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Reevaluating the Duds of 2011: The Thing

Note: Contrary to my traditional practice of omitting spoilers, you may very well find a few revealing details in this piece. So, if you haven’t seen this picture, and aren’t out to have me ruin it for you, it may be a good time to head back to the home page and read something else

Breaking down Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s “prequel” to John Carpenter’s treasured feature, The Thing is a bit of a daunting task. Not because it’s a particularly amazing film, or for that matter a terrible feature, but because it’s neither of the two, and part of the reason for that is the corner John Carpenter backed any future filmmaker into with his 1982 gem (barring the attempt at a sequel, rather than prequel). If you know the film (as you all should), you know that viewers are already aware of the fate that befell the Norwegian base camp from which “the thing” initially breaks free.

You also know that the same insanity that swept through the camp fronted by R.J. MacReady and company wiped out the aforementioned Norwegians, and given the nature of the beast, there’s absolutely zero reason to suspect that the alien opted to utilize a different method in the process of doing so. So, how the hell do you make a prequel, when the foundation has already been laid and it mirrors that of the film’s ultra-popular predecessor/sequel? I don’t think you can.

Why I disliked the film initially: I sure as hell didn’t loathe this remake (I don’t really feel justified in calling it a prequel), but I didn’t fall madly in love with the project either. It Is in a sense little more than a remake, but I knew to expect that heading in; as I’ve stated, I obviously (I worship Carpenter’s ’82 telling) already knew precisely what occurs at the Norwegian camp, as John clearly illuminates the backstory without painting it with insane clarity in the first act of his own famous alien feature. That said, there is one major, major weakness to the picture, and it’s got nothing to do with the script, performances or the general direction of the film. Like Fright Night, the CGI work here is just too damn tough to swallow. What’s worse, the half-hearted computer generated imagery feels even more repulve upon second viewing.

I’d like to say that, had Carpenter’s original picture not been so visually amazing, boasting arguably the greatest practical special effects in history, this reboot’s CGI wouldn’t have been so unbearable, but I’d be a fucking liar if I let that hoopla free. The fact of the matter is, at least 80 percent of the film’s effects are cartoonish to be kind, and t in only a hair higher regard than the “work” offered up by Fright Night. It’s not even the mple fact that the digital imagery is weak it’s the fact that this contemporary crew attempt to mimic plenty of the shots made famous by Rob Bottin nearly 30 years ago, and they’re the kind of shots that cannot be duplicated, save for perhaps by Bottin himself with a boatload of financing and all the tools imaginable at his disposal. To “follow” a film with the visual prowess of Carpenter’s The Thing with a picture riddled with soulless computer generated work is just another insult thrown in the faces of genre fans, and it’s important to note, that even if you (somehow) haven’t seen Carpenter’s flick, you’re still more than likely to be let down by the goofy look of the aliens on display in Matthijs’ film.

Did I change my mind about the film upon reexamination? Well, honestly, I did. Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with the creature effects, they’re just as horrendous after a second viewing (if not worse!), but I noticed a shitload of endearing qualities in this picture after truly analyzing it. Given the restrictions that scribe Eric Heisserer had to face while penning this one, it’s hard not to conder the general account almost amazing. Eric obviously studied Carpenter’s film excesvely, as he incorporates plenty of story parallels that could have ealy been overlooked, which makes for a strange sense of continuity. Hardcore fans will take note of small details, such as the Ax in the wall, as well as the look of the charred alien that’s fried after beginning its absorption of Adam.

But even beyond the miniscule specifics, there are some great strength’s to the picture. The dialogue is great; this is an element of film so often botched it’s embarrasng, but that’s not the case here. Heisserer empowers a fantastic cast by providing a controlled but witty script. Viewers are never expected to reach for straws, or factor in “new” story elements, and we’re never proffered shallow monologues or absurd exchanges.

As for that cast, they’re actually quite efficient here. I recall feeling as though every character blended into one another after my initial viewing; it seemed, at the time, that no one member of this ensemble actually stood out, but I was terribly wrong in that early assessment. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is actually wonderfully measured in her portrayal of the heroine; she juggles panic, regard and composure with startling effectiveness, and she manages to be legitimately likable. Those sentiments can be echoed when discusng Joel Edgerton’s performance as Sam Carter; this guy is a natural in front of the camera, and this particular presentation feels a whole hell of a lot like you’re watching MacReady veron 2.0 at work. His rugged charm (that sounds strange, but I swear to you it’s a valid description) leaves you cheering for the man in moments of victory, and squirming when he finds himself in a bind. Ulrich Thomsen is appalling as the groups snake, Dr. Sander Halvorson, and that’s exactly what Heisserer was aiming for. Jørgen Langhelle takes phycal acting to a great level, as he doesn’t speak a lick of English in the film, but still manages to win the crowd over, and Stig Henrik Hoff seems like he was born to play the role of Peder.

Finally, for those who claim there isn’t much tenon to the film, I beg to differ. Due to the accelerated pacing of the picture the suspense certainly isn’t as palpable as what we witnessed in Carpenter’s film, but save for a few exceptions, viewers really never know who is and who isn’t human; more importantly, we want to know that. That sensation doesn’t manifest itself if there’s zero suspense fixed to the project. The mystery generated by this remake/prequel pales in comparison to Carpenter’s rendition, but it’s still alive in the script, and well executed within the film as a whole. Anyone who argues that is mply looking for another reason to bash a film that ts right on the cusp of being awesome.

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Matt_Molgaard Monday 1/02/2012 at 02:27 AM | 88863
I still haven't seen the movie, but reading your review, I'd still like to. Sadly this movie didn't play in our theatres. But the DVD release will be there soon, I guess. The soundtrack is great..atleast I have that one..Beltrami did a surpringly good job.
UberJason78 Wednesday 1/04/2012 at 10:29 PM | 88989