Friday, May 23, 2014

The Thing (2011)

Before commencing on my analysis of this film, I have to say that my absolute favorite film directed by John Carpenter is 1982’s The Thing.  Now I sometimes get a little flak for saying that because most movie buffs—especially Carpenter fans—cite Halloween as the Master of Horror’s magnum opus—and I do agree it is a work of art.  But I once read that he himself has said that he believes The Thing is his objet d'art in his composition of films, so I feel confident when raising this subject.  The original film has such an eerie atmosphere, tangible and surreal, and the performances Carpenter was able to get out of the group of actors was phenomenal.  Once more, the original film was not original at all, but in fact, a remake of a 1951 film.  But that’s one of two reasons why remakes were done well back then—they were made with a whole different look and story.  The other reason?  They weren’t churned out on a conveyor belt like they are today.

With all that out of the way, and before I start ranting and raving about remakes again, let’s look into the prequel (although some would argue it’s just a remake disguised as one) of John Carpenter’s classic, 2011’s The Thing.

So, right from the get-go, before the film was released but the title was announced, I had a problem with just that—the title of the film.  What was told to us by the filmmakers of this movie was that this was to be a prelude to the 1982 film.  Good.  It was said that they were going to painstakingly go over the first film—especially the scenes when the Norwegian camp is visited—to tie both films together seamlessly.  Great.  We were also informed that they were going to make sure the movie was filmed in the same way to make it look like a film from the 80s.  Awesome.  Then the title was announced that it was going to be The Thing.  What?  The same title as the 1982 film?  Why?  The filmmakers were quoted as saying that they couldn’t think of a subtitle (like The Thing: Begins) that sounded good.  What?!  Are you telling me that with all the time spent on this film and everybody they had working on this, they couldn’t think of a subtitle for it?  How about The Thing: Genesis?  Or The Thing: Origin?  That’s why it’s believed the film was a remake with exploratory tones to it.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t rant, so let’s get into the film, which was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

The film opens in Antarctica in 1982, with three Norwegian scientists in a snowcap, following a signal in the ice.  The vehicle suddenly falls through an opening fissure and lodges into it many feet below, discovering a UFO in a cavity underneath them.  We then meet Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist who’s approached by a former colleague, Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen), and a Dr. Sander Halvorson
(Ulrich Thomsen), to ask for her help in Antarctica.  Although she isn’t given much information besides that a discovery was made, Kate agrees to go.  Once there, she learns about the found extraterrestrial spacecraft and that an alien life form was located as well.  Soon, the Norwegian team of scientists cut a block out of the ice containing the specimen and brings it back to their camp.  They drill a hole into it to obtain a sample of tissue from the body and celebrate their discovery, but the alien is still alive and breaks out of the ice later that night.  Soon, Kate discovers the alien can imitate anyone it chooses, leaving her—and anyone left who is human—not knowing who to trust.

Now, I’ll say there are good and bad things about this film that I’ll get into.  For the most part, there’s a lot of good, so that’s already a plus.

The first thing was the promise that this film was actually going to be a prequel to the 1982 film and they delivered on that assurance.  It is and I feel they did a fine job relating that.  I think it’s always been a wonder what happened in that camp that MacReady and Copper found destroyed and in ruins.  What did the Norwegians go through?  How did they find the UFO?  And the alien life form in the ice…?  What happened when they brought it back to their camp?  The questions were answered, pretty much.  The second item promised was that the prequel would have the look and feel of the 1982 version and they delivered on that as well.  You can easily watch this film first and go into the second one feeling like they were filmed back-to-back—with the exception of the special effects.

Now, the special effects were promised to be mostly practical—not much CGI.  Well…they couldn’t deliver on that, probably because of studio interference or budgetary reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the CGI looked great, but still had that phoniness to it when compared to the 1982 film.  The good I can say about it is that they made sure to produce the monsters in live form that we see in dead and burnt form in Carpenter’s film, as well as the ax in the wall, the guy who opened up the veins in his wrists, and so on.  All great work in the effects department, so I really can’t complain.  I mean, we really couldn’t expect them to do everthing practical, right?  Some of the stuff in the first film looked a little cheesy by today’s standards (i.e., the remote control spider-head), so we really can’t criticize their decision to make the creature effects look as good as possible.

The one big complaint, which I feel is a big gaping hole of a mistake when trying to streamline both movies together, is the discovery of the spacecraft.  In the first film, MacReady and Copper find notes and VHS tapes showing and detailing the Norwegians’ exhuming of the UFO.  The film goes to great lengths to show us—the audience—that the Norwegians uncovered the spacecraft under a shallow thickness of ice, maybe fifty feet or so.  In Carpenter’s version, they actually show the men find the spot, which is a big crater in the ice, and we see them have to shimmy down on ropes to the ship.  In this prequel, for some reason, the filmmakers decided to show the ship being down under hundreds of feet of ice and that the scientists created a tunnel system to get to it.  I guess this oversight was brought up and that the director admitted to this change, citing that it was illogical for this spacecraft to be under such a thin layer of ice, that radar or sonar would’ve picked it up years ago.  Illogical???  We’re talking about a movie where an alien can imitate anyone it absorbs…I think we have the needed suspension of disbelief to get by the anomaly of the spacecraft.  Why, with all the careful planning to duplicate the camp’s interiors down to the tee and to make sure the creatures and characters are matching as well, would you make such a big change that completely ignores the Carpenter film?  It didn’t—and still doesn’t—make any sense at all.  The 1982 movie showed the footage on the VHS tape of the Norwegian scientists setting up charges and blowing the huge hole in the ice…that was a big reveal in that film.  It angers and baffles me.

When talk began to arise of making this prequel, I actually didn’t think it could be done.  It was well established in Carpenter’s film that the camp of scientists were Norwegian and didn’t speak English, as we find out when the shooter from the helicopter speaks.  I didn’t think a film with subtitles would work for this type of film and cheating the audience with the cast miraculously speaking English wouldn’t fare well with the fans.  So, including Americans into the mix was genius, I have to admit.  But Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the
prominent paleontologist that this lead scientist comes to for her expertise was a little doubtful, only because of how young she looked in this film.  But, all in all, she pulled off a good performance, as did the rest of the cast, which is what brings me to my original point of this paragraph.  The courage to include actually Norwegian actors was brilliant and gave the film credibility.  I’d really thought they were going to take the low road and cheat us with American actors speaking in phony Norwegian accents and try to pass it off that way.  However, the filmmakers didn’t go that route and I give them credit for their valor in sticking to their guns.

Well, there’s not much more I can say without getting into spoiler territory, so let me get into my final “bit” on 2011’s The Thing.

All said, this movie hits the tone and atmosphere that the 1982 version had, but it showed its cards a little too soon as the creatures are unveiled right away, not giving us the slow burn of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.  Unfortunately, it’s a retread of the other film with no new ideas or anything else to add to the film’s mythos.  But, then again, it can be perceived as a good thing, as Matthijs van Heijningen Jr was able to match the 1982 film’s properties in order to watch both films one after the other.  And if you do that, I highly recommend watching the prequel first…it makes Capenter’s version all the better.  I recommend The Thing fans to watch this film.  It’s not a perfect film—in fact, I really think there must’ve been a lot of studio interference—but it’s enjoyable and a good prelude into the 1982 movie.  Another thing I’d like to impart is be sure to stay throughout the end credits, as there are scenes cut in to show us how the film ties right into the 1982 classic.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  So thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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