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Total Crap: 20.93%

4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Thing, The (2011)
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by Erik Childress

"There's Something Wrong With This Norwegian"
2 stars

The story behind the failure of John Carpenter's updating of Howard Hawks' The Thing (itself a bare bones adaptation of the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story Who Goes There?) is a legendary story of bad timing. In the 1982 summer of science-fiction dominated by E.T., both Carpenter's film and a little thing called Blade Runner both failed to attract audiences with their dark subject matter. It was also dismissed by many critics as ugly, gross and deliberately unpleasant. As is usually the case, great films do eventually find their audience in time and The Thing has gone on to be regarded as a genuine horror masterpiece. While John Carpenter has been all-too-absent from cinema the last decade, his films have been subject to subsequent remakes for modern audiences. And based on the output including Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog and Rob Zombie's Halloween, the prospect of ever touching The Thing was enough to stir the outrage of any moviegoing whose reverence for the Carpenter version is enough to burn at the stake anyone who blasphemes it. Well folks, the remake is here. Though it has been made in a manner that the filmmakers can have their cake and eat it too. On one hand it is actually a prequel to the events at the Antarctic camp in 1982. On the other, it maintains the same title and hits many of the exact same beats that Carpenter's crew did, only now in the form of just another generic monster movie. Fans, get your torches ready.

It is indeed 1982, the year when Men At Work was listened to - at work - while a group of Norwegians were coming across an alien spaceship buried in the ice way south of the equator. Never mind how they escaped their vehicle lodged in a manner that would have Aron Ralston saying "been there," their research team leader Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) has already flown to America with assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) to enlist palenotologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help dig the alien pilot out of the ice. Never mind how she does it cause the film just basically has her suggest a course of action while standing around looking confused and cautious until Sander can contradict her in the name of science. But the job gets done and the creature is trucked back to the camp.

While they all celebrate the apparent find of the century, giving helicopter pilot, Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) time to make goo-goo eyes at Kate, the ice thaws and the creature escapes. When it is found and torched, the autopsy reveals a clue that it may be able to replicate any living tissue that it absorbs. Kate furthers this theory when she finds some jettisoned teeth fillings and a shower full of blood. Someone is not who they reveal themselves to be. It does not take long for the camp to become believers (OK, it takes about an hour of film) and soon everyone is on edge wondering if there is a way to detect who is who and who is what.

Even those of us who cannot recite the 1982 adaptation by heart should be able to recognize the film's structure as not being all that far removed from 30 years ago. Once the creature begins making its way through the humans we get moments of misdirection until an unsuspecting character transforms. A standoff develops between the camp and someone stuck outside in the cold with a flamethrower. The bullet-to-the-head of someone who may have been human after all. The test sequence with a revelation that leaves several people (and, at least, one hanging light) dead. The finale where a key member of the team has been turned and is chased into an underground chasm where it is planning to escape in its spaceship. Don't seem to remember that kitchen stalking scene though. Did director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. think he was remaking Jurassic Park?

We should suspect that Heijningen wasn't really thinking about much other than trying to connect the dots between the two movies. For the geek factor, this makes for fine tidbits within a greater whole. He gives us the giant block of ice, the axe stuck in the wall and how the two-headed Thing monster came to be, but ultimately this is trivia filmmaking made all the more trivial in that the director and screenwriter/ remake killer Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare On Elm Street) have forgotten that the devil wasn’t in the details of the mystery behind the scenario but how it affected those chest deep in it. The paranoia is merely suggested in the 2011 version without a full exploration of the terror involved in not being able to trust your friends anymore. The Norwegians actually appear at one point to be more directly mistrustful because someone is American rather than a potential alien. Howard Hawks’ version was not exactly the study in Communist red that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was but Carpenter found himself making this story during the advent of the AIDS discovery, giving a greater implication to the infamous blood-and-hot-needle sequence. Heijningen may be blowing the lid off the great teeth filling scandal of the early ‘80s but it plays out as just a pale imitation with more questionable safety tactics. Once one has seen what the Thing is capable of in tearing about a human body from the inside with giant tentacles, do you really want to get up close and personal with a mouth?

