Friday, October 21, 2011

The new 'Thing' doesn't quite live up to the old 'Thing'

When talking about seeing the “The Thing,” the semi-remake prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 “The Thing,” it feels like an Abbott and Costello routine.
“I just saw the new ‘Thing’”
“What thing?”
“The Thing.”
“Listen if you don’t want to tell me what you saw that’s fine.”
“I already told you what I saw. I saw the new ‘Thing.’”
“What thing?”
The 1982 version of “The Thing” was itself a remake of 1951’s “The Thing from Another Planet.” That film was set in the North Pole whereas the 1982 and 2011 installments are set in Antarctica. Each film involves a small, isolated group of scientists and researchers dealing with a hostile alien.
In the 1951 film it was a creature (played by James Arness in alien makeup) that evolved from plants rather than animals. In the 1982 and 2011 version it is a shape shifting creature that can assume the shape, memories and personality of any living thing it comes in contact with. Anyone can be the Thing, which in both the 1982 and 2011 films leads to an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion.
The 1982 film had the Thing arrive in a United States research center in the form of a dog being chased by a helicopter piloted by the two survivors of a battle with the creature at a Norwegian base. The 2011 film shows what happened at that Norwegian base.
First-time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. clearly has a genuine love for Carpenters film and this film does a nice job of recreating the look and feel of the earlier film. Sets were recreated in remarkable detail, which the many fans of the previous film should appreciate greatly.
Some fans of the 1982 film have asked: What’s the point of making this film? The argument being that the mystery of what happened to the Norwegians was part of the allure and appeal of the 1982 “Thing.”
It was a safe assumption that the action that unfolded at the United States base followed a similar arc to that of the Norwegian base. Now we know it was almost exactly the same; in fact, it is so similar it starts falling into the category of remake.
The film’s roster of characters features a mix of Norwegian researchers and American experts flown in to help dig out the creature who has been frozen for 100,000 years. This includes paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”), who becomes the film's main protagonist much in the same way Kurt Russell did in the 1982 film.
Having a female lead character gives the film a different dynamic than the 1982 version and inevitably recalls Sigourney Weaver’s work in the “Alien” films. Winstead gives a solid, believable performance in the film. The film doesn’t transform her into an unrealistic action hero, but rather a smart, strong woman who takes hold of a terrifying situation.
The rest of the cast, which includes Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”) as a pilot, is indistinct and interchangeable. There’s very little character development. Carpenter’s film didn’t exactly have fully developed characters, but there was a sense of camaraderie in that film that is sorely missing here.
The film’s best scene is a new twist on the 1982's film's iconic scene testing to see who is human and who is a Thing. The screenplay by Eric Heisserer comes with a clever variation on that scene that is logically sound and makes sense.
Which brings us to the question of the special effects used to create the creature. The 1982 version was made in a time before CG effects and featured an effectively gooey mixture of puppets, prosthetics and other practical effects.
This new film uses some practical effects, which is welcomed, but leans a bit too heavily on computer effects. A more even blend of the two styles would’ve been more effective. That being said, there’s definitely some good, creepy and gory scenes that, while not nearly as shocking as anything in the 1982 film, do provide some good scares.
Overall, this new “Thing” is decent entertainment. It honors its predecessors, but doesn’t match or surpass them. Of its kind, it is well made with moments of genuine suspense. You can certainly do worse if you’re looking for a horror film this Halloween.

No comments: