Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Thing (2011) - Theatrical Review


Release Date: October 14, 2011

I love the John Carpenter 1982 The Thing. It was the very first real horror film I ever saw as a child and it scared the shit out of me. Over the years I have come to hold the film very near and dear to my heart (it even made it into my top 11 horror films of all time) and like everyone else I thought it was blasphemy that someone had the audacity to try and remake it. Problem is, this isn't a remake at all...

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Arclight Pasadena
Time: 7:35 pm October 14, 2011  
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 43 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: The original 1982 John Carpenter The Thing
Likes: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, prequels that enhance the original
Neutral: A lack of tension in my horror movies
Hates: That everyone keeps calling this a remake, cheap scares
Love: How this film pieces together everything leading up to the original

Let's get something out of the way before I get started here. THIS IS NOT A REMAKE. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A REMAKE. Did you get that? I am honestly sick and tired of people referring to this film as a remake when in fact it is a PREQUEL to the original 1982 film. That's right, you read that correctly, this is a PREQUEL. But you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Universal seems to either be embarrassed by the fact that it is a prequel or the filmmakers never told them because it has been heavily marketed as a new version of The Thing...and that's it. The title certainly doesn't reflect it as a prequel since it is the exact same name and the trailer makes it look as a beat for beat remake. Even while watching the film it shares an enormous amount of similarities to the original. If you went into this thinking it was a remake you would most likely despise it since it can't hold a candle up to the original and you would be right to do so. But as a prequel though it not only ties into the original film better than almost any other prequel in recent memory but it is in my humble opinion a resounding success and works on its own merits quite well.

It is the winter of 1982 in Antarctica and a Norwegian research team has found something buried under the tundra. In no time at all the man in charge of that research outpost has enlisted the help of American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and they are soon whisked away to the frozen landscape to investigate this mystery structure. What they find is more startling than they had ever imagined, they have located an alien space craft which has been buried in the ice for over one hundred thousand years. But that wasn't all they found, just outside the dig site frozen in a block of ice is what they believe to be the spaceships pilot. Upon returning to camp with the frozen creature they begin to run tests and have delusions of grandeur about their historic find. However, little do they know that what they brought back isn't dead, it is alive and worse yet it isn't very friendly. With the ability to turn into any living creature it wants it soon has infiltrated the camp and disguised itself as any number of the researchers. Kate must find a way to determine who is who before the thing can escape and destroy the world.

This block of ice looks eerily familiar...

I would like to warn anyone reading this that much of this review is going to consist of me comparing it to the original film. Not only because this new film is so tightly attached to it but also because of my extensive history with it. That's not meant to sound like I am some sort of expert on what a Thing sequel or prequel should consist of but primarily what I wanted out of a film that has taken it upon itself to carry the legacy of one of the greatest Science-Fiction horror films of all time. If you are unfamiliar with the original 1982 film then I apologize up front for how vague most of my comments will be when comparing the two. In the case you have not seen the original then let me take this opportunity to inform you that your enjoyment of this new film will be greatly enhanced if you watch it first so I suggest you seek it out before watching this new film to get better acquainted with the franchise. So be prepared for a whole lot of comparisons as I try to explain why I am one of the only people on the planet that seems to actually like this new Thing.

There are very few horror films other than John Carpenter's The Thing that I hold on such a high pedestal. It is the one horror film that I can recommend without hesitation. It is regarded as many to be a perfect film which I don't think is necessarily true, but it is the closest any horror movie has come to being perfect. You had a cast of characters that you could easily identify with, a situation that was f**ked beyond all belief, a setting that was at the ass end of the world and a creature that defies description but is relentless and cunning in its own survival instincts. There are so many moments from that original movie that have been ingrained into my subconscious over the years that it is impossible from my point of view for any other version to ever replace it. That's why it was an ingenious move by the filmmakers to not even approach it like that. Their choice to explore a part of the original film's mythology surrounding an event we all knew took place but were unsure how it all unfolded was a master stroke.

