the combined intelligences of all the organisms it has ever assimilated. This is borne out by the fact that Blair-Thing, having likely been a product of either the Norwegian dog directly or one of its descendants (Norris or Palmer), has the intelligence to build a non-terrestrial ship out of helicopter and tractor parts. Blair-Thing "inherited" the intelligences of its previous organisms, the knowledge being passed into the newest assimilant.
It is not known whether the Thing is a technological species, or whether the ship that it first reached Earth in was its own. It could be that the reason it crashed was because the original pilot was killed, and the creature was unable to manage the controls. However, the assimilated Blair was able to create a smaller version of the saucer, and recognized the threat posed by a detonator, its also possible that the original UFO didn't belong to the thing but if the thing assimilated the pilot then it would have its memories and knowledge, thus being able to build a ufo.
Some intelligence theories can be hindered in the game however, wherein the larger creatures (bosses) should be smart enough to stay hidden and not be noticed as to avoid harm or if they do reveal themselves, they should be in a formidable and efficient form. Unfortunately, they are in a multitude of otherwise massive and useless forms which have no intention of hiding themselves from view and their chosen forms act primarily with little intelligence. Their forms are usually immobile, meaning they are too large and useless to form transportation such as legs.
After they are revealed, thing beasts appear to be little more than mindless animals attacking prey head on without thought. This can be used to human advantage; the Juliette-Thing for example barrelled straight after Lars and Kate when it realized they were in the room failing to realize they had a flamethrower and was subsequently killed.
Some Thing beasts however show certain degrees of intelligence. After being set on fire the Juliette-Thing desperately attempted to use spray jets to extinguish the flames. The Sander-Thing was able to to restart the ship near the end of the film and the Split Face thing displayed rudimentary levels of intelligence; it was able to track Sam by scent and appeared to investigate the kitchen looking for places Sam could be hiding. It is also worth noting that the Split-Face paused before attempting to assault Sam, possibly looking for the shape of a flamethrower.
The film, literary and video-game series has outlined several methods of distinguishing an imitation from an original creature, based around either blood-testing or searching for missing inorganic components (for example, tooth fillings or prosthetics). Blood tests work by coercing autonomous Thing cells (imitating blood cells) to act in self-preservation - for example, crawling away from a hot needle. Another blood test variant is the blood serum test, where a suspected imitation's blood is mixed with uncontaminated blood; which will hypothetically react if the creature is an imposter. The 2002 video-game, The Thing, adds a further method of testing in the blood test hypo - a portable blood testing device which exposes a suspect's blood to a caustic chemical agent.
The only way to kill the Thing completely is to incinerate it with fire or obliterate it completely with high explosives, although powerful electric shocks might also prove effective as well as the Norris-Thing acted in self defense when Copper attempted to defibrillate it, and both Who Goes There? and the unmade mini-series feature electrocution as the best away to permanently kill it. While smaller Things die fairly quickly from the heat, larger Things take much longer to kill, and may even survive such attacks, although they will be incapacitated and heavily damaged. This was seen with Split-Face in the 2011 film, although it was viciously burnt by Kate Lloyd, it was still partially alive and was able to assimilate Bennings. Explosives on the other hand, can kill even the larger variants of The Thing easily, as in the case of the Sanders-Thing and Blair-Thing.
Discovery (2011 Film)
In a deleted scene of the 2011's The Thing prequel, it was to be hinted that the crashed UFO'S original aliens (the Pilots), first discovered the Thing whilst on a planet zoological expedition, and stored it for examination. Eventually the Thing manages to escape and attacks them one by one. In an attempt to destroy the Thing, the surviving alien pilot tries to crash the space ship into earth, but is then later killed and assimilated by the thing. The thing manages to survive the crash and escapes the space craft, only to end up freezing due to the frozen climate.
The Original Thing is first encountered by the Norwegian crew at Thule Station during the winter of 1982 when they discovered the frozen corpse of a creature that seemed to have briefly survived the crash of what appeared to be an extraterrestrial space vessel 100,000 years ago.
After the creature was transported back to base in a block of ice, Dr. Sander Halvorson ordered them to retrieve a tissue sample, against Kate's protests. Later, while the others celebrated, the helicopter co-pilot Derek witnessed the creature burst free from the block of ice. The team split up into groups to search for the alien. Olav and Henrik discovered it hiding under one of the buildings. The Thing grabbed Henrik and pulled him into its body. The others converge on the scene and set the creature on fire. In the chaotic aftermath, the lone dog of the team was found dead in a bloody heap in its kennel, a massive hole torn in the wire mesh.
