I attended a sneak peak of “The Thing”, which is a prequel of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” which is based off the SciFi classic, “The Thing from Another World” which is based on the John Campbell story “Who Goes There”. Stop me if I’m going too fast for ya. The plot is simple, scientists find a big chuck of alien who-knows-what in the middle of Antarctica, and they decide that they need to dig it up and poke it and just not leave very well enough alone. One person thinks this is a bad idea and ultimately they have to be the one to save everyone’s butt when all hell (and the alien) breaks loose. It’s a pretty standard scientists – alien interaction.
The plot may be standard, but it’s John Carpenter’s standard. I’m not going to compare this to the original because, despite similarities, this was not a remake. I must, however, reference the 1982 film because this prequel is an homage. They never set out intending to remake “The Thing” because they knew it was already perfect as it was; they just wanted to ask the question we’ve all wondered when we see the wreckage and carnage of the Norwegian station. The question of “What the hell happened here?” The film makers didn’t waste a lot of time with exposition. We get to the first scene that you just must see on the biggest, highest definition screen you can. Seriously. For a moment you feel like your on a simulator ride at Disney; I kept expecting to get a waft of frigid air or for the seats to start rumbling and jostling about in synchronization with the vehicle cross covering the barren Antarctic wilderness. After a few opening titles we find ourselves in the office of Kate, a cold dig paleontologist; or rather, we find ourselves in the large intestines of whatever beast Kate is examining. Next comes in Adam, and with one sentence establishes that he knows Kate on a personal level, she’s a sweet and friendly girl and despite his respect for her, is frustrated by her ability to be completely absorbed by her work. Next is Dr. Sander Halvorson, dead pan and stern. He informs Kate that he is interested in her coming to work on a find at the Antarctic station and she must make an immediate decision, despite being able to give her any information. She agrees, he leaves, and Adam makes another one liner establishing Dr. Halvorson as about as free a spirit as your 10th grade social studies teacher. Soon they’re boarding a helicopter and we meet a few of the other characters, and soon we’re already out on the ice investigating. They bring up the frozen “specimen” that escaped from the craft, and inevitably, while celebrating their find, the Thing wakes up and breaks free from the ice. There you go, you’ve got your reason for being there, catalyst for action, a point of contrast between characters, and a reason for all the Nor-wads speaking fluent English (though I suppose the random Brit-strailian works too). That’s all the audience needs.
Now, I could nit-pick on the over use of CGI, or some of the technology we see being anarchonistic, or the obnoxious fake snow that most certainly looks like shaved foam and not snow as it did back in the days of lower definition. I could complain that they should have done more to use make up and creature creations to make the Thing. A few times it felt like they were trying to establish something, only to completely forget it or not explain a few key points, like why a bunch of scientists had that much ammo at an Antarctic research station or how that flamethrower was so readily accessable. But there is so much else going on in this movie that is awesome, and likeable, that you forgive the film makers for missing those points. Like the development of paranoia and unrest in the characters, and even in the audience. The suspense has you on edge; I found myself very tense at points because you simply don’t know who to root for. There is also of plenty of fun moments where they foreshadow some event or finding for the Carpenter film, reminding you it’s not a remake but they love the original just as much as you do. Leaving the theater, I over heard a man asking why everyone was laughing and applauding when the graphic image of a man with his throat slit, covered in blood-cicles, splashed across the screen.
That exact moment begs the question, “Do you need to have seen Carpenter’s version to like this one?” No. In fact, I think any horror fan, even if they’re completely unfamiliar with the mythos, can walk out of the theater with a positive experience. The theme of xenophobia, the understanding of their paranoia, and the conflict between scientific advancement over the greater good are all universal enough that anyone can relate. Plenty of misdirection and distraction leaves you scrambling to get ahead of the plot and figure out what’s going to happen next. A few times it feels as if the movie is about to slip into a horror movie classic victim bop and then out of nowhere it’s the guy in the corner you completely forgot about that’s exploding in blood and feelers. This is a story of betrayal of trust in what you thought you knew, maybe even an allegory for the Red Scare or the Witch Trials; but, it is still a horror movie. There will be buckets of blood, horribly chard remains, and embryotic fluid, all with the delightfully well done folly work that accompanies it. You never get a good glimpse of the alien in it’s original form, but you see plenty of terrifying, flailing limbs, tendrils and a vulvic mouth that puts any vagina dentata myths to shame (don’t know what that is? Go look it up, I’ll wait). I’m okay with this. Initially I was disappointed to not see what they interpreted the original alien as, but I would have been even more disappointed if they didn’t get it right. Not knowing exactly what we’re dealing with just adds to that tense feeling of not knowing where it just went. Once it’s transformed we do get some just nightmare inspiring shots of the half-breed, still in it’s amorphous phase. We see it’s full body and it is fantastic, despite being CG. After having seen the film, I understand why they chose to go that route. The aggressive attacks would have been impossible by even the greatest contortionist in a suit, and to build some sort of Thing robot would have been limiting in how it could move and grow. Besides, you still have the original Thing’s scream/hiss/howl which is just as part of the creature as how it looks (if you don’t believe me, go watch Batman Begins and tell me Christian Bale’s growl talking isn’t ridiculous). All in all, I think this is how Carpenter would have done it if he had CG at his disposal.
I also have to commend the film makers for correct use of a woman in a film. A no point is there a gratuitous scene of either of the only two female characters in the shower. These women are pleasing to look at but they don’t look like the spent an hour in a chair having professional hair and make up artists getting them that perfect, scream queen glam look. At no point does either woman act out in a fit of irrational rage, or fling herself in to the arms of the big oafish hero. I’m always nervous to see a woman as a lead in a horror or action movie. Typically the only reason they choose to make a lead a woman is so they can cram great big tits and pointless sex in with between scenes of things needlessly blowing up. Kate is a strong empowered character, but her gender is interchangeable. The character could have easily been a man, and the only parts of the script they’d have to change is the name. This is a good thing, sexuality does not have to be a plot point. I’m very impressed by this; when you look back at writer Eric Heisserer’s other work (Final Destination 5, and the recent Nightmare on Elm Street) you find movies intended to be pure sensationalism. It’s good to know that Hollywood hasn’t forgotten the feminist movement entirely.
Overall, I highly recommend The Thing. It’s to the point, giving you just enough plot to hang on to, though there are a few moments where you feel set up for something that got left on the cutting room floor. All and all, you’re not left dizzy from too many plot twists; nor do you feel empty, like you’d just stayed in and watched SpikeTV. It’s action packed, but not over stimulating. The effects are just right, though I would have love to seen what the special effects team that worked on the original could have done with modern effect technology. I would certainly recommend this for a modern theater, well suited for an IMAX screen.
Oh, and trust me, when it gets to that final scene, it fades to black and you’re screaming, “But wait there’s more!” just relax. That’s just the director messing with you. Don’t you know by now that movies don’t end until after the credits?