Maybe it’s a strange comparison, but take any of Morricone’s best work — Two Mules for Sister Sara, “The Ecstasy of Gold,” Cinema Paradiso, and more — and take those overtures which happen before the big swells, whistles, or vocals kick in. That’s The Thing: all of the slow build, but stretched out over the course of an entire film, which builds in scads of dread and tension, never once letting go. That’s the film itself, and Morricone’s score acknowledges it perfectly.
For such an iconic score, and one so suited to the film which it soundtracks, it’s astonishing that it’s been out of print on vinyl for nearly 35 years. However, earlier in 2017, Waxwork Records repressed it, the first batch selling out so quickly, the label had to go into repress mode nearly immediately. The score’s highly-regarded amongst fans of Carpenter’s film, of the Maestro’s oeuvre, and of film soundtracks in general, and for good reason: the strings sweep and swell, and the additional instrumentation beyond the standard studio orchestra is balanced perfectly against them.
Take, for example, “Eternity,” with its slowly pulsing tone: it’s low-key, but still kind of menacing. The orchestral bits are beautiful, but the electronics really press home the idea of “Eternity” and the ever-present march of time. Morricone’s music is known for its wide-ranging sonics, which complement whichever film they’re attached, but The Thing stands alone as being incredibly atmospheric and reminiscent of Carpenter’s own musical work, while still working in the excellent mood-setting vibe for which the composer’s best known.
“Wait,” meanwhile, comes within a hair’s breadth of being the Jaws theme at a couple points, but never quite enough to do more than remind the listener that this, in fact, is a film about an often unseen threat. Plus, minor key simplicity is the name of the game; with minimalism comes limitations.
Is there a high point? You could argue it’s “Despair,” the most memorable of all the cuts, but given that the entirety of the score works better as a whole than as individual parts, separating out any one particular aspect of it is difficult, if not reductive. The Thing is meant to be listened to in its entirety, and vinyl is the perfect medium for that. Much like the film itself, there’s something cyclical about the music. Play the whole thing all the way through, flip it over, and start again.
The vinyl sounds amazing. One would think that colored wax, especially with haze, would have some surface noise which needed to be taken care of, but such is not the case. In the course of the week since this showed up, I’ve ran the record through its paces on a couple different turntables. I’ve listened on headphones, played it quietly while reading, cranked it to the heavens while doing chores around the house, and everything in between. It never ceases to sound fantastic. It’s a rare score which can be turned up loud enough to be heard on the other side of the house and not reveal some issue, but there was nary a one. The audio has been remastered from the original master tapes.
Obviously, the packaging here is the big deal. Without the slipcase, though, this is just another vinyl variant — except, of course, for the booklet with the exclusive John Carpenter interview by Michael Doyle. The slipcase is really well-done, and as long as you pay attention when sliding it together, you should be fine, although I’m sure one of those jagged bits is going to get dented, dinged, or torn at some point. The spot-gloss on the LP jacket looks amazing, and offsets the rather duochromatic color scheme. The artwork on the back is matched by the inner gatefold and included poster, and is appropriately minimal.
The aforementioned interview booklet, which is currently exclusive to this deluxe reissue, sees the director being forthright and honest regarding the musical choices for the film, even going into what Carpenter thinks of Morricone re-using three cues for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. It’s a good read, and it makes you look forward to Doyle’s upcoming Carpenter book, as well as his history of the making of The Thing.
Lastly, there’s the vinyl itself. The “Ice” variant is deep blue with white haze, and unlike the many reported issues with the standard “Snow” version on true white, I heard no hisses, pops, or clicks. It looks absolutely gorgeous — as if someone figured out a way to translate the cover art directly onto the wax itself.
So: how does it all add up? The big question is whether or not the deluxe version is worth double what the regular edition costs. When it comes down to it, you’re basically paying an extra $35 for a nice slipcase and a four-page interview, which will likely be in a book released later. It’s super-cool to open up, and damned if it doesn’t look pretty as hell sitting around, but when it comes down to it, there’s not a whole lot extra here.
The Thing is available on vinyl from Waxwork Records.