April 10, 2013

Someone Should Take A Flamethrower To THE THING Prequel/Remake

"So I'm gonna die because I floss?"
What a waste.

John Carpenter's The Thing is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, although I admit that I was pretty late to that particular party.  It's simply wonderful in every single regard.  The Antarctic setting is at once expansive and claustrophobic and the story is twisted in such a way that keeps you guessing till the very last moment.  The cast is top notch: a great collection of familiar faces like David Clennon, Donald Moffat, Richard Masur and T.K. Carter, one of the all time great Kurt Russell performances, Keith David at his most badass, and WILFORD FUCKING BRIMLEY.  Plus, being a devout worshiper at the altar of 80s cinema, I have an undying love for great practical creature work, the gooier the better.  The Thing itself is simply astonishing, the true stuff of nightmares.  To be clear, I'm not a digital effects hater, but I've yet to see a digital werewolf transformation that's nearly so compelling as An American Werewolf In London and that shit's over 30 years old.

The idea of revisiting The Thing seemed to fall somewhere between unnecessary and foolhardy.  Prequels in general suffer from a critical flaw inherent to the very concept: we already know how the story has to end, so that automatically diminishes all the stakes.  That means that, unless you're going to leave us with something that alters our perception of what we thought we knew from the original, you've got to have either a story or a hero that is INCREDIBLY compelling to make it worth our while.  Otherwise there's simply no point.  You could do a straight remake, but with a film as iconic and borderline perfect as The Thing, why on Earth would you want to?  It's not like you're going to improve on what came before.

The Thing (2011) ends up trying to do a little bit of both, and all of it's just plain bad.  The fact that it has the same title only led to confusion among audiences as to exactly what kind of story they were trying to tell.  Watching the movie probably didn't help.  Ostensibly this new film is pitched as a prequel, detailing the story of the Norwegian outpost that first discovered the Thing frozen out there in the ice and there's certainly some potential in that concept.  We could learn more about the Thing itself and its ancient ship.  Perhaps the Norwegians had some nefarious intent, looking to control the creature like the Weyland-Yutani corporation from Aliens.  Hell, even if we got a character that's at least half as awesome as R.J. MacReady, at least that would guarantee some fun.

Unfortunately we get none of that.  Instead it's essentially the same story told again, except this time everyone's Norwegian.  All of the incredible creature work is replaced with some pretty half-baked digital effects (the final Thing at the end is particularly bad) which is pretty unforgivable.  Rick Bottin's grotesque original puppetry puts these digital farts to shame; whereas before I could spend all day staring at those monstrosities, their modern CG equivalents only made me cringe.  While the Thing is racking up the body count, the other big villain of the original film is paranoia.  Watching everyone second guess each other, trying to figure out who's human and who's not is half the fun.  Here there's almost no sense of dread, partially because the Thing itself makes almost no attempt to hide itself, transforming and attacking people right out in the open and often in the stupidest situation possible, like a helicopter in mid-air.  It doesn't help that most of the characters are forgettable non-entities, making me not really care who lives and who dies.  Mr. Eko from Lost plays Diet Keith David, while the great Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton are both wasted as half of a watered down version of MacReady.

There are some poor attempts to further our knowledge of the creature, like the revelation that it can't replicate inorganic matter.  Sadly it's a pretty dull devlopment, leading to an almost comical recreation of the infamous blood test scene from the original where Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character shines a flashlight in everyone's mouth looking for fillings.  It's indicative of an unfortunate tendency of most prequels, where they feel the need to revisit every single detail of how things got to be they way you remember them.  For example, at one point Joel Edgerton goes after the Thing with an axe and it gets stuck in the wall.  When he tries to pull it out, Winstead tells him to leave it, and you can practically hear the script screaming, "YOU HAVE TO LEAVE IT SO THAT MACREADY CAN FIND IT LATER!"  Hell, the movie closes with an in-credits sequence (after a truly disappointing finale) detailing how the last two guys ended up chasing the dog to the American camp in the helicopter.  And yet, when the Thing first emerges from its icy sleep, instead of leaving a mostly intact ice-coffin like MacReady discovers, the ice block shatters into a thousand pieces, seemingly for no other reason than "it'll look cool."  Also, let's not forget that this is a movie set in the early 80s.  While the original featured all sorts of great once-futuristic-now-vintage tech like the chess playing computer that MacReady douses with scotch, there's almost no attempt by its lame successor to show off its period setting.  That could have been a lot of fun, but instead it's just another opportunity wasted.

Don't watch this movie.  Seriously, just don't.  The original is streaming on Netflix right now.  Go watch that instead.  It's just like the remaquel (premake?) except that instead of sucking, it's fucking great.

Title: The Thing (2011)
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnouye Agbaje, Ulrich Thomsen
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: HBO HD

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