Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing

The Thing ** ½  
Written by: Eric Heisserer based on the short story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate Lloyd), Joel Edgerton (Braxton Carter), Ulrich Thomsen (Dr. Sander Halvorson), Eric Christian Olsen (Adam Goodman), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Jameson), Paul Braunstein (Griggs), Trond Espen Seim (Edvard Wolner), Kim Bubbs (Juliette), Jørgen Langhelle (Lars), Jan Gunnar Røise (Olav), Stig Henrik Hoff (Peder), Kristofer Hivju (Jonas), Jo Adrian Haavind (Henrik), Carsten Bjørnlund (Karl), Jonathan Walker (Colin), Ole Martin Aune Nilsen (Matias).

It seems like every 30 years or so, someone decides to make their version of The Thing. This is the third such movie – following Howard Hawks’ 1952 version The Thing From Another World and John Carpenter’s 1981 film The Thing. It’s clear the filmmakers behind this latest version are big fans of the Carpenter film – saying this is a prequel to that film, because it was so perfect they didn’t want to remake it. Yet, (and a minor spoiler warning should go here for the next line or two) other than the fact that over the end credits the filmmakers recreate the opening scenes of the Carpenter film, this feels like a remake. Because they say it’s a prequel, it give them permission to pretty much rip off the original film, and its creature design. In the past 30 years, special effects have improved tremendously, but the creature here still looks and acts much like it did in the Carpenter film. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because Carpenter’s creature was truly innovative at the time, and is still creeping and disgusting. Bad, because it brings to mind the Carpenter film a little too much, and invites comparisons to it. Carpenter’s The Thing was one of the best horror films of the 1980s. This prequel is little more than a serviceable horror film. Not really bad, but when you have Carpenter’s film already, and the two are similar, yet one clearly better, what’s really the point of this film?

The movie opens with a group of Norwegian scientists in Antarctica literally crashing into a huge discovery. They’re there to take core samples, and don’t know what they’re dealing with, so the leader calls his friend Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to come investigate. He brings along his research assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) as well as paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). All Sander will tell her is that it is a major find. When they get there, they discover it is in factor major. There is a massive spaceship under the ice, as well what appears to be an alien creature frozen not far away. While the spaceship is trapped, the creature isn’t. They cut it out, and leave it a giant block of ice. Of course, it doesn’t stay asleep, and has soon broken out, and is attacking everyone there. What’s worse is, that as Kate discovers, it can replicate its victims. So perhaps not everyone there is still human – some may be the creature hiding.

This is a classic setup, that allows not only for some truly gruesome scenes – the giant, crab like creatures shoots out its spear like tentacles to infect it prey, and can do other nasty things as well, but also breeds paranoia. Who can you trust when anyone could be infected? Kate thinks she can trust Carter (Joel Edgerton), the America pilot and former military man, who wants to destroy the creature. But Sander says, as scientists, they must protect their knowledge. But does he really believe that, or is he The Thing?

Directed by first timer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., The Thing is effective as an exercise in style and special effects. It also effectively builds the paranoia of the movie, and offers a few nice scares. And the performances by Winstead, Edgerton and Thomsen are as good as can be expected, given what they had to work with. For people who have not seen the original The Thing, this may make for a decent night out if they just want a few scares. And yet, unlike the more successful horror remakes like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes or Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the filmmakers here bring nothing new to the table. So in a world where John Carpenter’s The Thing is still available for anyone who wants to see it, this version of The Thing, while not horrible by any means, still isn’t really necessary. Rent Carpenter’s version instead.

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