During an autopsy, Kate and Adam discovered that the cells of the Thing appeared to be absorbing and imitating Henrik's cells. Meanwhile, Derek, pilot Sam Carter, Griggs, and Olav prepared to leave the base in the only helicopter to bring back help. Just as they prepared to take off, Kate discovered bloody, discarded metal tooth fillings and large amounts of blood in the showers. She ran outside to flag down the departing helicopter, fearing the Thing may have imitated someone on board. When Carter decided to land, Griggs transformed and killed Olav, causing the helicopter to spin wildly out of control and crash in the mountains, presumably killing all onboard.
In the rec room, Kate told the rest of the crew her theory on the nature of the creature: It is perfectly capable of imitating any life form and that it may have done so with members of their camp, but cannot imitate inorganic material much as metal, hence why it spit out the tooth fillings. Most of the team members either did not believe her or accused her of turning them against each other out of paranoia. After everyone else lefts, Juliette told Kate that she believed her and that she saw Colin leave the shower holding a towel. Juliette told Kate that she knew where they kept the vehicle keys, and that they could take them to prevent anyone else from leaving; however, when the two went to retrieve them, Juliette transformed and attempted to kill Kate. Kate escaped, running past Karl, who was killed by the Juliette-Thing. Lars arrived with a flamethrower and burned the Thing as it was assimilating Karl.
As they burned the remains outside, Carter and Derek returned, both half-frozen and barely alive. While some of the team believed they were Things and should be burned, Kate convinced them to simply lock them up until a test could be prepared. Adam and Sander were in the lab preparing a potential test, but when both left for a short while, the lab was engulfed in flames in an apparent sabotage. Tensions rose as accusations by both the Norwegians and the Americans were made, but Kate proposed another, much simpler test to single out those who might be the Thing from those who definitely aren't. She used a flashlight to inspect the teeth of all the other team members to see who had visible fillings and who didn't. This test singled out Adam, Sander, station commander Edvard, and Colin as possible Things. Peder sent Lars and Jonas out to bring back Carter and Derek, but they had tunneled under the floor of the storage shed and into a neighboring building. While Lars leaned in the doorway of the other building, they grabbed him and pulled him inside. Jonas ran back and pleaded with Peder to help him rescue Lars, but Kate ordered him to guard the prisoners.
During the argument, Carter and Derek forced their way inside, armed with Lars' flamethrower. Edvard pushed Peder to burn both of them, assuming that they had killed Lars. When Peder took aim, Derek shot him, puncturing his flamethrower's tank and causing an explosion that killed Peder if the bullets hadn't and knocked Edvard unconscious. While Edvard was being carried back to the rec room, he transformed into the Thing, killing Jonas and Derek and assimilating Adam while Sander and Colin fled. Carter and Kate headed off to hunt it down. The Thing, which was now in the form of a creature with the faces of both Edvard and Adam, found and killed Sander. The monster managed to separate Carter from Kate and trapped him in the kitchen. Just as it was about to kill him, Kate arrived and torched the monster.
Kate and Carter saw the Sander-Thing driving off in one of the Snowcats and gave chase in the remaining vehicle. They followed it out to the wreck of its ship, which had been opened up and restarted, slowly preparing to take off. Kate and Carter were separated once again and Kate encountered the Thing. She barely managed to stay out of its reach, and when it finally caught her, she destroyed it by throwing a thermal grenade into one of its mouths while Carter arrived and distracted it with a flamethrower. She and Carter escaped and made it back to the Snowcat. As they prepared to leave, Kate noticed that Carter was missing his left ear piercing and determined that he was a Thing. Despite his protests, she burned him and destroyed the Snowcat. Kate slowly climbed into the remaining Snowcat and stared blankly into the night.
The next morning, a Norwegian helicopter pilot, Matias, arrived at the Norwegian camp and found the facility burned and deserted, as well as the charred remains of the two-faced Thing. Colin had gone into the radio room and committed suicide by slitting his wrists and throat prior to Matias' arrival. Lars, who had survived hiding in the building where Derek and Carter attacked him, shot at Matias but recognized that he was human after checking his fillings. At that moment, the Thing in the form of Lars' Alaskan Malamute bolted out of a ruined building and ran away. Lars fired at it, then ordered Matias to take off in pursuit.
Escape (1982 Film)
The American Antarctic research station, U.S. Outpost 31 was alerted by the gunfire and explosions caused by the Lars' attempts to kill the Thing. The Alaskan Malamute made its way into the camp as the science station's crew looked on in confusion. Through reckless use of an incendiary grenade, the helicopter was destroyed and Matias was killed in the explosion. Lars fired at the dog with his rifle, grazing Bennings, one of the American researchers.
