*** (out of 5)
October 14, 2011
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as KATE LLOYD
Joel Edgerton as BRAXTON CARTER
Ulrich Thomsen as DR. SANDER HALVORSON
Eric Christian Olsen as ADAM GOODMAN
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as JAMESON
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There are so many fads and short-lived trends in the horror genre these days. While the 2000s saw the rise and fall of torture porn and J-horror, the 2010s are now seeing the rise (and eventual fall) of found footage horror. This, of course, isn’t unique to our decade. The 70s saw video nasties, and the 80s saw slasher films. Even before that, you had the monster movies of the 40s and the giant bug-eyed monster movies of the 50s.
No matter what current horror trend you’re suffering through, it’s nice to see a film that either taps into an older stand-by or just enjoys a resurgence of classic horror. Last year, both “Insidious” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” turned their back on graphic violence and video camera POV to tell old-school horror tales. This year, “The Woman in Black,” while not as good as these other two films, continues this welcome trend.
Like the characters in “The Thing,” the movie itself has been doomed from the start. The 1982 John Carpenter classic isn’t just one of the best horror or sci-fi movies ever made. It’s one of the best movies ever made. Period. Not even John Carpenter can live up to his own movie, after all. (I mean, have you seen “Vampires” or “Ghosts of Mars”?)
On one hand, the fans of John Carpenter’s film will never be pleased. It’s simply not the original (or rather not the “remake” since the ’82 was exactly that). The atmosphere isn’t the same. The characters aren’t the same. The effects sure as hell aren’t the same. In each of these instances – and plenty more – John Carpenter’s movie trumps this new version handily.
On the other hand, the film couldn’t completely abandon the fan base. After all, these are a lot of the people that will be seeing the new movie. But while it’s trying to stay true enough to fit in the framework of the ’82 movie, this new film might lose some of the new audience who doesn’t like movies made before 1990. (And sadly, that’s the moviegoing public that Hollywood often caters to.)
So, my best advice to anyone heading out to see “The Thing” is to not expect it to be as good as, or even close to, John Carpenter’s film. To do so would leave you disappointed. And you’d be a fool.
With that said, and with the acknowledgement that I am a die-hard fan of John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” this movie isn’t terrible. It’s not fantastic, either. It does a few things wrong, but it also does some things right. And in a landscape of failed sequels, prequels, reboots and re-imaginings, that’s a few strokes under par in my book.
This movie tells the story of the doomed Norwegian camp in Antarctica days before the events of John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” The team has found a spaceship buried under the ice and an occupant frozen outside of the ship. They bring the being back to the camp, and it wakes up with violent results. They soon discover, with the help of an American paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) brought along for the research, that the being can imitate other life forms perfect, take over their bodies and hide in them. The remaining humans try to destroy this thing completely before it can make it to civilization where it could wipe out humanity.
There’s a thin line this movie walks between remake and prequel. Because while it is clearly taking place before the events of John Carpenter’s film, it’s impossible to not tread the same ground. After all, when you watch the ’82 version, it’s pretty clear that what happens in the American camp pretty much already happened at the Norwegian camp.
In some ways, the film works. It’s got a creepy atmosphere, and there’s a similar feeling of dread in it. Even though I know how everything ended up at the Norwegian camp, I found myself wondering what was going to happen next, and that surprised me. Also, the film does a 95% great job of putting all the evidence in the right place to lead into John Carpenter’s film. Let’s not worry too much about the lousy 5% because I wasn’t expecting perfection from this at all, and those odds are pretty good, considering.
But there are problems. The most obvious one is the special effects. What made Rob Bottin’s work on the 1982 “The Thing” so spectacular is that the effects didn’t break down even when the camera held on them for long shots. Many effects – from the shark in “Jaws” to the xenomorph in “Alien” – rely on shadow and quick cuts to make them effective. Not the ’82 “The Thing.” Shit happens on screen, in your face, and it looks goddamn real.
This version is all CG, or at least primarily CG. It’s nice to see the original form of the Thing, and the digital effects work in certain moments. But the effects lack punch, and they lack balls because for the most part, they try to hide more of them than John Carpenter ever did. Plus, this film goes for loudness and jump scares more than suspense and dread. Carpenter’s film threw the horror in your face and dared you to look at it. This movie sneaks behind you and yells “Boo!” a lot.
Finally, there’s the cast. I’m not sure how John Carpenter did it in 1982, but he had a dozen or so guys, and never once did you wonder who was who. This movie has about the same number, but once you narrow out Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the other woman, the guy from “Warrior” and the big black dude from “Lost,” you’re left with a bunch of bearded Norwegians that all look alike to me. (That’s not a racist statement, by the way. I can say that because I am a big bearded dude, and they still all look alike to me.)
And back to Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I’ve never been a big fan, and she comes across looking confused in this movie, figuring things out way too quickly and not quite standing up as a hero. She proves in this film that she’s no Kurt Russell.
Don’t get me wrong. If I had to choose who I wanted to pour maple syrup all over and eat with my pancakes, I’d choose Mary Elizabeth Winstead instead of Kurt Russell. But who do I want with a flamethrower by my side, fighting a badass creature from outer space? Not the blue-haired chick from “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” thank you very much.
In the end, “The Thing” works to a certain degree as a stand-alone horror movie. And it does have some neat moments in it for people like me who have seen the John Carpenter film dozens of times. It could have been a lot worse, but it could have been better.
After the dust settles, will this year’s “The Thing” be remembered? Probably not. It’ll be a footnote in the Universal history books, but the Hollywood machine won’t be rebooting this version in 30 years. If you want proof of how powerful the original movie is versus this film, count how many times I said “Carpenter” in this review. Then compare it to how many times I’ve said “Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.”
“Who?” you ask? You just proved my point.