You may have heard of a rather creepy little scarefest of a fillum called The Thing by John Carpenter. It stars that mulleted young 80’s scamp Kurt Russell and was fillumed somewhere rather cold. It’s a pretty fun viewing. However, despite numerous offerings of said cinematic marvel across several formats over the years, even the current 4K rescans on the Arrow and Shout Select labels are still censored and thus incomplete.
This may leave some of you reading this baffled as to how a film released fully uncut and in a glorious new 4K rescan of the original negative with a host of special features could possibly still remain incomplete. The secret layeth within the details, specifically the commentary tracks.
You see, the problem is that a lot of the commentary recorded between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell has been time altered and in places censored in order to make it more politically correct or just sound a bit better. When you look at some of the changes that were made in this timestamped run through of the different commentary tracks, it does make you wonder why a lot of the changes were made. Why could the commentary not just be left untouched as it was originally recorded?
So here’s the thing (pun semi-unintended), the uncensored commentary track was originally recorded for the Signature Collection Laserdisc release. It was later reused on a couple of the DVD releases in the late 1990’s. After that, once the Blu Ray appeared, that is when the changes were made and thus the uncensored commentary track is now lost to the ravages of time and only available across older video formats.
That got me to thinking about putting together my own Blu Ray release, reinstating the original, uncensored commentary and thus creating my own Ultimate Edition if you will. Perhaps you might want to make your own Ultimate Edition too so please, read on.
Firstly, I went hunting for the right edition of the DVD releases to save myself the hassle of picking up a copy of the Signature Collection Laserdisc and capturing the analogue commentary track. I found the pick of the bunch to be the Region 1 Collector’s Edition of The Thing, released in 1998. Note the later 2004 R1 DVD contains the same commentary track too. Perhaps people are cottoning on to the value of these DVD releases as the prices are certainly creeping up a little even in since January of this year.
If you really want to go old school, you will need to track down a copy of the Signature Collection Laserdisc. This is the release that the commentary was originally recorded for. There is really no reason to go hunting a copy down when superior prints exist, even for Laserdisc aficionados. If you want to spruce your Ultimate Edition up even further, for a true elite completist version, you could also pick up a copy of the HD DVD and rip that to the same MKV container file too. Why? Well, some say that the HD DVD release is of a better quality as the Blu Ray editions suffer from too much post processing, thus degrading the quality of the final video.
I have picked up a copy of the HD DVD for pure completion sake but have yet to get hold of an HD DVD drive to rip the disc to MKV.
The best way to put together your ultimate edition is by using the wonderful MakeMKV software. This will allow you to do a 1:1 dump of your disk to an MKV container file. From there, you can import your Blu Ray and DVD files to MKVToolNix and put together the components for multiplexing in to your final ultimate edition of The Thing.
Note in the screenshot above that the latest Arrow release appears to use the subtitles in the same release from Shout Factory. Maybe they licensed the release between each other for the North American and European markets? You should also see I’ve imported the DVD MKV file, stripped out all of it’s components, including video, and left just the commentary track. I removed the Blu Ray commentary track from the MKV file. No point having a duplicate track even if it is censored. One final thing to mention, I thankfully didn’t have to alter any track timing to make the audio fit the video run time. It’s synced perfectly as the film run time is the same.
Once the prep is done it’s simply a case of multiplexing the whole thing and playing back the final MKV in your favourite media player!
So there you have it, a bit of history on the quirks of The Thing and a little bit about putting together your own ultimate edition. I also made my own poster art for my Plex server. Well, I robbed the artwork from a Google image search and then ran it through Photoshop to change colours, add some text etc. Just to differentiate it from my other versions of The Thing that I’ve dumped from my physical media collection to my NAS.
I’m pretty pleased at the end results of the final MKV file. I think it was worth the time and effort to bring together all of these components and it will certainly tide me over until a 4K UHD edition hopefully appears. I’ll probably still have to import the uncensored commentary though.