In celebration of snagging what appears to be the last Target exclusive NECA MacReady action figure on the shelves, I’ve decided to make a double feature out of Carpenter’s classic and it’s prequel…
THE THING (2011)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s a classic and arguably Carpenter’s masterpiece. So, I tried to put the audacity aside that someone would attempt a prequel and went in trying to view this film on it’s own merits as much as possible. Ultimately, since it’s trying to be part of that film’s story, you kind of have to compare and my mind constantly made such comparisons all throughout. Overall, I wasn’t that impressed, but also didn’t hate it and over time, it has grown on me as a sort of amusing companion piece. Still, obviously far from a classic like it’s predecessor.
2011’s The Thing takes place in the Norwegian camp that is seen briefly in Carpenter’s film in smoldering ruins. It details their finding of the alien ship and it’s passenger in the ice and it’s subsequent escape and infiltration of the camp and assimilation of various members. The Norwegians are joined by some American’s including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Paleontologist Kate Lloyd, Eric Christian Olsen as scientist Adam Finch and Joel Edgerton as helicopter pilot Sam. Aside from Ulrich Thompson as lead scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson, the rest are interchangeable and generic characters that serve mostly as body count. Only Winstead really tries to make Kate a more rounded character, but she isn’t given much to do but look concerned, or scared, or both, till the last act.
This is where The Thing fails to assimilate the 1982 perfectly as it’s title creature would. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. fails to generate much suspense or create the kind of paranoia that fueled the 82 classic. He does create a bit of a sense of dread, but for the most part, he directs this “prequel” competently, but very by-the-numbers. There’s very little of the kind of tension Carpenter built during his film, even though the situation is basically the same. Even if he was trying to craft a film that was more it’s own “thing” he still doesn’t have the directing chops to really pull it off. The film has a nice visual style, there are some well done action sequences and they did do a good job of matching sets and events to link up with the film this is a prequel to, but it still doesn’t come close to Thing ’82.
Heijningen doesn’t get that much help out of his actors either. Other than Winstead and Edgerton, most of them pretty much perform on ‘paycheck’ levels and there are none of the memorable characters like Carpenter’s eclectic bunch. Well, at least there should be some cool monster stuff, right? Not quite. All this talk of practical effects during production was nonsense, as 90% of what we see is CGI, or enhanced with CGI, and it’s only a few levels about your average SYFY channel movie. So even the monster evokes no emotion, because it looks like what it is, phony. And to be honest, the designs lack the impact of Rob Bottin’s now legendary work. Even at their weakest moments, Bottin’s creature transformations generated awe or disgust. You’d think they’d take advantage of almost 30 years of technological advancement in movie effects, yet the creatures have little impact. And, speaking of our alien star, we are never given much more information about the creature than we already know from Thing ’82. They totally blow the opportunity to add to the creature’s mythos.
I’ll admit, there were a few scenes I liked, especially toward the end where the camp is thrown into all out combat with our computer generated invader and there are some clever bits like one involving tooth fillings. I also liked Winstead’s Kate as our lead. I think Winstead is capable of strong roles and it’s too bad she’s wasn’t given stronger stuff till the last act here. She makes a credible heroine. The end credits nod to the Carpenter flick is the best stuff in the movie. At least the lead-in stuff worked very well and the film ends on a spooky note as we know what comes next…a far superior movie.
In conclusion, I didn’t hate this flick, but would only recommend it as an amusing curiosity or a mindless popcorn monster flick as long as you forget about it even trying to stack up to the Kurt Russell classic. The Thing 2011 did have almost impossible shoes to fill and while it falls far short of the mark, it’s also not the complete disaster it’s made out to be. Best “thing” about the movie is that it is a lead-in to Carpenter’s flick, so you can always watch that afterwards.
2 and 1/2 (out of 4) flame thrower wielding cuties!
THE THING (1982)
Arguably John Carpenter’s best film and his masterpiece, The Thing was a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 classic The Thing From Another World, which was itself based on John W. Campbell’s story Who Goes There? Instead of using the 1951 film’s walking, blood sucking alien vegetable, he went back to Campbell’s story which featured an alien creature capable of imitating whatever it fed on.
