Review Summary: A masterpiece unappreciated in its time
In 1982, after its release, this film received such a negative reception with most critics called it a "instant junk" and a fiasco, even science-fiction fans hated it. Although, the film was nominated for some Saturn awards, it was also nominated in the Razzie Awards for Worst Musical Score (imagine that!). As a result of such poor performance, John Carpenter lost his confidence and some jobs of directing other horror films. Otherwise known as "the most hated film of all time", The Thing
turned out to be one of the best sci-fi horror films, and today is definitely a cult classic, praised for its chilling moments, visual and creature effects, nihilistic tone, and, of course, its soundtrack.
is one of the few films by John Carpenter whose soundtrack is not composed by himself. So, Carpenter left the honors to maestro Ennio Morricone, because he wanted an European musical approach. His decision proved to be a wise move because what Morricone composed is undeniably a desert island in the annals of horror composition history. However, Morricone produced a score of approximately one hour that remained largely unused. The reason for this was that Carpenter felt some score didn't quite fit on mostly scenes of tension, as result, Carpenter composed some background sounds or sound effects for that scenes.
As for the music, Morricone wrote complete separate orchestral and synthesizer scores and a combined score. Very detached from the usual Morricone soundtrack, The Thing
's score is very intense and spooky music. Furthermore, there's hardly any proper melody, the emphasis is in creating a gripping atmosphere, elevating the psychological horror qualities of the film.
For the orchestral part, it starts with "Humanity (Part 1)", a 7-minute slow piece that delivers the movie's main theme and establishes the dark ambiance for the rest of the score. Not only the score creates a dark atmosphere, but also creates a sense of confusion with "Contamination", which resembles modern music's aesthetics, and a sense of emotional intensity with "Bestiality", clearly influenced by Bernard Herrmann
For the synthesizer part, Morricone mixed a minimalistic approach with a Baroque organ sound. As the Side A is about to end, there's the first electronic track "Eternity", which starts with a single note determining the pace and some electronics noises, then it grows into a sea of organs, creating a somewhat surreal aesthetic. On Side B, there's "Sterilization", which has a dark organ chord progression together with an unique synthesizer work that keeps adding layers after layers of minimal melodies. Then there's "Humanity (Part 2)", an electronic reprise, but the Italian composer doesn't leave his organ behind, a darker take on the first track. That said, the dependence on synthesizers makes this soundtrack very interesting indeed.
All in all, The Thing
's score is not only a great companion to the gruesome alien special effects but more importantly it cleverly puts the deeper meaning of the film in the music. Listening to the music alone without the images may be a different thing, especially for those who believe music works best together with the pictures, but not this time. Maestro Ennio Morricone stepped up his game and ended up creating a suspenseful, ambient driven and minimalistic soundtrack to one of John Carpenter's best films. Furthermore, it doesn't lose its effectiveness as it perfectly captures the despair of the accompanying film. One of the maestro's best scores, that's for sure.