7 December 2011
THE THING- Review
So colour me unsympathetic, now that we're faced with The Thing, ostensibly a 21st century remake of John Carpenter's The Thing, which was itself a remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World. As becomes apparent throughout the 2011 version, however, it's actually in continuity with Carpenter's film, which prominently features a Antarctic base in the aftermath of an attack by the shape-shifting bastard of the title. So, the film opens with the discovery of a spacecraft, frozen underground, and palaeontology graduate Kate Lloyd is shipped out to Antarctica with a bunch of Norwegians, to investigate the discovery.
Coming from the producers of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, you should have a pretty good idea of how this is going to pan out. If informed by a love of John Carpenter's version, you probably have your own issues as you go in, like an expectation that the CG effects will be less impressive than the practical effects seen in 1982, which hold up to this day, as some of the best creature effects ever seen in a movie. Nothing fruitful can come of this "anticipointment" (a fan sensation of expecting or looking forward to disappointment, according to Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts), especially when the Dawn of the Dead remake, which seems to have been embraced by as many people as those who derided it, is a more accurate gauge.
Double Take podcast, counts that film as his favourite of all time, on days when he doesn't prefer Enter the Dragon, and what I've heard of his response so far was what I expected- "It wasn't as bad as it could have been." It's hard to imagine many other die-hard Thing fans, however well-intentioned their attempts to watch the film without comparing to previous versions of the story, reacting with any more enthusiasm than that.
There are a number of cracking setpieces, but these are largely rehashed. This immediately invites the comparisons from which the film will suffer most- with detachment from what has gone before, the characters in The Thing are not stock characters, and nor are they unlikeable or boring to watch. John Carpenter's The Thing has exceptionally well-developed characters, so of course Joel Edgerton's Carter, arguably the film's Kurt Russell substitute, would not stand up to the same level of scrutiny. But the film's biggest loan from sci-fi horror doesn't even come from Carpenter's film, but from the Alien series, and she's also the best thing about the film.
By the measure of how she is treated by the men in the film, and her general accumulation of badass points as the film progresses, winsome American protagonist Kate Lloyd is basically the film's Ripley, the only other woman in an isolated situation. It's very nicely played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has proven herself a resilient horror heroine in far worse films than this one, and she's consistently the most watchable thing about this prequel. If Carpenter was making a film about mistrust, in the environment of a uniquely tricksy gribbly, then Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. makes a brave stab at a film about mistrust based on misogyny. Unfortunately, this gives out too quickly, in favour of more jingoistic mistrust, an arena in which the wronged must always be in the right.
At the very least, you can say that the source material has not been misunderstood. It may be a less finessed version of the salient points, but Eric Heisserer's film is not without humour or chills. Likewise, Marco Beltrami does a great job of picking up composing duties from Ennio Morricone's original score, without relying solely on his iconic cues. Those who feared the visual effects would pale in comparison would be vindicated by those shots where the CG resembles that seen in Van Helsing, more than a film made in 2011, but the use of VFX and prosthetics doesn't jar for the most part.
The Thing is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Thing, why not share your comments below? To hear me discuss the prequel/remake with the aforementioned Mr. Simpson, listen to Double Take on the online stream from 2-3pm GMT, or subscribe to the podcast to hear it afterwards.
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.