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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Thing (2011)

My notes on the prequel/remake of the remake of the adaptation.

Written by Eric Heisserer (of a Final Destination sequel and the Elm Street remake) and directed by Dutch first-timer Matthias van Heijningen Jr, this is one of those ‘oh, really?’ projects it’s hard not to resent going in.  But in 1982, I wasn’t convinced – even as a John Carpenter fan – that The Thing From Another World needed a remake; to this day, I slightly prefer the Hawks-Nyby film to Carpenter’s version, though the 1982 movie (originally, a box office disappointment) is masterly in its own right.  Getting over that hump, the new Thing is still average to ordinary.

 

Being at once a prequel and a remake is a hindrance to creativity – forcibly reminding you that most Hollywood sf lacks the rigour a Nigel Kneale would bring to similar premises.  This Thing’s m.o. makes no sense at all, going so far as to point out flaws in the Carpenter film’s adaptation of the story: if the Thingians can build and fly an interstellar ship, why is this one so mindlessly and stupidly violent?  If it wants to take over the world, it only has to play dead for a few more days after a 1,000,000 year hibernation and yet it starts pouncing on people in Antarctica before it’s been removed to a civilised area where it would be unstoppable.  In the 1951 film, the character who tries to communicate with the vegetable vampire from outer space is wrongheaded; here, I kept wondering why no one even tries to talk to the monster when it’s in possession of human vocal cords.  There’s a new plot wrinkle which seems clever but leads to foolish scenes – and would mean that in 1982 the Thing couldn’t ever imitate Richard A Dysart because of his nose piercing – as the Thing can imitate people perfectly but not their fillings, artificial hips or other inorganic inserts (though it manages their clothes, down to zips, pretty well).

 

It tells the story of what happened at ‘the Norwegian base’, and naturally pays off with a recreation of the helicopter-pursuit-of-the-dog scene from the earlier film – also showing how that two-folks-twisted-together thing happened, and a few other details Thing obsessives will pick up on if they’re not too blinded by rage to concentrate.  The problem is that ‘what happened at the Norwegian base’ is more or less the same at what happens to the Americans, with some added bits about finding the flying saucer and the Thing getting out of the ice that fill in video bits Carpenter staged in homage to Hawks.  Since a cast of hairy Norwegians speaking in subtitles might scupper the commercial chances of a special effects monster movie, the top boffin (Ulrich Thomsen, who seems to approximate the fur-hatted, misguided scientist from 1951 but isn’t as interesting) has paelofrostologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a wannabe kurtrussellian chopper pilot (Joel Edgerton) come along to the base to make everyone speak English and recreate scenes from The Thing.  Early on, we get a feint as one character looks sweaty and suspicious and incipiently thingish only for someone friendly and normal to swell open and sprout tentacles – and then this simple misdirection gag is repeated over and over.  Instead of the hot wire in the blood, the Thing test involves shining a torch in the mouth to see if the fillings are still there, prompting a handsome dude (Eric Christian Olsen) to complain ‘so I’m going to get killed because I floss’.  Nobody makes a ‘British teeth’ gag about the token sneaky Brit (Jonathan Lloyd Walker), though he gives one of the more eye-rollingly suspicious performances (with no payoff).

 

We spend some time in the Thing’s spaceship before it blows up – in a way that doesn’t quite square with what we saw – and there are a lot of CGI change-o, monster-o effects that don’t have the ‘you gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ charge of Rob Bottin working in rubber.  They’re not bad and some of the designs are imaginative, but it still seems too smooth, too easy to be properly horrifying.  The ending is a fudge, with the heroine alive but sidelined as the dog and the chopper set up the older movie – as if this hopes there’ll be a Thing II (or III) to pick up the story after the ends of both these films.  Controversial as the finish of Carpenter’s film is (I think it’s perfect), it was designed to end the story – on an ambiguous note – as opposed to being a sequel hook.  I guess everyone involved will go on to get more gigs, since they all do their jobs properly without really excelling – Winstead, likeable in other films, is stuck with being an annoying nag of a heroine – but, really, what was the point?

 

I liked the Norwegian song, though.

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Film review – The Thing (2011)

  1. ul Johnston
    end of Carpenter’s ambiguous? I always took it that the survivors would die of exposure

    Alex Bledsoe It’s ambiguous because it’s not clear if either (or both) are actually Things.

