October 16, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

In 1982 John Carpenter introduced us to his take on The Thing, the second film to be inspired by John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There." The first was 1951's The Thing from Another World, starring James Arness as The Thing. Carpenter's film took it to knew heights of atmospheric paranoia and bloody horror. That film received a chilly critical reception and performed only so so at the theater (blamed on the poor reviews and following ET at the theaters by a couple of weeks). Anyway, time has been kind to the film and it is now recognized for how good it really is. Well, I guess it was inevitable in this age of remakes that eyes would eventually turn towards it. Fortunately, it is not a remake, but a prequel. Is it worthy? Time will ultimately tell us.

When the 1982 film opened we saw a dog running across the snow being chased by a helicopter with men shooting at it. This new film shows us what happened leading up to the helicopter/dog chase at the Norwegian base. As it starts the Norwegians are searching for the source of a strange signal. It seems to be emanating from beneath the ice. This leads to a monumental discovery.

They discover an alien ship beneath the ice and a frozen alien body. They go about excavating the body and while celebrating their discovery, it wakes up, breaks free of the ice and escapes. The team rushes out to take a look for it. The problem is that they find it. It snatches one of them and begins doing something strange to it. The humans, led by American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are able to stop it, so they would believe. This leads to the startling discovery that the thing is able to copy cells and look just like its prey.

If you have seen Carpenter's film you know where this is going. While it may be a prequel in name, it seems to have had some desire to be a remake. A lot of what happens is very reminiscent of what we have seen before. People become suspicious of each other, various people change into twisted, mangled forms of themselves with some big, toothy mouths ready to wreak some havoc on whoever gets in its path.

The Thing '11 does not stand up to Carpenter's film, but I do find it to be an interesting companion piece. I have read that they studied the prior film to ensure continuity. This caused a few things to happen, well, they may have studied too closely and missed some obvious things, as it is not perfect, distractingly so, but nit pickers may be upset. I think it also may have seeped into their head in general terms. This movie often feels very similar structurally. There are a few new twists and a different fashion for some determinations, but this still feels very similar to The Thing '82.

I find it amazing how simultaneously simple and complex the movie is (both of them for that matter). The story is straightforward mystery/thriller whodunit type material with a host of creature blood and effects. The complications arise when you think of the mechanics the Thing goes through to copy its prey, how it came to be there, the implications of its escape, and the paranoia of the people trying to stay alive.

This prequel is not as good, but it does provide an good creature feature to see in theaters that may be attempting to replicate its predecessor (not unlike the creatures it features), it still remains something different on the cinematic landscape that does not replicate the recent horror or science fiction output. It is well worth seeing and while it is far from great, it does feature some nice atmosphere, some nice creatures, some decent acting, and it does a decent job dovetailing with the film it leads into.

I do not envy the poor soul tasked with writing a prequel/sequel/remake of a classic. It is never an easy task with expectations that are always too high. This one does a decent job of it. So, be not afraid, keep your expectations in check and enjoy the ride.

The creature designs are pretty good and fall in line with what we already know of the Thing. With that said, I was a little disappointed in a lot of the computer generated effects. Some of the CG is sub par and just not all that good. I would have preferred a more pure practical effects drive the film.

Acting is generally pretty good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is mostly good as the lead, although I still have issues looking at someone so young being considered an authority in scientific fields. It is not that it couldn't happen, but I suspect I have been forever poisoned by Denise Richards in that James Bond movie. Ms Winstead does strike a more convincing performance and has almost anime-like eyes leading to some great reaction shots.

Is it all it could be? Of course not. It is a valiant effort, and one that mostly succeeds. It has a bit of that old school feel, but it is blended with some modern day sensibilities and a bit more of an in your face attitude. Lovers of the original, be not afraid. I suspect my enjoyment of this could increase over time. Scary thought.


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