Some movies, no matter how brilliant, just aren’t good to watch at certain times. Going for an open-water swim? Avoid Jaws. About to board a flight? Maybe skip Final Destination. Staying the night in a hostel? Don’t watch Hostel.
What about if you’re spending seven months in the dark, freezing conditions of the Antarctic winter? Easy, avoid The Thing like the plague!
Which is the exact opposite of what the brave men and women who winter-over at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station do at the start of each winter.
In fact, they not only watch John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi classic, they go the whole hog, taking in Howard Hawks’ 1952 original The Thing from another world, and Matthijs van Heijningen’s 2011 The Thing as well.
Writing for The Antarctic Sun (the US Antarctic Program’s online ‘newspaper’) in March 2013, Marie McLane touched on the station’s first of winter frightfest:
All the winter-overs came out to send off the last of the summer crew. That first full night of winter, as per tradition, all three versions of The THING (1951, 1982 and 2011) were shown in the gym.
This year 45 people (8 women and 37 men) are wintering over at Amundsen–Scott, and though watching all three films is clearly a very recent tradition, people have wintered over at the South Pole research station – in its various guises and set-ups – since 1957.
That’s right, humankind have had a constant presence at the South Pole since after we first saw a film about aliens murdering people cut off from the world!
And it gets better – in July of 2013, McLane wrote of another film-watching tradition… Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining!
Midwinter here at the South Pole Station External U.S. government site was celebrated with the traditional showing of “The Shining,” as well as a special dinner.
To be fair, there’s no need to fill your head with aliens, ghouls and Jack Nicholson for you to be petrified in Antarctica, because you’ll likely die in other, far more real and terrible ways.
First off, the weather can drop to as low as -80 degrees Celsius, and significantly colder with windchill factor, with McLane writing about how “physical properties change” in this type of cold:
This degree of cold makes metal tracks on the equipment pop and crack, sounding like Rice Crispies. It freezes Sharpie markers after a minute or two, leaving only a streak of black felt scraped off the tip. Filmy plastic bags become so brittle that even being bent by the wind will snap them in half. Elastic bands on headlamps freeze solid, cracking sharply when adjusted or stretched. Rubber seals break in half at the lightest pressure. Metal zippers become cold enough to burn fingers if touched with bare skin. Cameras slow until the shutter freezes in place. Even hard plastic will crack if dropped.
Cold doesn’t bother you? There are also crevasse fields where you can fall to your doom, and according to David Nold, who has wintered over five times, the wildlife may look beautiful but it’s not particularly friendly.
“One year, scientists were tagging leopard seals, which have huge jagged teeth,” Nold told the American Museum of Natural History.
“One of the seals turned around and bit one of them in the leg. If you’re standing on the edge of the ice, orca whales will come and pluck you right off. You don’t have to be in the water. Orcas will stick their heads up and look around, like seals do.”
One thing you don’t need to be concerned about is bears. While they are called ‘polar’ bears, they actually only live at the one pole, and their presence (or lack thereof) is how we gave each of the poles there name: ‘arktos’ means ‘bear’ in Greek – so Arctic has bears, while ant-Arctic doesn’t.
For the record, there is a fourth version of The Thing – well, a fourth adaptation of the novella it’s based upon, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (writing under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart) – Eugenio Martín’s 1972 effort Horror Express.
It’s a film so good, you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube.