What Would Rob Do? – John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’
'What Would Rob Do?' is a little game I like to play after watching films. It originated many years ago after watching Titanic (cons: hammy villain; traditionally labelled as a chick-flick; Celine Dion) (pros: James Cameron; Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio – both regarded as very capable actors; spectacle of the ship going down). After the film, I got to thinking about the amount of time the steerage/ Third Class passengers spent waiting. This amounted to hours and in the film the characters suspect that the ship is going down. They are also fully aware that the First Class passengers are being prioritised for the lifeboats. 'What Would Rob Do?' Leonardo DiCaprio seems pretty handy in the film (and would know his way around hammer). Why spend all that time smashing up below decks and trying to get both of the lovers onto a lifeboat (unlikely)? Why not just build a lifeboat? People survive the sinking of the Titanic by simply clutching to floating wreckage. How hard would it have been, for the more practically minded steerage passengers, to use materials from below decks to make basic life rafts – barge them through the railings and launch them by throwing them overboard? It seems strange that DiCaprio –who demonstrates his creativity in solutions to other problems in the film and understands the dangers of the water temperature – doesn’t hit on this. That’s what Rob would do! In the film, at least.
Last night I re-watched John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). An excellent film, a science-fiction/horror classic and certainly one of the best films from that year. I really enjoyed watching it again. I found, however, that in the same way as Titanic, the ending bothered me. Not because it isn’t a fantastic ending. It is and Carpenter made exactly the right decision. I did, however, ask myself ‘What Would Rob Do?’ There are spoilers for the end of the film from this point on, so if you haven’t watched it then I recommend you do and should come back to this later.
At the end of the film, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) has seemingly succeeded in blowing up the US Antarctica Research Station upon which he is stationed, in an effort to destroy an extraterrestrial creature, extracted from a crashed space ship buried in the ice, that has infected the base and research personnel. The creature assimilates organisms (horrifically) on a cellular level and can then imitates them perfectly. It has assimilated organisms on thousands of different worlds and can therefore chimerically assume the appearance of anything – and often disgusting mixtures of alien creatures and human/animal assimilates. This means that MacReady has had to toast most of his colleagues with his flamethrower in order to eliminate the alien (hiding inside imitations of the base scientists and auxiliary staff) and torch the camp. In the last few moments, with the job done - the camp aflame and MacReady settling down to freeze to death - another base member, Childs (science-fiction veteran, Keith David), returns. He claims he saw another member of the base head out into the snow and he followed him. He then got lost in the blizzard but MacReady blowing up the base guided him back. There is a fantastic stand-off where both men, suspecting each other is infected with the alien, admit that if they have any nasty surprises for each other then there is very little they could do about it. While watching the base burn and sharing a bottle of whisky, Childs asks what they are going to do. We leave them with MacReady commenting, ‘Why don’t we wait here for a little while... see what happens...’
So, What Would Rob Do? I wouldn’t have blown up the base in its entirety – that’s for sure. The creature seems intent on survival and escape and that is exactly what I would do. In the closing stages of the film – MacReady and the scientists use their remaining snowdozer (all other forms of transport and communication were destroyed earlier in the film) to level parts of the camp. They then use extraordinary amounts of stored fuel to raze the base to the ice. I would have destroyed the base, but first I would have loaded the snowdozer with as much fuel as it could carry and a fat tarpaulin of supplies (food etc. – plenty of water in the Antarctic). After destroying the base I would have left in the snowdozer, dragging my supplies behind me. Where would I head? The nearest base - the Norwegian camp - has been similarly destroyed and the coast is too far for the snowdozer to reach. Requiring shelter from the Antarctic conditions and needing to get away from the alien (if it survived), I would head for the uncovered spaceship. If there are any further aliens inside they are going to be frozen. The buried spaceship – just a little distance from the Norwegian camp – would provide shelter until Spring and then with better conditions, I would head back to the remains of the US or Norwegian bases – both of which would receive rescue teams in the wake of camp communication loss. I’d experience some serious quarantine time but I’d make it. And that’s ‘What Rob Would Do!’