Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: The Thing

Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen

The Arctic, 1982, Winter. It's time to find out just what happened to those crazy Swedes.

Set just a few short days before Outpost 31 is ravaged by a deadly organism, we follow paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) into the Arctic after being requested to aid a group of Norwegian scientists that have just made the discovery of a lifetime.

The discovery is that of an alien ship that has been buried in the ice for 100,000 years and, not too far from it, the body of what must have been its pilot, also encased in ice.  It's no spoiler to suggest that the "thing" in the ice isn't destined to stay there long.

I'm going to be slightly pedantic for a minute, Carpenter's version was more of a sequel to and this one is more of a remake of, the 1951 film The Thing From Another World.  The '51 film centered around the discovery of the alien creature and it's ship, as well as flying in an expert to help out. Carpenter's focused on what happened to the next group an already thawed Thing finds.  He simply changed the first camp from American to Norwegian.

This prequel/remake had a lot to live up to.  Whilst some might say it is unfair to compare it to Carpenter's, it is inevitable it was going to happen and especially when the director seems Hell bent on recreating scenes from the 1982 classic.  

The film starts quite strong, creating the feel of Carpenter's without being the same movie.  Performances are good and the build up is well paced.  Whilst we await the creature's escape we are presented with a solid, interesting movie, with very good attention to detail in setting up the camp and where things take place to fit in with Carpenter's.  The main problems start to occur when The Thing begins infiltrating the group.

Carpenter managed to create a strong sense of paranoia and claustrophobia with his slow, lingering camerawork and lots of suggestive glances.  You never knew who it was and with a group of very diversified, and detailed characters it enabled a wonderful tension within the group.  Sadly the prequel misses the mark on this point and misses it quite substantially.  There are far too many peripheral characters and the fact the film chooses to center around the few Americans (who are just poor MacReady and Childs imitations - like what I did there?) in the Norwegian camp, it shouts "all American showdown" from the rooftops.  Yet this was supposed to be the Norwegian's story.

As for knowing who it was, they may as well have hung a sign around the necks of those it had copied with "It's ME!!" written on it.  There was very little deduction and guesswork needed.  The logic of the film is also confused.  From Blair in Carpenter's we are led to understand that it wants to get to populated areas so that it can take over and that it only really shows itself when under attack or in some way feeling threatened.  You even wondered if those that were it knew it themselves.  In this year's Thing it seems very overt about showing itself and even when it has the perfect opportunity to hide in the warmth of man and have itself taken to a populated area it strangely chooses to reveal itself in all its CGI glory and completely destroy it's method of obtaining its goal.

Here lies another of my pet hates when it comes to horror.  CGI and horror do not mix.  All the best horror films have the foundations of exemplary special and make up effects done by hand.  People such as Stan Winston, Rob Bottin, Tom Savini and, in my opinion, the current reigning champion, Greg Nicotero have made horror icky, fun and ultimately very realistic.  All CGI does it to make it look slightly less real.  To me this was a major downfall of the film, as soon as I saw that first piece of CGI I knew this is what I had to look forward to for the rest and whilst some of it was not too bad, some was just awful.  Think The Rock in The Scorpion King.

There was too much running, escaping, flame throwers etc.  It became very "Hollywood" during the second half with an exceptionally unnecessary large scale set piece ending.  It's not to say it didn't have plus points.  There were some good scenes such as the "test" scene.  Although this seemed to go against the logic in Carpenter's and again was far too influenced by what we had seen before.

Whilst some of the attention to detail to bring this is in line with Carpenter's was very well done, some was incredibly contrived and it felt as though they had to do it but couldn't really think of a clever way to do it.  Had they made a film to stand alone and been brave enough for it to be different I think the talent was there to make a really good horror film.  If the 1982 version didn't exist you'd probably think this was a pretty good solid monster movie (although it did lack any real scares and tension) but as it is they seemed to go for safe and formulaic.  Which in the end spoiled what could have been a great add on to one of modern horror's greatest films.

On its own I would have given this a 3 out of 5 but for me there was too much lack of identity and willing to be "their" movie.  Instead we got a lesser version of a movie we've already seen. So for that reason I've gone with


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