Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review - The Thing (2011)

Many of you know because of my Thing Week that The Thing (1982) is my favorite horror movie of all time for many reasons including one that trails back to my childhood. It was best home video experience I ever had and The Thing became a part of my life like no other horror movie. When I heard that The Thing was going to be remade, I shuttered to think how the CGI would replace the brilliant practical effects that Bottin had worked on. Then, it was released that it would be a prequel rather then a remake but even that made me cringe because I never wanted to know what happened to the Norwegian outpost. Most of the ominous mood and fright comes from not knowing what happened, leaving only your imagination to fill in the blanks. I isolated myself from this movie and when I saw the trailer I had a lot of doubts but it also made me curious to see what they could do. So, I patiently waited for it’s release and I sat in the middle of the theater waiting to be wowed by an unnecessary “premake.” So, what is my verdict on a prequel to a personally beloved horror movie… well, after I mulled over it that night I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed it. Yeah, I really liked it but I feel as though I must nitpick it here and there.

The story is much like Carpenter’s film. A group of Norwegians locate a crashed alien saucer that has been buried under the ice for thousands of years. They enlist the help of two American scientists to help them figure out what crawled out of the ship and froze beneath all the ice. In the midst of their celebration, the alien entity thaws out of the ice and begins killing and replicated anybody that comes in its way. Now, the outpost residents must find a way to stop the alien before it reaches a populated area but how do they know who is human and who is a thing? Paranoia settles in and the storm outside is getting worse and worse.

So what exactly did Matthijs van Heiningen, the director, do that made me like this movie. Well, understand that I am not praising this movie and although I liked it… I don’t think it was flawless or brilliantly directed. However, what I really loved was all the little nods to Carpenter’s film that were scattered throughout the movie. These are little things that would go overlooked in some people’s book and would provoke some people to say that this film was more of a remake then a prequel. They explain why there was an axe stuck in the door, they explain what that two-headed thing was and what it was like when it was alive and in that respect there was a wonderful tribute to Norris’ death (think spider legs, upside down heads and open chests). There is a wonderful nod to the cinematography from the Carpenter film; the scene where the camera trucks forward to reveal the big block of ice that held the alien. This shot was so small and minute that not many people would even realize it was from Carpenter’s film. There’s many more throughout the film that made me pleased.

Now, what about the characters? Are they as good as Carpenter’s cast and does our new heroine resemble MacReady and his sarcastic and tired frame of attitude? The cast is great but I feel as though they are mostly forgettable except for one person who I think was the best character. As for our heroine, Kate Lloyd, although she does have that survivor woman persona she doesn’t really stand out to me as being unique. MacReady, to me, was unique because he was sort of an anti-hero; he drank, he had a temper, he was tired, worn out and on the edge of going crazy. Lloyd is any typical survivor girl from any given horror movie but I still liked her. She took things into her own hands and understood what the thing was. There are two Americans that look and occasionally act like Childs and MacReady and the person who lives to the end (and where the Carpenter movie begins), he was a badass and it’s tragic to see what would inevitably happen to him.

And now for the meat of the movie: the special effects and how the creature looks. As much as I wanted it to have practical effects I had to abandon that hope a while ago and I accepted that this movie would heavily use CGI. The film does use CGI but it also uses a good variety of practical effects but before I get into that I want to comment on my love/hate relationship with the CGI of this film. I hate the CGI because, like in most horror movies that use it, it looks a little unpolished and cheesy at times. It felt like a video game, ironically because the director stated that he never based anything off the video game adaptation. Some of the CGI made me laugh and say, “Oh man, really?” However, I love the CGI because for the first time I saw the Thing almost exactly how I wanted to see it for a long time. I saw somebody’s chest open up with red tendrils wrapping around somebody. I saw the two-headed thing crab-walking and attacking people and I saw a one-on-one battle with somebody and the Thing. It was a pleasure but too bad it was done with some iffy CGI. As for the practical effects, they were good and they looked painful and slimy just as they did back in ’82. I feel as though, at times, they used CGI when it involved the Thing attacking and running around but for the most part they used practical effects as much as they could. I respect that.