Lars was subsequently shot and killed by Garry, the station commander. Not knowing what to make of the incident, the station crew adopted the dog. Unable to contact the outside world via radio, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady and Dr. Copper risked a flight to the Norwegian camp only to find it destroyed, its personnel missing or dead. Finding evidence that the Norwegians had dug something out of the ice, the pair returned to the station with the partially-burned remains of a hideous creature which bore some human features. An autopsy of the cadaver by Dr. Blair was inconclusive, save to find that the creature had what appeared to be a normal set of internal organs.
At Bennings' request, the station's wrangler, Clark, kenneled the stray with the rest of the station's sled dogs. Noises from the kennel caused Clark to return, finding almost the entire sled team in the process of being messily assimilated by the stray dog, which had transformed into a monster. MacReady summoned the rest of the crew to the kennel with the fire alarm. MacReady fired several shotgun shells into the creature to no avail. He soon after ordered Childs to incinerate the creature with a flamethrower. A subsequent autopsy by Blair revealed that the stray dog was an alien capable of absorbing and perfectly imitating other life-forms. Realizing the implications of this, Blair quickly became withdrawn and suspicious of the rest of the crew.
A second helicopter expedition discovered the alien spacecraft unearthed by the Norwegian research team, revealing that the creature had awakened after being buried within the ice for many thousands of years. Bennings and Windows quarantined the burnt remains of both the dog-creature and the Norwegian cadaver in the storage room, but in the process Bennings was left alone. Moments later, Windows discovered Bennings in the process of being replicated. The crew burned the Bennings replica before its transformation was complete. Determining that all life on Earth would be assimilated in just over three years if the creature were to reach another continent, Blair went berserk, destroying the helicopter and radio equipment and killing the remaining sled dogs, thus containing further contamination. The team overpowered him and confined him in the tool shed. With all contact to the outside world cut off, the crew wondered how to determine who was still human. Paranoia quickly set in as the first attempt to develop a test using uncontaminated blood samples stored in a refrigerator was foiled as the blood samples have been destroyed by an unknown saboteur.
Fuchs, attempting to continue Blair's research, went missing shortly afterwards during a power failure. While searching for Fuchs' body, MacReady came under suspicion and was locked outside in a severe blizzard. Somehow finding his way back to camp without a guide line, MacReady broke into a storage room and threatened the rest of the crew with dynamite. In the course of the standoff, Norris suffered a heart attack. When Dr. Copper attempted to revive him with a defibrillator, Norris' body transformed and killed Copper. Norris' head detached from his body, sprouted legs and attempted to escape as the others burned the rest of the body, leading MacReady to theorize that every piece of the alien was an individual animal with its own survival instinct. In an altercation that preceded a test proposed by MacReady, Clark tried to stab MacReady with a scalpel, causing MacReady to shoot and kill him in self-defense.
The rest of the crew complied with the test; blood samples were drawn from each member of the team and jabbed with a hot wire to see whose blood would react defensively. Palmer, the backup pilot, was soon unmasked as an imitation, and managed to kill Windows before being set alight and blown up with dynamite by MacReady. MacReady then torched Windows' body with a flamethrower as it began to transform. Confirming that MacReady, Childs, Garry, and Nauls were still human, the surviving crew set out to administer the test to Blair, only to find that he had escaped. After they discovered that Blair had been constructing a small flying craft of alien design underneath the tool shed and witnessed Childs inexplicably abandoning his post at the main gate, the facility lost power. Realizing that the creature now wants to freeze again so a future rescue team will find it, the remaining crew acknowledged that they would not survive and set about destroying the facility with dynamite and Molotov cocktails in hopes of killing the creature. While setting explosives in the underground generator room, Garry was killed by the infected Blair. Nauls followed the sounds of the creature and was never seen again.
Alone, MacReady prepared to detonate the charges when the creature, larger then ever, emerged from beneath the floor. MacReady killed it with a stick of dynamite, which set off the rest of the charges and destroyed the entire facility. MacReady then wandered alone in the flaming rubble. He encountered Childs, who claimed to have seen Blair and gotten lost while chasing him in the storm. With the polar climate closing in around them, they acknowledged the futility of their distrust, sharing a drink as the camp burned.
Aftermath (2002 Video Game)
A U.S. army helicopter arrived at the destroyed remnants of U.S. Outpost 31 with Bravo Team three months after the destruction of the outpost. Bravo Team consisted of Blake, North, Burrows, and Weldon. The team explored the outpost and stumbled upon R.J. MacReady's Tapes. Soon after that, the team discovered the craft that the Blair-Thing was attempting to build as well. They stubbled into the infirmary and found the remains of a person. Blake found the documents that Blair wrote about the Thing and eventually found the frozen remains of Childs. The team rigged the remains of the outpost with C4 charges and left the outpost via helicopter. After losing contact with Alpha Team, who were assigned to investigate the nearby Norwegian Outpost, Blake insisted on being dropped off there to assist Alpha Team and help survivors, as he was the only one that could speak Norwegian.
