MOVIE REVIEW – THE THING
October 17, 2011
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.
The Thing, which I will simply refer to as the Thing, is a prequel to John Carpenters 1982 film of the same title. It’s another re-telling of John Campbell‘s classic 1938 short story Who Goes There? A group of Norwegian scientists in the Antarctic discover an alien spacecraft and its pilot buried in the pre-historic ice. The reason they’re Norwegian this time is because this is the set-up for the Carpenter film. In that one, remember, the American group finds the burned out hulk of the Norwegian base… American paleontologist Kate Loyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by group leader Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomson) to help extract the thing from the ice. Note to self: if a creepy Norwegian scientist ever asks me to go to Antartica to see ‘something extraordinary’…JUST SAY NO!
Kate accepts and is whisked away to the snow and cold by American chopper pilots Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – good ole Mr. Echo from Lost) Once there, she is quickly taken to the crash site and finds a darn close copy of the saucer from the Carpenter film and the thing, both buried in the ice. After extracting the creature and returning to base, Dr. Halvorson immediately decides to drill into the ice and get a tissue sample. Later that night, as the base is having a celebration, the thing breaks out of the ice. The group manages to kill it, but not before it kills and swallows Griggs (Paul Braunstein). As the scientists begin to study the remains, Kate discovers that the thing can imitate other living things and that someone in camp is not who they say they are.
The rest of the film has the cat and mouse stalking of human versus thing. I don’t want to say too much more so you can enjoy the ride and keep guessing about who is who. But thanks to the Carpenter film, we know that things are going to end badly for our Norse friends. This time around, the thing is much more of a public thing than the earlier version we see. Actually, it’s a later version, if we’re going chronologically. This thing sprouts oodles of tentacles and teeth at the drop of a hat — any hat. My guess is that the later thing, the one that escapes from this film to the Carpenter film, decides that hiding is a better strategy. Consequently, this film has a lot more action while the Carpenter film has a lot more suspense. And while this generates more excitement, the film makers did sacrifice a lot of the horror potential of the story. So much so, that I would classify this film as a sci-fi action film more along the lines of Predator than a horror film.
The lack of character development also hurts this film. There are fifteen characters in this film! And with the exception of Kate, Carter and Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), they are almost unrecognizable and interchangeable. It would have helped immensely if the costume designer would have given them jerseys with numbers and names on their backs to help us keep them straight. If the film makers were going for more of a suspense and horror atmosphere, this issue would be much, much greater. As I’ve said before, the themes of “Evil is lurking everywhere” and “Nobody is what they seem” are powerful ones. This setup is perfect for them. Every twitch a character makes, every little thing that seems out of character just amps up the paranoia. And let’s face it, everybody has something to hide. Would we really be that surprised if the guy who we’ve always thought was a bit off suddenly sprouted a tentacle out of his head and attacked us? But since the flame throwers start throwing, and characters ‘thing’ out or are killed almost immediately, any chance of building paranoia gives way to action. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this film a bunch! Winstead is game, and she looks good swashing the buckle. The rest of the cast tries hard, but you can only push a cardboard cutout so far.
As a huge fan of the Carpenter film and its real, puppet effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, I was concerned about how this version would look. There are a couple of great sequences of the thing going all CGI-thingy that hold up pretty well. There were certainly a few moments that looked a bit too much like a video game, but there were also a few sequences that Carpenter and Bottin would never even have dreamed of trying back in 1982. I do think that the designers did a great job of capturing the look and sound of the Carpenter film. The Carpenter film, aided by a great Ennio Morricone score, had gobs and gobs of that apocalyptic feeling. The Morricone score is hinted at several times throughout the new film, with the actual Morricone track Humanity (Part 2) – the heart beat piece, running at the end credits. Since the sequence of shots that are interspersed with the credit roll serve to set up the Carpenter film, it’s a good choice. The sound design was exceptional! I especially loved the antarctic ambiance that is present in the background of just about every scene. I know it’s only a howling wind sound, but it’s simple and it works. It suggests a bit of dread and hopelessness that a film like this really needs to succeed.
GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
Since some horror buffs, myself included, feel that Campbell’s story was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 short story At the Mountains of Madness, Call of Cthulhu is the way to go for this. If your game group is up for it, you can easily do a set up where one of the party is already infected. Give everyone a unique hidden objective to achieve so you can keep them guessing at each other’s motivations. Let them bicker and argue while the the thing secretly tries to take them all over. When you add the fact that there is a high chance that the whole party will be killed and the entire base will be set on fire and burned to the ground, we’re talking about an enjoyable evening of gaming!
All of the things at the Norwegian base that we see in the Carpenter film faithfully show up in the prequel. From the fire ax in the door, to the frozen corpse of Collin (Jonathan Walker) still grasping the straight razor he used to slash his wrists and throat, to the two-headed burned thingy that the Americans bring back to their base, there is plenty of fan-friendly continuity here. Also, stay for the end credits to see the Norwegians begin their helicopter chase of the infected dog. Seeing that made me feel a twinge of sorrow for those crazy Swedes…I mean Norweigans.
‘Course, what do I know?
You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.