Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Thing (2011)

It's not human. Yet.

Like a lot of horror fans, I have a special place in my evil heart for the 1982 version of The Thing directed by John Carpenter. It’s probably my favorite horror film, and there are a lot of people who agree with me, it seems. That’s quite an achievement for a movie that was critically reviled and a commercial dud upon its theatrical release, but home video has been very good to it.

I had mixed feelings when it was announced that a prequel was being made. The 1982 version was a masterpiece of paranoid, claustrophobic horror, and it was difficult to see how it could be matched. Still, there was always the sense we had seen the middle of the story, and didn’t know exactly what had happened before the infected dog reached Outpost 31, or anything about what happened after the ‘82 movie ended. I was pretty eager to see it but it met with a similar fate as the first one, with a poor box office and terrible reviews, and it disappeared from local theaters quickly. I had to wait until the blu ray was released to see it.

As you probably know, the movie shows us what happened in the Norwegian camp before Carpenter’s version. A group of Norwegian scientists working in the Antarctic discover an alien spacecraft frozen in the ice, and, more ominously, a life form frozen nearby. The head of the expedition, Dr. Sandor Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) calls in a paleontologist, Kate Loyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help study it, keeping the discovery secret from the larger world from the time being. As you can guess, the thing in the ice isn’t nearly as dead as the scientists think, and it wakes up, breaks free of the ice, and, to quote the ’82 movie, is “weird and pissed off.” Soon the human numbers begin to shrink, and they discover what the scientists of Outpost 31 did/will: the creature can devour and replicate any living thing. Once this realization is reached, the survivors become locked in a struggle not simply to live, but to keep the thing from reaching the rest of Earth.

The filmmakers were in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation with this movie. If their version was too close to the Carpenter film, they would get savaged for copying the “beloved” classic. If they made it too different, they wouldn’t be true to the source material. I really don’t think there is anything that could have been done to satisfy the true fanboys. They did try to protect the earlier film as much as possible. The studio originally wanted to do a full-fledged remake, but the producers and director (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) argued the ’82 version was too good, and swayed them to a prequel instead. The prior film was praised for its use of practical effects, so the effects were practical wherever possible, with some CGI enhancement. Instead of the somber mood of the Carpenter version, this is a more action-oriented film, and Winstead’s character owes more to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley than Kurt Russell’s MacReady.

So, is it any good? I think so, yes. It isn’t as good as the 1982 movie, but almost no horror films are, in my opinion. It does manage to pay careful homage to the first film while presenting something new. The alien in this one is more given to overt attacks on humans rather than the stealth we have previously seen, but that is logically explained as it learning to be a little more cautious after being set on fire a few times. A new test is devised to determine that some people aren’t the thing, which is low-tech and fairly clever. The cast acquit themselves well, and the ending, although pre-ordained, is clever. If you measure the movie in your mind against the version you love, it will probably come up short, but if you approach it with an open mind, I think it will be enjoyable. I’m looking forward to watching the two movies together to see how it works as a double feature.

I do think many of the characters could have been developed further. Other than Loyd, Halvorson and the helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), most the characters are just meat for the grinder. Halvorson also comes across as a bit of a stock scientist villain. Winstead was criticized by a lot of reviewers, but I think she does a good job of portraying the outsider in the camp who has to take over in a crisis because no one else can.

I’ll address a couple of the message board concerns from before the movie’s release. A lot of fans of the first were upset that two women are in the cast of the new version, whereas the first movie is generally believed to have an all-male cast (it doesn’t, but most people don’t get it). I can’t help with that, since fear of a vagina is a matter for psychiatrists. If you are one of these, you may be comforted by the fact that Halvorson treats Loyd and the other female scientist like dirt. There was also quite a bit of noise from the “remakes are bad and ruin the first movie” crowd. I’ll just point out that Carpenter’s film was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, and leave it at that.


Rabid Fox said...

I want to enjoy this one, but after recently watching Big Trouble in Little China, and remembering the all-round greatness of Kurt Russell, I'll probably be disappointed no matter how hard I try to like the new movie.

KentAllard said...

That's the trick, of course: you have to see this as a movie separate from its predecessor, which isn't easy.

Ginger Nuts said...

I watched this this morning an I enjoyed it a lot