Reviews

The Thing

3

JC's second coming...

Strangely, considering he made, in Halloween, one of the great shadows-and-spaces suspense movies, John Carpenter dislikes Jacques Tourneur’s proto-slasher, Cat People. He thinks it’s a con, all shifting shadows and no substance.

What Carpenter loves is Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, a film of motion, action and manifest malevolence. His own 1982 remake, The Thing, took the show’n’tell to extremes, and was lambasted at the time for Rob Bottin’s now-celebrated effects – whipping innards, suppurating flesh and yawning vagina-maws to give HR Giger nightmares. “If you have something you can bring out under the light, then do it, go for it,” Carpenter insisted.

No point bemoaning this prequel for its overt CGI , then. Indeed, while there are a couple of misjudgments and one sequence evokes distressing memories of The Rock’s face pasted onto a giant scorpion in The Mummy’s Return, the viscous VFX are, by and large, impressive.

Partly it’s because tendrils, talons and melting meat lend themselves to CG . But mostly it’s because of the imagination, rather than the pixels, on display, with Dutch first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen’s effects team serving up a smattering (splattering?) of ingenious riffs on the ’82 film’s key moments. More problematic is the lack of suspense…

Who goes there?

The build-up is cogent and measured as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s American paleontologist Kate Lloyd joins a team of Norwegians in the Antarctic to investigate a 100,000-year-old craft buried 200m deep.

They find – what else? – a shape-shifting ET , the cantankerous critter exploding out of a block of ice and hightailing it into the wind-torn night in search of somewhere to hide. And as any VHS-era movie fan knows, man is the warmest place…

The outside threat, lurking within? Nowhere to run but a frozen wasteland? Brrr. Carpenter’s picture was certainly cramped and claustrophobic, the walls of the dingy research base closing inexorably in until the pregnant paranoia birthed slippery, hard-to-grasp monsters.

By contrast, van Heijningen’s effort offers a cleaner, brighter, roomier living space, plus plenty of daytime exterior shots and a good deal more flamethrowing action. There are moments of tension – one involving a chopper taking off with the Thing, in all probability, on board, and another serving as this film’s version of the famous blood test – but the airier framing allows any ratcheting suspense to dissipate quickly.

The dynamic of the group is similarlyless engaging. “This is the last place you wanna be stuck with a load of Norwegian guys,” one character grins at Kate in the opening reel, an amusing, offhand remark loaded with underlying threat. But any hope that the filmmakers’ decision to drop a little oestrogen into the pool of testosterone is more to do with introducing a palpable sexual threat than appeasing studio suits – the 1982 film’s box-office flop was attributed, among other things, to the all-male cast – is quashed by Eric Heisserer’s bubble-wrapped script.

A mutual spark of attraction flickers between Kate and chopper pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton, giving Texan viewers another ‘American’ character to cling onto), but that’s your lot. The guys neither leer or jeer when Kate assumes the role of group leader in the face of the icky threat.

The new horror

Winstead, for her part, is fine in the Ripley-esque warrior role, and Edgerton has just enough fuzz on his face and gravel in his throat to suggest he might have filled Kurt Russell’s snow boots if his role was enlarged.

The rest of the crew, though, are fodder; you won’t care if they live, die or erupt into a pulsing fountain of spaghetti, which in turn means the new technique devised to establish who’s human and who’s host carries a good deal less import than it should. (It also contradicts a detail of Carpenter’s film.)

Of course, anyone coming to The Thing 2011 minus a relationship with Carpenter’s film or the 1951 original, which this also riffs on, will find less to quibble about. In fact, if you don’t shudder with excitement when the otherworldly light shines through the title, you might even want to add an extra star to this review.

Certainly, taken in the context of the plethora of horror revisits we’ve suffered through in the last eight years, it’s one of the better efforts, a notch or two below the hot-heeled Dawn Of The Dead retread but considerably stronger than, say, Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hitcher, The Last House On The Left and Rupert Wainwright’s godawful remake of Carpenter’s The Fog.

Make no mistake: this is a rollicking Friday-night monster movie. But a match for The Thing in its original form(s)? You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’…

Verdict:

A solid, reverential riff on a horror/sci-fi masterpiece. The frequent homages (including applying Carpenter’s score to the full-circle finale) are welcome, though they remind viewers how much this has to live up to.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • tommypocket

      Nov 29th 2011, 2:06

      Christ, that's an horrendous opening sentence...

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    • aragorn01

      Nov 29th 2011, 8:54

      well...i just watched it and...yeah, though it didn't match carpenter's original (which is sorta a remake itself), in terms of dread and claustrophia it offered. the space ship scenes also felt obligatory, since they need to show how it (SPOILER!!) gets blown up for the cast in 82 original find later on. the cg works look fine throughout. the acting's decent, all around, though, i must say Mary E.W. (who is one of my favorite young talents today) is rather not quite up to the task in the ripley-esque role, here. and having recently seen Warrior, i also wish Joel Edgerton woulda had MORE to do. he even looks a little like Kurt (in the 82 The Thing). but, like the remake of Dawn of the Dead (which came from the same producer), this new Thing is quite satisfactory. not quite in the same league as carpenter's movie, but, it does make me to crave for a sequel (NOT a remake of carpenter's original, though). but, to get more fun from it, i'd recommend to watch the Carpenter's Thing RIGHT AFTER watching this movie. it'll just add more oomph to this latest entry.

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    • drhthomas

      Dec 2nd 2011, 16:45

      Brilliant ending sentence though.

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    • ChrisWootton

      Dec 3rd 2011, 16:16

      Saw it yesterday... it's an ok film but a completely missed opportunity. And (SPOILER ALERT) they make a HUUUUGE error by changing how the ship is found. Didn't the director actually watch the Carpenter film that this is supposed to be a prequel to? You see them in Carpenters version actually blowing the ship from the ice.. rubbish. The whole - blending seamlessly into the better version - thing was c**p as well, it's just tacked on at the end with a character you'd never seen before turning up.. from where? he didn't know anything about what happened and yet we're to believe that he suddenly wants to hunt and kill the alien.. there are some good bits in it though and it has stayed with me a little..

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    • Igrayne

      Dec 4th 2011, 19:10

      Why would Norwegians want to bring Americans in? Are Norwegians so backward they cannot handle things themselves considering Norway has the highest standard of living on Earth I doubt they need bloody America. If they did want Americans there is a base fifty miles away, a fact from the original also mentioned in this one. It is not a prequel they were just scared of the backlash to call it a remake which it is. The man in the hellicopter had all of five minutes to be convinced of all that was going on, believe the deranged man with the rifle and attempt to grenade the dog. Why is there such an elaborate spaceship for a creature which looks like a chaotic child of adaption? The Thing should have remained in human form at the end and explained at least a little before leaving earth or being killed. Awful ending, good effects, some good acting and a clever twist at the end, Winstead's character is The Thing.

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    • ChrisWootton

      Dec 5th 2011, 10:12

      Did I miss something at the very end after the credits had rolled? If I didn't then how the hell did you get to that conclusion about Winstead?

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