The clip I chose to analyze for this blog post was from the film The Thing. I wanted to take a look at this clip because I’ve seen this movie before, and knew I wouldn’t get distracted from analyzing the scene by trying to figure out what was actually going on. I also had the Ebert article “How To Read Movies” in mind; in that article, he talks about how an audience member pointed out something about Citizen Kane that he’d never noticed before, despite having analyzed the movie at least 30 times. I wanted to see if I would notice anything new about The Thing.
The Camera Work
Right away, I noticed the use of zooms in the scene. In the first few seconds, the camera zooms in on each object and character, hiding the rest of the setting from the viewer.
Eventually, the camerawork shows off perfectly one of the methods that Ebert discusses directors using. From a positive character (one of the protagonists) on the right, the camera shifts to the left over to a couple of dead bodies, something negative. The very motion of the camera to the left suggests the shift to something negative on screen.
The camera continues to stay zoomed in on the people and objects in the scene, forcing the audience to be hyper-aware of them, such as the Petri dish of blood. The camera then executes a shifting shot from the negative dead bodies to the more positive protagonist, an opposite movement from earlier in the scene.
The theme of positive on the right, negative on the left continues to appear in the scene. After it becomes apparent who the monster has gotten to among the team, a fight ensues. After the monster is lit on fire, it runs out into the snow. The viewer is given this shot of the monster on the left and the protagonist on the right.
Ebert also states that objects in the right and/or in the foreground of a shot tend to be more dominant over objects in the left and/or background. This statement is especially true in this scene when one of the characters is instructed to torch the monster. He runs up to it instinctively, but quickly becomes overwhelmed by fear. The viewer can tell just how much power this monster has over the character because of the framing of this shot.
The viewer is also encouraged to fear the monster and to focus their attention on it through use of diagonals. In the following shot, the bench that the team members are tied to tilts up because two of the men are trying to escape the monster. The leads to a diagonal within the shot that the viewers eyes follow.
All in all, the camera work in this scene was made to make the viewer afraid of The Thing. And it certainly worked!
One thing that I noticed right away when I sat down to analyze the audio of this scene was that there was no music. There was, however, a lot of terrified yelling.
During the first few seconds of the scene, there aren’t even any noises in the background, besides the characters’ voices and the sound effects from what they’re directly interacting with. However, it soon becomes apparent that there’s the faint sound of wind in the background. This faint howling gives the viewer a sense of anticipation and heightens the tension of this scene. At times, there are also long spaces of silence in between dialogue. The unnatural pacing of the conversation speaks to the characters’ feelings of unease. In these silences, the howling wind and rising tension is more audible. Of course, that tension all breaks when the Petri dish shatters and the monster screams. After that sense of anticipation is broken, it’s a mess of screams, howls, thuds, and flamethrower noises. The cacophony conveys the sense of terror and chaos in the room. As the protagonist tries to get his flamethrower working, the viewer can hear the puffs as it continuously fails. Each successive failure puts the characters closer to death, and the viewer is keenly aware of that.
The actors continue screaming throughout the whole scene, even after the monster is away from them and on fire. The contrast between the quiet of the first part of this scene and how loud the second part is illustrates just how fast the events of the story can go from calm to deadly.
Tying It Together
The first thing I wanted to keep an eye out for in my rewatch was whether or not the camera is on the flamethrower every time you hear the noise of it failing. If that were the case, I knew that it would be something that the director REALLY wanted the viewer to pay attention to. I found that the camera wasn’t; however, the noise is so persistent through the scene that it’s difficult to ignore anyway.
There are a lot of crashing and shattering noises caused by the monster. I found it interesting that every time a lamp or light in the room was broken by the monster’s movements, the camera zoomed in on it. After thinking about why the director wanted zooms on the lamps, I realized it must have been because if the lamps had caught on fire by being broken, then the monster would have been defeated even without the flamethrower working. Every time a lamp breaks, and then doesn’t catch on fire, the viewer might think “Gah! We really, really need that flamethrower now!”
When the flamethrower does finally work, and the monster catches on fire, it lets out a chilling and unearthly shriek. Despite all the yelling, it’s the loudest noise in that scene. I found that part of the scene striking because it comes with a mingled sense of relief and fear. The monster is defeated, but it was horrifying. They’re safe now, but for how long?
Perhaps that’s the draw of suspenseful films such as The Thing: that mingled sense of relief, and of fear.