He arrived at the ruins of the outpost and met up with Carter and Cruz, he also faced Thing Beasts along the way. He then encountered Pierce who was paranoid at the time, Pierce ordered Blake to collect blood test kits to discover whether he was human or an imitation, Blake's test proved that he was human, but the test on the others proved that they were imitations, Blake and Pierce killed the imitations and proceeded to the next facility. Blake lost Pierce in the snow, and then met up with Pace, who was throwing grenades at him, and Williams, who was in the mess hall. Blake and the others secured themselves in an abandoned post where they were ambushed by the Thing beasts. After fending them off, he spotted the Radio Man that had attacked Pace and Williams earlier, but the Norwegian locked himself in the warehouse. Blake eventually reunited with Pierce who committed suicide shortly afterward. Blake found the Radio Man, however he was already mutating into a Thing Beast and Blake was forced to kill it. Blake then rescued Faraday, a researcher working for Gen Inc that was researching the Thing and its use as a bio-weapon. Blake and his group were ambushed by military soldiers that were under the command of Whitley who revealed that he was behind the research project on the Thing. Its purpose was to create a bio weapon called the Cloud virus. Blake tried to subdue Whitley but was sedated and brought to the research facility.
Faraday studied Blake's DNA and concluded that he seemed to have some sort of immunity to the Thing after such a long period of exposure. Whitley demanded that Faraday use him as a test subject of the Cloud virus, but he refused as both Whitley's physical and mental conditions were not suitable for a test subject. Whitley killed Faraday and took a Cloud virus sample with him. Blake woke up in the now overrun research facility and fought his way through both the Thing Beasts and Whitley's troops. He escaped the facility before it was destroyed by the time bomb that was likely set by Whitley. Blake then preceeded into Whitley's Transit Hangar and later discovered that Whitley intends to fly the Thing out of Antarctica, Blake then destroyed Whitley's cargo planes in the airstrip in order to prevent him from flying the Thing anywhere. Blake then went into Gen Inc's underground weapon laboratory, however the laboratory was set to self destruct. Luckily, Blake managed to reach the surface via elevator and chased Whitley through the test field and fought his way through Whitley's elite soldiers. Blake cornered Whitley and shot a couple of fuel barrels near him but the explosions didn't harm him as he had already injected himself with the B4 strain of the Cloud virus, he then revealed that a rescue team was on its way to save him and he intended to infect the entire world with the Thing, he then fled as Blake continued to pursue him. Blake headed to the heliport a recently arrived helicopter, Blake requested help from the helicopter pilot who agreed to help him in confronting the now mutated Whitley. Blake managed to kill the creature and their helicopter escaped the Antarctic. He asked the pilot for his name, who revealed himself to be R.J. MacReady.
- It has been stated that not even director John Carpenter himself knows precisely when each character was assimilated by The Thing. In fact for the first assumed assimilation by the malamute in the US base showed it walking into the bedroom of a silhouetted figure played by a stunt actor just to keep his identity ambiguous. However it is often argued to be either Palmer or Norris, though arguments towards Blair and Fuchs are not unheard of (though the shadow does not have facial hair as Fuchs does and is not balding as Blair is).
- It has been speculated that Who Goes There?, the short story that inspired The Thing movie, was inspired by the HP Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness, in which an Antarctic research team uncovers a cryogenically preserved Elder Thing, which thaws out and attacks them. The former was published in 1938 while the later was in 1936.
- In the novel that inspired the movies, Who Goes There?, The Thing is actually rather different in several aspects. For starters, it has a "true form" - a blue haired creature with three red eyes -, and rather than assume the horrific transformations in the movies, it simply reverts to this form when exposed or assimilating. While the details of the assimilation process are kept very vague, it appears to be nowhere as virulent as in the movies, as it defends itself with weapons and can ostensibly be killed in ways other than incineration. The characters also attempt to make an antibodies test by way of combining a suspected person's blood with that of a sled dog that has been conditioned with presumably safe human blood. While the blood test caveat still applies, as removing chunks from itself still results in an organism still fighting for survival, the Thing comes across more as a full multicellular organism rather than a plastic cell colony, simply resulting in separation and regeneration as with starfish and similar animals; it's not clear if it can even live on a unicellular level.
- The award-winning non-canon short story The Things by Peter Watts tells part of the story of the original movie from the creature's own perspective, describing its horror at how the bodies of creatures from Earth function compared to its own.
- In the director's commentary of the 2011 prequel, Matthijs states that he believes the Things have no true form, since they are microscopic in nature.
Known Thing Forms