Thursday, October 13, 2011
Review: "The Thing"
Let me confess right up front that "The Thing" has a high bar to hurdle for me -- I absolutely adore John Carpenter's spare, minimalist 1982 sci-fi thriller/horror film. So any remake has to square off with outsized expectations left over from my childhood.
Though "remake" isn't quite right. This new movie from Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and screenwriter Eric Heisserer is set in the days leading up to the events in the '82 flick. You may remember it opened with a couple of Norwegians chasing a dog across the frozen Antarctica tundra in a helicopter, trying to kill it. They chase it into an American scientific outpost and are themselves slain in the ensuing melee.
Carpenter's movie was the real remake, of 1951's "The Thing from Another World." Both the '51 and '82 pictures were based on a novella about a shape-shifting alien by John W. Campbell Jr., though the latter of the two is more loyal to the book.
Got all that? So this new movie is a prequel of a quasi-remake of a film adapted from a novella.
Van Heijningen is a feature film rookie, and it shows. He seems to want to channel Carpenter's aesthetic -- even opening and closing his movie with a variation on Ennio Morricone's pulsing theme music -- but abandons it again and again for the convenience of the plot.
For example, one of the great things about the original (which is what I'll call the 1982 film for our purposes) was the sense of absolute and total isolation. Cut off from the rest of the world and unable to communicate, there was a sense of raised stakes -- no rescue is coming, because no one even knows what's going on.
Right away, the filmmakers undermine this by showing Sanders (Ulrich Thomsen), an unctuous scientist, recruiting young American hotshot Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to come dig something mysterious out of the ice. It seems Sanders has been tipped off by his Norwegian colleagues about stumbling across a whole massive spaceship buried under a glacier.
If word had gotten out to the outside world, there's simply no way it would have remained a secret for long. At the very least, Kate or Sanders or his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) would've at least mentioned where they were going to somebody.
Another thing I liked about Carpenter's version is that we never really learn anything personal about the motley crew of (all) men, yet simply based on how they're played by the actors and how their characters react to the threat, they're completely distinctive.
Here, there's a huge cast that gets lost in the shuffle. The Norwegians quickly become a flaxen-haired blur. Fortunately, the creature soon starts thinning them down to a manageable level.
Speaking of the creature effects, they're pretty good and pretty gory, for those who are into that sort of thing. But they're not markedly better than Carpenter's flick, which is pretty astonishing considering the nearly three-decade technology gap. The filmmakers stick to physical special effects to a large degree, with some CG animation thrown in.
Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (best known as Mr. Eko from TV's "Lost") pop up as a pair of American pilots who could get up in the Euromess. (Funny that, casting an Aussie and a Brit as Yanks.)
The movie doesn't quite know what to do with them, and for a bit we think Edgerton is going to morph into the Kurt Russell role. But that more or less belongs to Kate, who's always a couple of steps ahead of the guys in figuring out the boogums needs to be exterminated, not experimented upon.
Maybe she learned everything she knows about the alien from the last movie.
2 stars out of four