Americans and Norwegians working together...for now.

That doesn't mean they couldn't still f**k it up though. Prequels are not a surefire way of paying homage to a film or franchise because there is always the constant threat of angering the fanbase. There must be a maintained balance of new and old while also offering up something unique. This new installment into the franchise has the unfortunate task of all prequel attempts of pleasing both the fans of the original and new fans alike. While I can't speak for how it plays as a standalone film experience, I can however say that as a huge fan of the original that this newest film hit just about all the right notes for me with only a handful of missteps and lost opportunities, most of which can be attributed to modern filmmaking sensibilities.

Going into this film I was looking only for a few key elements that I thought helped define the original. What always made the original stand out from the rest (at least to me) was the idea of a group of people trapped in an icy prison with a creature that had the ability to imitate anyone it came in contact with. Instead of fighting some enormous monster they ended fighting themselves most of the time. The paranoia that pervaded the original, with characters constantly at each others throats blaming one another while the creature sat dormant in one, maybe two or three of them was unlike any other horror film set up I have ever seen. It added such a unique twist to the whole humans versus alien invader formula that in my opinion it still hasn't been topped to this day. So I was very happy to see this new film carry on that tradition even though it clearly wasn't the primary focus this time around.

It doesn't take long for everyone to start suspecting each other.

While it can be argued that the characters here are not quite as well rounded as the ones from the original, I think that they all played off each other well enough. It would be easy for me to unfavorably compare this new cast with the original cast but I won't do that. One, because it is unfair to do so since this is a different movie with a different set of circumstances and two because after knowing all those characters from the original for over thirty years of my life I don't think it is even remotely possible for me to farily judge such a thing at this point. Regardless though, I found this new group of researchers to be appealing for the most part. I really enjoyed how the initial conflict between them had more to do with Americans versus Norwegians but later it turns into a game where any biases toward each other are thrown out the window. Nationality is no longer an issue, Americans team up with Norwegians against other Americans and vice versa.

Later on when the distrust and paranoia hits its peak I found myself totally in the moment. I started to get that feeling I had lost decades ago where I had no idea who was the creature and who wasn't, and it was AWESOME! People pointing flamethrowers at each other with a real intention to burn their friends was just as invigorating and intense now as it was back then. That was one of the greatest achievements of the original film, Carpenter got us involved in the guessing game amongst all the characters and that same feeling is here as well. There were characters I liked that were suspected as being one of the creatures and I found myself conflicted, I didn't want to see them get f**ked up because they were falsely accused...but what if they really are the thing? By the time we reach the middle of the film nobody trusts anyone and they only team up if they have no other choice and I LOVED THAT. There is a sense of chaos in this film that was never present in the original which I think helps separate it into its own movie.

Which one is the thing? Or are they both the thing? Or is neither one the thing?

Let me take a step back here for a second, I think I am jumping ahead a bit much here and I apologize for that. As integral as the entire paranoia aspect is to The Thing experience there are many other elements that helped sell me on this new film, but only after some time reflecting on it. My knee jerk reaction to a lot of the changes made to the mood and atmosphere from the original was not exactly a positive one at first. Gone is the slow and methodical pace of the original as well as the sly subtlety of the creature hiding out and biding its time. Instead we get a film that moves along at a decidedly faster pace with little room to breath and a creature that seems more intent on killing than blending in. That really bothered me as I watched it and I can't blame anyone for feeling the same way as I did. But this comes back to the idea of this not being a remake, it is a prequel, a whole new movie and with that comes a new atmosphere.

The faster pace works for this film given the situation these characters are in compared to the situation the characters were in the original. In the original they had no idea what they were dealing with, a dog showed up at camp with two seemingly crazy Norwegians shooting wildly at it. Only after some time spent investigating do they realize what they were up against which by that time was too late. Not to mention the fact that they were cut off from the world the entire length of the film. The thing in that film was not eager to expose itself after all the crap it just went through at the Norwegian camp so it tries to go about it's imitation process in a much more stealthy manner. This of course is just my observations most of which is only enforced by this new film.

Who goes there?

The tag line for this new film , "It's not human. Yet." says it all. When the Americans come across it in the original it already had assumed the form of a human but in this film it is encountering humans for the very first time. It is also a lot more eager to get the hell out of camp as soon as possible since it has a variety of escape routes at the beginning of this film. In the original film they were cut off so it had no choice but to sit around but here it is actively trying to get away whenever it can. Now I still don't care for how many times we see the creature in the early parts of the film but I think it worked for the situation depicted here. Just freed from its sleep it tries to take over as many people as it can and because of how hastily it acts it blows its cover. This new group of characters also act in a much more direct manner. They realize what's happening and take action much quicker than in the original, but again it works.

These characters knew what they were dealing with. They knew it was from a spaceship and had all the facts they needed fairly early on. So the idea of them cutting to the chase makes sense here where as in the original they needed to figure out what happened at the Norwegian camp, then try to figure out what it was that attacked their dogs and eventually discover the spaceship themselves. The order of events that take place in each film feels right for each of their given situations so anyone that wants to discredit this new film by stating it doesn't borrow or copy what the original did very well needs to check themselves out of this conversation. As a matter of fact anyone that tries a direct comparison between this and the original really needs to rethink things a bit. If this were a direct remake then those comparisons would have weight, for a prequel it shouldn't (and doesn't) need to be a carbon copy. It just needs to stay true to the original source material which this film does.

Did I mention that Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicked ass in this?

Seriously, comparing the 2011 The Thing to the 1982 The Thing is just like comparing the 1977 Stars Wars: A New Hope with the 1999 Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. There may be problems with it but it has absolutely very little to do with how well it tries to imitate its predecessor and this new film definitely has its share of issues. One of the greatest achievements in the original were the practical effects which to this day still hold up remarkably well. I am not one of those guys that say CG has no place and we need practical effects all the time. I am however one of those guys that thinks CG shouldn't be the only course of action. One of my favorite films of the past decade for its effects has to be Hellboy 2 which married practical and CG effects together in a near seamless fashion. The two styles should compliment or enhance one another, not replace.

Unfortunately most of the effects work done here are mostly CG with very little practical effects used. That wouldn't be a problem if the effects looked as good as those nearly thirty year old effects in the original did. What always sold me on the gore in the original was just how gooey and slimy everything looked or felt. When someones head split open blood went everywhere or if someone got their arms bit off it was pretty messy. The CG effects used here give everything an almost too clean quality to the carnage on screen. When we see a tentacle rip through a persons chest or a head split open it often feels a bit too neat and tidy. That being said the creature designs and transformation effects used (which the original actually lacked) were pretty darn cool. I really enjoyed how the creature would move around and start to absorb anyone it came in contact with or how it would split into separate pieces (an effect used for one scene in the original but used more often here).

Everyone loves a good autopsy scene.

I would have also really like more time spent with the researchers both before and after the thing comes into the picture. The paranoia of not knowing who is who and if your friend is a creature or not is at the core of what I loved so much about the original film. As I have already mentioned that same feeling of fear is present here but it is very fleeting. There are very few moments when we have to question if someone is who they say they are. The pace of the film is a double edged sword in this case where it often times felt like it was in such a rush to knock off characters that the paranoia barely has any time to resonate with us. Other than the brilliant twist on the blood test scene from the original there were almost no moments where I was asked to figure out if someone was the thing and that was kind of a let down. The only saving grace is that what is here is done well enough that it doesn't entirely detract from the experience. I just wish we would have had more time with the fear as opposed to scenes with people running from monsters.