Carpenter’s film opens with an isolated American research station in Antarctica being buzzed by a Norwegian helicopter that seems to be trying to gun down a lone sled dog. The incident results in the helicopter being destroyed and both raving occupants being killed, one by the station commander Gary (Donald Moffat) in defense of his crew. Now the team including helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) are stuck with a bizarre mystery and the surviving sled dog. When MacReady and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) investigate the Norwegian camp, they find it destroyed, it’s occupants dead and a huge hollowed out block of ice…not to mention a burned corpse of something barely human. The investigating of the evidence indicates the Norwegians found a strange ship in the ice and brought a specimen back to their camp that apparently was not dead when thawed out. The real nightmare is yet to come as the Norwegian dog reveals itself to be something quite unworldly and that an alien creature with the ability to absorb and become it’s prey may now be among them…or worse, may be one or more of them already. The paranoia and terror grows as the team try to discover who may be a creature in disguise and the creature feeds their paranoia and seeks to eliminate any of the men with the scientific knowhow to unmask it. Can those still human stop it and if they fail, what will happen to the rest of humanity?
The Thing is both a masterpiece of suspense and tension, as well as, of visceral horror. Carpenter, along with Bill Lancaster’s script, perfectly creates the paranoia of not knowing who around you is human and who is not. The setting of isolation is made all that apparent as Carpenter seals his characters in an ice and snow surrounded maze of hallways and dark rooms where the 12 men are trapped with something very inhuman and they can’t even trust each other, as it could be anyone. The team all suspect each other, but as is human nature, turn to those they like for support and turn on those they may have not liked or not gotten along with before. We have 12 men who are social outcasts thrust into a situation where no one is coming to their rescue and they are forced to not only try to save themselves, but literally save the planet, as their failure to stop this creature will unleash it upon an unsuspecting world. Just so we fully understand the enormity of this creature’s threat, we are treated, via make-up FX master Rob Bottin (and Stan Winston who created the dog kennel creature), to some of the most gruesome creature transformation sequences ever filmed. Bottin convinced Carpenter to not go with a standard true form for the creature design, but an organism that is constantly changing and different once revealed and is made up of parts of all the beings it has absorbed during it’s journey through space. The results are visually horrifying and still hold their full impact even today. All this is brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Dean Cundey and accented by a haunting score by Ennio Morricone…who later voiced disapproval of how Carpenter used it. It is said the prominent electronic bits were actually written by Carpenter, though a lot of Morricone’s music is still used.
As for the human players, obviously this is Kurt Russell’s show, as he plays a man who is reluctantly forced to try to save a world he seems intent on hiding from and does so, honorably and selflessly. With 12 characters not everyone is given a lot of attention, but the cast all handle their roles well in presenting a bunch of eclectic social misfits who would rather be in the antarctic than with the rest of the world. The standouts aside from Russell’s MacReady are Dysart’s Dr. Copper, Moffat’s Gary, who crumbles when he really needs to take charge, forcing MacReady to lead the rest, Keith David’s Childs and Brimley’s scientist Blair. Ironic, as Brimley has voiced his complete distain for the film. Maybe he should have read the script before signing on? Rounding out a solid cast are Richard Masur as Clark, David Clennon as stoner Palmer, Charles Hallahan as the meek Norris, Joel Polis as the quiet scientist Fuchs, T.K. Carter as the smart-ass cook Nauls, Thomas G. Waites as cowardly radioman Windows and Peter Maloney as complainer Bennings. Carpenter’s wife at the time, actress Adrienne Barbeau, also has a vocal cameo as the voice of MacReady’s chess computer.
The history of this film is as legendary as the film itself. The flick was critically panned for it’s gruesome gore FX and grim tone and audiences stayed away…not me, though, I saw it at least 3 times back in the day…and it has taken decades for it to finally be recognized as the masterpiece and classic it truly is. Simply a great horror/sci-fi film that has yet to be equaled.
A classic 4 (out of 4) Things!