So now lets get into some fan nitpicking here. One of the biggest errors or problems that I found, choose your poison, was the discovery of the alien craft. In Carpenter’s film, the Americans were looking over the tapes they took from the Norwegian camp. The tape clearly shows the Norwegians forming a circle around the craft and then blowing open the layers of ice that buried it. Similarly, this was done in the Howard Hawks adaptation in the 50’s. However, in the prequel, we never see the Norwegians forming the circle and it isn’t until the end where they finally blow open the ice encasing and it wasn’t even by dynamite. When the ship was activated, the engines blew open the ice above it as if they tired to create their own version of how the ship was exposed. Another thing, maybe I didn’t see it the right way or maybe I’m right, but in Carpenter’s film… they find a body with a slit throat. The person obviously cuts his throat with a straight razor but in this prequel the man cuts himself (I think) with a hacksaw. It’s really nitpicky of me to bring this up but as a fan of the original it’s my duty to do so. Personally, for me, the biggest problem was seeing them discover the shape of the craft and blowing it up… it’s like a staple scene in the entire franchise and it was never committed to the final version.

The other big problem that I had with this film that the Carpenter film had was the mood. In Carpenter’s film, the colors were ranging on heavy blues and oranges in order to simulate hot and cold temperatures. By doing this he made me feel like I was trapped in a cold and dark place where my only salvation was gravitating to somewhere warm and… orange. Plus, the entire film is a dark piece, not just figuratively but it’s a very dark place with a lot of shadows and some dim lights. While the prequel gives me that cold feeling with it’s use of blues and light blue coloring, it doesn’t at all give me a sense of darkness and seclusion. This problem was expected and it’s very difficult to replicate so I won’t knock the movie for it but it’s something that I would have like to have seen done.

I need to cut this review short but as I stated before, I liked this movie and I thought it was a fantastic prequel to Carpenter’s film as well as a tribute to Campbell’s novella and Hawks’ film. The ending, which trails into to where Carpenter’s film picks up, was one of the very few moments where I got chills of nostalgia. The score, the cinematography and the “cut to black” ending made me smile like never before. It’s even more tragic when you find out what character ends up making it through till the end only to know that he eventually gets shot and killed. With all this being said, I still won’t consider this to be as perfect as the ’82 classic and when I refer to The Thing, I will always be referring to Carpenter’s film. If I ever expose people to The Thing, I’ll only expose them to the Carpenter’s film unless they are really interested. I feel as though this movie is like the black sheep but a black sheep that I have some respect towards. It was an unnecessary prequel that still diminishes the horror and imagination that was in Carpenter’s film but at least they did a fine job of adapting it. If anything, it gives me even more respect to Carpenter’s Thing.


Dan O. said...

It’s no great thing, just a better Thing than expected. It’s not incredibly scary but has the same tense and paranoid feel that the Carpenter version went for, and it works in a way. The problem is that on own it’s own, it doesn’t really work. Good review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

Mr. Johnny Sandman said...

Thanks Dan, I think you put it well by stating that as it's own movie it doesn't work. I will check out your review!

Steve Barton said...
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HorrO said...

Finally got to read the big review. Glad you liked the movie and weren't terribly disappointed. You hit on a lot of good points, and are on top of a lot more of the details than me. I like back-story but I understand you wanting to keep the mystery. The two-headed thing was awesome. The CGI didn't bother me, but I could see if it bothered some people. I think I'm with you, I liked MacReady more, but Katie wasn't bad. A different approach. Overall, I enjoyed it, and don't think it disgraced Carpenter's movie.

ppaker said...
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Seen the movie and enjoyed every minute of it, highly recommended for all horror lovers.


Colin kills himself with a barber's knife, not a hacksaw. There's the deleted scene on youtube.

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