Monday, October 29, 2012

Chess goes to the movies: The Thing

[Warning: This post contains spoilers]

What do people do when they're stuck in Antarctica with the weather closing in and no means of contacting the rest of human civilisation? Well, we know what they did at United States National Science Institution 4 in the winter of 1982: they hung around the games room playing table tennis, strumming guitars and reading. This we discovered from the opening scene of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Actually, it isn't quite the very first scene. The film opens with a space craft crashing to earth and then, after the title screen, a helicopter chasing a husky across the icy tundra.

Neither, as it happens, is it quite everybody who's living it up in the mess hall. Macready (Kurt Russell) is in his cabin amusing himself with a bottle of scotch and a Chess Wizard computer.

Let's leave somebody else to administer a sharp kick to the nutsack belonging to whoever was responsible for the chessboard continuity and stick to thinking about the scene's place in the film as a whole. What is it doing there?

Unlike Saturn 3 the appearance of our favourite game in The Thing has got nothing to do with plot. Rather the chess is there, just five minutes from the beginning, to tell us something about Mac's character. Yes he's a drinker and yes he's a loner, but now we know he's also got attitude. He might get beat, but he'll go down in style. That's what those 52 seconds show us.

"You gotta be fuckin kidding"

That's all you need to know about Macready. The Thing is about to destroy his camp and everyone in it. He won't be a match for this strange alien life form so he's going to lose in the end. Still, he'll fight a good fight and when he finally checks out he'll do it with a flourish and a smart line of dialogue or two.

Macready might get beaten, but because he's the kind of guy who tips whisky in the circuit boards he'll never be defeated.

chessboard shots from

No comments: