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The Classic Film Intro: The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's opening sequence regarded as one of the most classic story set-up's in film history.
Take a look at this brilliant set-up within a set up. Starting at 1:34 through 1:46 (only :12 seconds!). As a lead in to the title for the film, the viewing audience is immediately conditioned with the extraterrestrial/alien premise as the origin of the dreaded Thing. Only if paying very close attention to this from very early on will a critical reveal later pay off: The discovery of the frozen UFO submerged in the ice.
Possibly the best way to build upon this brief opening glimpse is to point out the potential for what could so easily become a missed film-viewer opportunity: For someone coming in even a tiny bit late the discovery of the UFO in the ice later will risks feeling like a cheat to someone who maybe missed that crucial :12 seconds just over a minute-and-a-half into the opening credits.
But this is just a very small sample of what makes the opening set-up sequence so memorable. The viewer is immediately introduced to the isolation of the remote location, immediately suggesting that whatever is in store better be manageable by the main characters because there is no cavalry on the way to provide back-up and save the day.
The viewer immediately observes an unusual game of chase and evade between a helicopter and a poor husky dog, appearing to be being pursued. Moments later the helicopter co-pilot begins shooting at the poor dog, and moments after that begins having hand grenades lobbed at it! What is going on!? Moreover, what could a poor helpless, defenseless dog have done to deserve any of that?!
But wait… Possibly the dog isn’t quite so innocent after all? Hmmmm.
And all of this within the first 4:53 of the film.
This introduction sequence and the several layers of set-up and suspense absolutely sets a tone for the wild ride that John Carpenter’s The Thing creates.
In doing so, this is easily one of my favorite set-up sequences ever.