Friday, October 14, 2011

Unfortunately, No One Goes Crazy In A Shed: The Thing



This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

When I first heard an updated version of "The Thing" was in the works, I was worried. When I heard it was going to be both a remake and a prequel, I was both worried and pissed. We don't need any more remakes of great movies in the world. Let's move on to remaking crappy movies!

But I was pleased to see that, in terms of story, "The Thing" really is a direct prequel to the 1982 film, (which, I guess, should now officially be known as "John Carpenter's The Thing,"--itself an adaptation of Howard Hawks' 1951 "The Thing From Another World"--since this prequel has nothing in the title suggesting it is anything but a remake). Unfortunately, in terms of plot, it follows many of the same scenarios seen in Carpenter's film, and that's where the movie falters.

There were some questions I had going into "The Thing," like, is the movie going to be entirely in Norwegian? The burnt-out station in the '82 film was filled with Norwegians, and the guy MacReady and his crew have the shoot-out with didn't speak English.

That little plot point is dealt with by placing an American paleontologist, Kate, (played by "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World"'s Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in the center of that Norwegian station, thus forcing the Norwegians to speak English (most of the time). But, of course, there's one guy on the team who can only speak Norwegian. (You can guess what happens to him.)

Kate is brought to Antarctica after the Norwegian team discovers a flying saucer buried under hundreds of thousands of years worth of ice, and a creature frozen several yards away. She's got experience extracting frozen creatures from ice, although what she's dealt with in the past have been things of Earthly origin.

The scientist who recruits her is a shifty guy named Halvorson, (Ulrich Thomsen), and he decides they should take a tissue sample before carting the frozen creature back to civilization. This turns out to be a colossally bad idea.

Before long the alien thaws, escapes, and starts wreaking havoc, and the movie proceeds to play out much like the Carpenter and Hawks films (and the source material, the novella "Who Goes There") did, with the realization that this creature is a mimic, and it's possible no one is who they say they are.

We've come a long way from the creature shop effects or 1982, but that's not necessarily a good thing. I'll always believe that things (no pun intended) that actually physically exist in the world are going to produce a more visceral reaction than things (sorry!) created in a computer. And while credit should to be given to director Matthijs van Heijningen for using some actual creature props here, there's still too much CG, and none of the monster revelations produces the kind of "You've got to be fucking kidding!" reaction elicited in Carpenter's film. The Thing in this film just isn't that creative.

This Thing also doesn't seem that smart. Perhaps by the time it gets to the American camp it has learned a thing or two, but here, it manages to reveal itself at really bad times, and you don't really understand if its intention is to mimic people and take over the world, or just get back to its spaceship and get the hell out of there.

But this The Thing does do a few things right. It's a nice tribute to the 1951 version to have a female scientist amongst the players, and the test she comes up with to determine alien from human is clever. The movie is also very reverential to the 1982 film, and fans will be happy to see the mysteries seen in that burnt-out station are, for the most part, explained here. (And don't leave the second the credits start rolling. You'll be sorry.)

But, on the other hand, if you've seen the 1982 film, you'll recognize, beat for beat, the plot points here. Those people who are unaccounted for for periods of time--are they human? The person knocking at the door--is he human? The first attempt at creating a blood test is thwarted--just like in the Carpenter film--and a make-shift alternative is done instead.

But what this one does not take from the '82 version is any real sense of paranoia. "John Carpenter's The Thing" was all about paranoia, and when you found out a character you actually kind of liked was, in fact, the Thing, it stung.

In this one, there's a complete failure of character development for the majority of the guys in that station. They're all bearded, most speak Norwegian, and it's virtually impossible to tell most of them apart. Why are you going to care if someone's the Thing if you don't even know who the hell that guy was to begin with? In other words, there's no Wilford Brimley going crazy in a shed here.

Ultimately, "The Thing" is able to follow the one rule any sequel or prequel should, which is: don't fuck with the original. Fans of the 1982 film will probably have fun, but for anyone who hasn't seen that one, and chooses to see this one instead, well, you're missing out on the better Thing.

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