Take a break from worry: watch a dumb movie

My suggestion? John Carpenter’s “The Thing”…

Recently I read some advice concerning our current crisis and it went like this; it would be good for your mental health to take a break from watching news about the coronavirus. Experts are worried that people unused to being confined in their homes will suffer anxiety and depression.  

Welcome to my world.

I have been working from home since December of 2017 and while I can report that alcohol helps, you might also need something to stare at while drinking. I wrote the following piece a while ago, but now seems like a good time to post it. So here’s my review of a dumb movie that you may want to watch while under house arrest.

The difference between bad and dumb movies

I was a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan (the show where a dude and his two robot pals made fun of bad movies) so I’ve certainly seen worse films than John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing.

Bad movies allow boom mikes to be seen, zippers on monster costumes to show and parts of the scenery to fall over and don’t cut any of it; they don’t have the budget to go back and fix those mistakes.

Dumb movies take perfectly competent actors and photographers and directors and have them film scenes that serve a dumb script.

And that gets us to The Thing.

The opening scene  

The beginning of The Thing features what appears to be the world’s worst sniper, flying in a helicopter, trying to shoot a fleeing dog running through the snows of Antarctica. The helicopter keeps making passes like it’s an airplane and the sniper keeps missing Fido.

One more time: it’s a helicopter and the sniper never says, “Hey, what say we hover about a foot and a half above Rin Tin Tin and I’ll blow his brains out.”

Because the two dudes in the helicopter never figure out how to make it hover, the dog is never shot by the bad sniper, convincingly played by Ray Charles, Jr. (OK, I made that bit of casting up, but Ray would have been just as effective as the guy doing the shooting in The Thing.)

So anyway…

Lassie runs into some kind of arctic base camp, the helicopter lands and the bad sniper decides to blow up the dog using a grenade which on first glance looks suspiciously like a can of V8 juice.

The Thing’s budget was $15 million and for comparison’s sake Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cost $378.5 million, so that movie probably spent more than $15 million on Johnny Depp’s eyeliner.

When the bad sniper tries to throw his tomato-juice grenade at Toto, turns out he’s even worse at throwing stuff than shooting stuff and somehow manages to throw his grenade backward and blows up the helicopter and its pilot.

I’d say this was ludicrous, but I once saw a Kansas City Royals outfielder do the same thing, minus the exploding helicopter.

Doubling down on bad decisions, the sniper then starts shooting at the dog which is now surrounded by a crowd of men who come out to see who the hell is blowing up helicopters in their front yard.

Once again the sniper manages to completely miss Benji from about 20 feet and wounds an innocent bystander instead.

I’d once again say this was ridiculous, but it’s later revealed that the sniper is Norwegian and Norway has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, so how much practice did the dude get? If you’re in the NRA, I guess that’s one for your side.

Meanwhile, a character still inside the base camp breaks out a window with a pistol and shoots the sniper in the head. Probably a life-long NRA member, but we never find out for sure.

Nobody on either side suggests maybe they should talk and quit shooting at each other, which in retrospect was the most realistic part of the movie.  

Later we learn it gets to 100 degrees below zero at night, so breaking out that window probably meant everybody in the base camp would die unless there happened to be an Eskimo glazier living nearby, which seems pretty unlikely because the movie takes place in Antarctica, not Alaska.

The broken window is never mentioned again.

Oops…need to rewind

Forgot to mention: before all this canine target practice breaks out, our hero and one of my favorite actors, Kurt Russell, is playing chess against a computer and when the computer beats him, Kurt opens the computer door (all computers have one, don’t they?) and pours in a glass of scotch, which sets the computer on fire.

So apparently they have plenty of extra scotch, computers and window glass handy there at the ass-end of the world.

All this happened in the first nine minutes of the movie and I was about to turn it off, but then got interested in finding out how many other dumb things the screen writer could jam into the plot.

Spoiler alerts!

Before I was done watching:

  • A dog tried to escape a holding pen by successfully biting holes in a chain link fence.

  • Wilford Brimley got taken over by the alien which had been hiding inside Cujo, then alien/Wilford built a flying saucer out of spare parts from a helicopter and generator.

  • Despite the fact that the alien seemed to have a bad case of agoraphobia (which is fear of crowds not angora sweaters, which is what I thought before I looked it up) and would only take over a human being when he was alone, everybody kept wandering away from the safety of the crowd to “check on something” and turning into human condos for the alien.

  • When you finally see it, the alien appeared to be made up of snot and rubber bands. This alien looked like something Sigourney Weaver’s alien would have coughed up during an asthma attack.

Also, Kurt wore the most ridiculous hat ever seen a movie that didn’t co-star munchkins and here it is:

Clearly, this would be the choice of headwear for someone who spends his time in the confined space of a helicopter cockpit and taking strolls through 100 mph winds. Actually wear this thing in winds that strong and Kurt would have been blown to Tierra del Fuego like Sally Field in The Flying Nun.

Turns out this hat is still sold by Baron Hats and it’s called the “R.J.” because it’s named after Kurt’s character, R.J. MacReady.

It retails for $1,250 to $1,550 depending on whether you go for the Western Weight Fur Felt or the 200XXX 100% Beaver version. (I’d make a joke about XXX 100% Beaver costing 1,550 bucks, but feel confident you beat me to it.)

Why it’s easier to write for dumb characters

A screenwriter whose name escapes me, assuming I ever knew it, once said it was a lot easier to write for dumb characters because you didn’t have to give them a reason to go back in the house where the chainsaw-wielding maniac is busy dismembering teenage cheerleaders.

A smart character would need a damn good reason – like, oh shit…I left my cell phone behind – a dumb character just wanders back in.

So what’s today’s lesson?

Dumb characters don’t use helicopters to hover, randomly shoot into crowds and pour scotch into computers.

Smart characters stay home until this current crisis is over and entertain themselves by watching dumb characters in dumb movies.

Be a smart character.

Stay safe, everybody.