    Mark Wilkins Sounds like a pointless prequel, will skip it

    Jez Conolly · Friends with Robert Chandler and 81 others
    I have to see it for research purposes – one of my concerns is that it will try to answers some of the questions left by the 1982 film in a way that is wholly unsatisfactory. Personally I love movie ambiguity.

    Dave Chojin so this film wont clear up the ending then

    This was always a bad idea. The original is such a complete film. The whole norweigan base segments were simply to build suspense.

    It worries me greatly that the people who made this have there beady eyes on They Live. A film which could genuinely work as a remake. The original having so much scope to play with. Now we have global warming, an ever increasing gap between rich and poor. It could be a really ambitious, socially angry remake. That won’t happen though it’ll be another flattened dumbed down lowest common denomitor like death race. The thing must be turning in it’s icy grave.

    Haydn Watkins So kim, ** or ***?

    Fred Aaron I remember well the sturm and drang that accompanied Carpenter’s remake of the Hawks/Nyby original almost 30 years ago, but it didn’t take too long for many to find Carpenter’s film a triumph and classic in its own right. Somehow, based on your review (and others I’ve read), I doubt this pre-qual will have the positive afterlife that Carpenter’s version found.

    Paul Newman Always did wonder why the thing itself was so predatory and stupid when it had the ability to fly between the stars … perhaps it wasn’t the originator of that technology but had taken over one of the original pilots?

    Maxim Thompson I don’t get the whole ‘ if the Thingians can build and fly an interstellar ship, why is this one so mindlessly and stupidly violent? ‘ plothole. I was always thought of the Thing as a parasite, that it must have infected the alien spaceship, killed everyone on board but wasn’t able to fly it so crashlanded on Earth, so the Thing is like intergalactic rabies.

    Brian Ashley I’ll wait for DVD!

    Toby Venables The single most annoying thing about this film is that they simply called it ‘The Thing’, thus forcing us, whenever talking about Carpenter’s film, to append to title the depressing words ‘- the original’.

    Mark Engle Always referred to that one as John Carpernter’s THE THING anyway, so it wouldn’t be confused with the original 1950’s THE THING from another world, mostly know as just THE THING.

    Jez Conolly · Friends with Robert Chandler and 81 others
    I’d always assumed the ship at the beginning of the Carpenter film was the vehicle of another, essentially humanoid, species, the occupants of which were either in the process of being assimilated and went for a suicidal crash-land or had already been taken over by the Thing who was using them to pilot the ship to a planet. The Blair-Thing’s later ship-building suggests a trace memory of the occupants of that first ship. Or not as the case may be.

    Neil Gallagher ·Doesn’t bode well does it!

    Dex Fernandez To address Maxim Thompson’s point… the Thing does seem to know everything the creature it copies knows, so therefore it shouldn’t have crashed out of ignorance.

    Jonathan Stover If I remember correctly, the Thing in John Campbell’s original story was strongly implied to be telepathic (or at least empathic) , which at least answered some questions about how it knew what to do as soon as it got out of the ice on the base.

    Stuart Yates What makes you think it was the thing’s ship?

    Stuart Yates It could have been like Nostromo went to answer a distress call, and picked something icky from an

    Stuart Yates None of the actual expeditionists actually explored the inside of the spaceship.

    Robert Bailey More or less what I expected. I will probably watch it when it turns up on TV, but certainly not before.
    4 November 2011 at 15:54 · Like · 1

    Austin Ashwell I remember watching the original movie on TV when I was small, Read the story when it was reprinted in STARLOG & caught up with Carpenter’s during the ’80’s video boom. I loved them all; slightly different beasts sharing DNA. Isn’t that the point here? That the story changes just as much as the creature does? Or would you still prefer James Arness in a boiler suit?

    Alison Reid · I always thought either the creature was some specimen on board the ship.. or had been driven mad by it’s time in the ice. Loved both the ’82 and the 51, and will no doubt see this one.. ..

    Dominic Kulcsar I’ll go and see this pointless remake just as something pathetic to do. I agree with Jez about the space ship.

    Posted by kimnewman | April 21, 2017, 3:32 pm
  2. I think I hung it up when Winstead was being chased by the shapeshifting monster that couldn’t remember to morph into something that could get into a slightly smaller space.

    Posted by ChestMaster2000 | April 21, 2017, 3:36 pm
  3. An entertaining short story from the point of view of the Thing:

    http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/watts_01_10/

    Posted by Anthony Cunningham | April 28, 2017, 9:07 am

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