Disaffecting things further is a fundamental shift in the behavior of the alien itself. Originally it was a very cautious entity. Brutal when it fought for its survival but was smart enough to hide in plain sight until it was absolutely necessary to find a new host. This Thing is constantly on the attack, all too happy to make a kill move on the nearest body and showing everyone what it is capable of. Chalk it all up maybe to learning from its own mistakes – especially during a pointless attack on a helicopter that is more about setting up a later conflict than accepting the logic of being personally escorted to a potential means of escape – but this makes for a far less intelligent creature, that might also be a little gay if a late reveal in the film is any indication. Far dumber than even that is the final act suggesting a fully functional spaceship that is left as such by the end, complete with some pointless lightshow distraction within that leads us to believe the Thing is just a big fan of ‘80s video game Qix than applying any purpose to it whatsoever. If Heijningen was truly paying attention, why would the Thing not make its way to it in Carpenter’s version instead of creating its own makeshift craft from helicopter and generator parts? After all, it certainly seems to remember precisely where it is in the frozen tundra after tens of thousands of years.

When film fans of a certain age look back upon the weekend of Oct. 14, 2011, they will be painfully reminded that it saw the remakes of two nearly 30-year staples from their youth open that did little to distinguish itself from the original. Craig Brewer’s Footloose is easily the biggest scene-for-scene (and sometimes song-for-song) remake since Gus Van Sant’s Psycho while The Thing becomes its own beast; a thawed out creature from the past desperately trying to survive by imitating those that melted it down in the first place for their own selfish path to fame and fortune. One can just listen to the commentary track from Carpenter and Kurt Russell on the ’82 film and pick apart more ideas to fill up a prequel treatment than simply suggesting a cheap history-is-doomed-to-repeat-itself structure. By the time we get to the end, fans will be clamoring for the final connection to seamlessly piece together the two films. Instead we are dealt one of the worst fade outs in recent memory; a final moment before the director credit which holds none of the poignant terror, comraderie and ambiguousness of Carpenter’s film. It’s a what-happens(?) moment that isn’t anything. And when it reignites Ennio Morricone’s closing theme and does choose to give us that connecting thread – and remembering it still had a suicide to reveal - it cheats us on the potential of making it all the way into the next story and ends so uncinematically that the film ultimately earns the boos that die-hard fans were reserving just in case they were on the verge of witnessing an epic fail. Perhaps they can take solace in that because this is little more than just another generic monster movie that it has more in common with Howard Hawks’ version than John Carpenter’s. Of course, then you must accept that the filmmakers are disrespecting Howard Hawks as well. At least though in a room full of metallic fillings and torn longjohns, Heijningen will never be mistaken for the real thing.

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originally posted: 10/14/11 09:00:00
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User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell it sucks stick with the 82 version 1 stars
3/21/13 Charles Tatum Should have worked, but I agree with others- CGI is terrible 2 stars
9/29/12 roscoe Fine, but no surprises and occassionally rips off Carpenter's superior film. 3 stars
9/14/12 Cordwainer Smith this movierelly gave the creeps. 5 stars
4/09/12 mr.mike Unneccesary prequel adds nothing to Carpenter's version. 3 stars
3/09/12 Gregory Scott not as creepy as the original 3 stars
2/17/12 gc Trys to be a prequel but more of a remake, with fake CGI...see the scarier original instead 2 stars
1/23/12 action movie fan rehash of 1982 film nothing new here good effects but deja vu 1982 film 3 stars
10/23/11 Jack Just awful. The filmakers don't have a clue. Great material. Boring Movie. 1 stars
10/22/11 Phasmos Nice try, but badly hampered by crappy CGI, lackluster dialogue and no real tension. 3 stars
10/22/11 Brian Great movie, completely surpassed my expectations!! goes with the 82 film perfectly 5 stars
10/21/11 Flipsider Boring, brainless remake. 1 stars
10/21/11 Ace-of-Stars Where's the movie that was supposed to be a "PREQUEL" to the 1982 version? This ain't it! 2 stars
10/21/11 Craig Best horror film since The Mist 4 stars
10/17/11 TheGrizzly Could have been better, but it wasn't. Uninspired and unimaginative, with a stupid monster. 3 stars
10/17/11 Quatermass You missed the entire point, but thta's typical 4 stars
10/16/11 carlos guzman SomeTHING was missing; alien not nearly as tactful & FX were better w/ latex 3 stars
10/15/11 erika good movie 4 stars
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  14-Oct-2011 (R)
  DVD: 31-Jan-2012


  DVD: 31-Jan-2012

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