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Thursday, 22 December 2011

(Not John Carpenter's) The Thing


Well, I saw Matthijs van Heijningen Junior's The Thing tonight. Fyi, it's the prequel to the 1982 film of the same name, directed by one of the masters John Carpenter. It follows the Norwegian research team (the one whose camp is explored in the original film) who find a strange 'fossil' buried in the ice and dig it up in pursuit of mega-kudos. The original is one of my favourite films of all time, so here goes an impartial analysis of the brand-spanking-new one...

Well, it's not as new as you might think, there is quite a bit that's taken directly from the first. I mean, apart from the fact that both camps are from the same 'Research Centre's 'R' Us' shop (right down to the gaudy glass lampshade in the rec room). There's also the 'Norris' character (who ends up collapsing and then turning into the thing after being carried away), the 'Palmer' character (who ends up being roasted in front of bookshelves after the whole 'oh no my flamethrower is temporarily not working' incident), the hallway confrontation with the scientists (just like with Gary and Copper) and more. Incidentally, Jonathan Walker - who plays Colin in the hallway confrontation bit - really dragged the tone down with poor acting. It's supposed to be a high-tension scene where suspicions are rife and arguments ensue to try and get to the bottom of it. His lines involved some real clunky ones, pretty much "He is hiding something" and "He is not what he appears to be." He delivered them with such dullness, I kind of forgot there's a world-threatening alien on the loose. Even the soundtrack (by Marco Beltrami) is heavily inspired by Ennio Morricone's original score, but doesn't convey much of the original despair. In fact, in the end scene where Joel is torched, that kind of 'behold the heroine's triumph' music plays, but the idea of the original is that no-one wins, just life's brutality rolls on.

What was new was the way the main character Kate discerns between who is human and who is the thing. Organic matter can't produce inorganic matter, that's fair enough, so fillings are an indicator of humanity. It's not quite as tension filled as the blood test scene, and I found it baffling that the characters would refuse to simply open their mouths to prove their innocence, but I guess the writer (Eric Heisserer) was at a loss for ways to create drama at this point. But yeah, I liked that bit, and also liked the Norwegian stamp put on the film by the director. Some of the dialogue was in Norwegian and subtitled for our pleasure, just thought that gave the film a good flavour and authenticity.

I think ultimately the film is confused about the nature of the thing, which is a temptation when dealing with all the special effects we see in today's modern filmographic reels. The alien is introduced pretty early on in the film and is 'flaunted' loads throughout the film, showing off the modern doofer-computers' abilities. There's even a bit where the thing, in a sort of dog-like incarnation, stalks Joel into a kitchen. This is a shame in couple of ways; hide-and-seek scenes are basic horror, not pushing any boundaries whatsoever, and also the whole idea of the alien is that it's vulnerable out in the open, so it needs to be sneaky NOT just 'Hi I'm Alan, just another run-of-the-mill alien going out for Friday night' (or whatever...).

That kinda sums up the film in a lot of ways; it's not convinced. John Carpenter's The Thing is sci-fi horror, but with a lot the tension and psychological elements associated with terror. The 2011 remake is pure horror. Basic plot, basic acting, basic chills and over-the-top special effects. Go figure. Not a patch on the original, but then I'm bound to say that as a massive fan. If you like the original, sure, go see it. Just because it's not AS good, doesn't mean to say it's not worthwhile. If you like horror films in general, also go see it. If I gave half-stars, it'd get 2.5, but I don't, so I give it 3 (without much of a grudge), so maybe any film-goer should try it. If you can get your hands on the 1982 version, it's a better film, but will not be for everyone's tastes.

P.S. Just in case this rant hasn't got enough fan-based, unqualified opinion to put you off, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is HOT.

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