February 9, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Thing (2011)

In 1982 John Carpenter gave us to his take on The Thing, inspired by John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There" and the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, starring James Arness as the title character. Carpenter's film took us to new heights of paranoia and graphic horror. It received a chilly critical reception and was not much of a box office success. Fortunately, time has been kind to the film and it is now recognized for how good it really is. The double edged sword also made it an inevitable target for a remake. Not necessarily a bad thing, considering it was a remake itself. Well, fortunately, it is not a remake, but a prequel (that feels a lot like a remake). Is it worthy? I say yes, but the reaction has been rather divided on its merits.

When Carpenter's film opened, a dog is running across the snow being chased by a helicopter with men shooting at it. It was revealed that the men were from a nearby Norwegian camp which had been decimated by some unknown thing. This new film shows us what happened leading up to the chase, what, exactly, happened at that base? As this movie starts the Norwegians are searching for the source of a signal, found to be emanating from beneath the ice.

A gigantic alien ship is found beneath the ice, along with a frozen alien body. They go on to dig up part of the ship and bring the alien back to their base, still encased in a large block of ice. Later, as they celebrate their discovery, it awakens and escapes. There is a made rush to find the thing. The problem is not so much that it got out, it is that they find it. The thing's tentacles snatches one of them and begins doing bad things to it. The humans, led by American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are able to stop it, at least they think they do. We know this is not the end, first because that would make this one short movie and second we learn that this thing is able to copy cells and look just like its prey.

If you have seen Carpenter's film (and you most definitely should) you know where this is going. While it may technically be a prequel, it often feels like a remake. A lot of what happens is very reminiscent of what has happened before. People become paranoid, some change into twisted, mangled forms of themselves with some big, toothy mouths ready to wreak some havoc on whoever gets in its path.

This new addition to The Thing family is good as a companion piece to Carpenter's film. It is my understanding the filmmakers attempted to ensure continuity between the two movies. Overall, I think they were pretty successful, it is not perfect, but they did a pretty good job in getting the tone and feel right, as well as showing that the alien had gone through a learning and adaptation phase. If you pay attention to the way the creature acts and here and you can actually see some development in the way it deals with its prey and how it manages to hide itself among the humans.

I really like how simple and complex the movie is. 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.

I do not envy the filmmaker tasked with writing a prequel/sequel/remake of a classic. It is never an easy task and always comes with high expectations expectations from the built in fan base. I am happy that this one does a decent job of it. So, be not afraid, keep your expectations in check and enjoy the ride, continuity issues and all.

The creature designs are pretty good and fall in line with what we already know of the Thing. Sadly, there are a lot of computer generated effects, some of which is not all that good. I would have preferred a more pure practical effects drive the film, which are done quite well when they are used.

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. 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.

Audio/Video. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and fares well in its translation to high definition home video. It seems to me they were going for a modern high def look while also trying to somewhat match the 1982 film. The result is a Blu-ray that looks good, has some good detail filled with bright whites and plenty of earthy tones and the occasional splash of blood and blast of fire. Still, there appears to be some DNR and faces occasionally look a touch off, like they have been scrubbed a little too much. Do not take this wrong, as the transfer is still really good and worthy of the Blu-ray format.

The soundtrack is delivered by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It is a solid track that uses the sound field to its advantage. The Antarctic location is perfect to give us some howling winds, storms, and big monstrous noises. Well, maybe not the last one, but they are here nonetheless. The shift from silence to fury toys with us and creates some nice tension and scares. Dialogue is nicely delivered and there is nothing to really complain about.

  • Commentary. The track features director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and producer Peter Newman. It is a good track where thy discuss the cast, the shoot, and the difficulties of making the prequel.
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes. Nearly 10 minutes of clips are included that did not make the final cut.
  • The Thing Evolves. This featurette runs 14-minutes and covers interviews with cast an crew as well as clips of this film as well as the original. I did not find it overly insightful, but it isn't bad.
  • Fire & Ice. This shows just how much fun a flame thrower can be. Where can I get one? There is also a pretty cool bit on air walls used to keep the flames away from the actors. Cool.
Bottomline. This is a good movie. It may not be perfect in its continuity, but it is an admirable job that does not detract from the experience. I suspect it is my fandom of long-running slasher films and how those changed on a movie to movie basis. This is a solid horror movie that stands apart from a lot of what has hit the screens of late. This is definitely worth checking out.


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Thing (2011) on Blogcritics.

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