I haven't really said much about the cast yet other than some small remarks about the characters in general. If there were someone labeled as the star of the film it would be Winstead who has inherited the Kurt Russell role from the original by which I mean she is the one that eventually takes charge and has a very clear minded goal of destroying the thing before it escapes to a populated area. While I thought the character was fine I was really caught off guard by just how damn well Winstead fit into the shoes of a female badass. She doesn't go around yelling catch phrases and blowing shit up but when she sets her mind to stop this creature she doesn't blink an eye when it comes to torching a good friend if need be. I can see her performance being compared to the character Ripley in the Alien saga and for good reason because she has that same type of commanding presence that Sigourney Weaver did in that iconic role.

The other actors were mostly unknowns with only two exceptions from what I could tell. The two other Americans at the base played by Joel Edgerton and Eric Christian Olsen were the closest thing Winstead had to co-stars with Edgerton coming dangerously close to the romantic interest. As a side note there is no romantic entanglements to be found here thank goodness. There are some very subtle hints that get wiped away as soon as the shit hits the fan. If anything I think this film serves as an anti-romantic movie with some of the shit that goes down in it. I can't tell you unfortunately or else I would ruin the surprise(s) but suffice to say that I was very pleased with how the film dealt with adding females into The Thing mythology. The only other actors in the film were mostly Norwegian and despite not really getting to know them very well I actually found myself getting attached to these guys. When people start choosing sides and start to learn to trust certain characters I found myself rooting for most of the Norwegians just cause they seemed like pretty likable guys overall.

Thank goodness for no romantic subplots.

The only other thing I have left to talk about is how freaking well this movie works as a prequel. With prequels there are usually connectors, things that lead into the film it is preceding and The Thing blew me away in this regard. First I would like to state that I have never felt the need to have any of the questions posed in the original film answered. I always tended to just surmise what all went down at that Norwegian camp and was fine with that. But I am so damned happy that I now have a complete version of what happened and better yet is that while this new film goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to recreating some of those classic images/scenes it never felt forced to me. Too often a filmmaker would feel the need to answer a question posed in the film that comes after it by just throwing it into the mix with little regard as to how it fits into the actual movie itself, but that never works. It needs to be organic, it needs to feel like a natural flow of events and that is what we get here.

Were you ever curious as to why the Americans never knew what the Norwegians were up to at their base camp? Why they never tried to call for help? How about how the Norwegian camp was reduced to only a handful of burnt out buildings or why there was only one body found there when they had a team of over a dozen? As for that body, why did that guy commit suicide? How did they uncover that entire spaceship that was buried in a hundred thousand years worth of ice? Where did that creature with the split face they find in the snow come from? What or who was it before that and how did it end up in the snow and why was it left there? Once again, these are not questions that needed answering but the fact that they now have answers is pretty f**king cool. The fact that these answers were integrated so well into the film without calling much attention to themselves only makes it better. Not to mention the fact that the answers make sense and in my opinion make the original a more complete experience now.

I have to reiterate that I love the original 1982 film to death. Nothing will ever replace it, not this film nor any others that may try down the road. It was my very first real horror film and despite it being one of the best ever made it just holds too many fond memories for me that any updated versions can never replace. But that doesn't mean there isn't a place for some new blood. This new film is better than I could have ever imagined regardless of any issues I have with it. It puts all other recent horror films to shame and will hopefully intrigue enough people to help introduce a new generation of moviegoers to the brilliance of the original. It doesn't try to overshadow the original and doesn't even try to replace it. Like any good prequel it only serves to enhance the original film that came before it and I believe it compliments it better than anyone expected. It isn't perfect but I still say...


Don't miss our latest episode of The LRA Show where we discuss The Thing (2011). The episode can be found at the following link:

If you are at all curious about the original 1982 John Carpenter classic by the same name then I highly suggest you check out our latest LRA Show Rewind episode where we discuss it in great detail. The episode can be found at the following link:



Brian said...

Perfect Review

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Bluehost