The Thing and Wordcraft

Forgive me as a geek the hell out about The Thing for a while.

I watched the flick for the first time in years last night, and was struck by three things:

  • How remarkably blue Kurt russell’s eyes are.
  • The subtle placement of an old anti-vd poster behind Mac as he performs the blood test. “They aren’t labeled, chum”
  • One particular aspect of craft — names.

12 characters are involved in the strange events at Outpost #31, any of whom could be an alien. People whisper paranoid fears about each other in dark corners.”What’s wrong with Blair?” “Go get the keys from Garry.” “I won’t go with Windows.”  And yet I had no issue keeping the names straight.

How was this done?  A few keys –

It’s ok for people to call each other by name. Writer advice columns everywhere tell us not to do that. “Gee, Bob, I don’t get it.” “Me either, Shan.” They say people don’t really talk like that, and to an extent they are correct. But in a group conversation, it happens much more frequently — and this can be used to our advantage.

One at a time. The witchcraft whisperings addressed one guy at a time. Even if the audience isn’t sure who they mean at first, it’s made clear pretty quickly by referring to other scenes.

No nicknames. Aside from the shortening of MacReady to Mac, the rest of the characters stick to one name. I’m a fan of using the various ways people refer to each other as a device to reveal the character of the speaker, but when faced withe the sheer ice cliff of names in this story, they were right to leave it simple.

 

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