Even though we’re dyed-in-the-wool comedy fanatics here at Comedy Examiner HQ, we also appreciate the occasional visit with other genres: the action genre, for instance, or the horror genre, or the adult film genre (yes, it’s a genre). Tonight, we endured such a visit, taking a trip to our local multiplex to see Hollywood’s latest prequel/remake/thing, The Thing. We’re big fans of John Carpenter’s early-80’s original, so we had high hopes for Matthijs van Heijningen Junior’s film. Did it stack up, or did it fall flat on its all-CGI face? Find out below, my gentle Examiner readers…
When it was announced that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. would be tackling a new version of John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing— itself a remake of The Thing From Another World (from 1951)– we were not amused.
Carpenter’s version is one of the all-time great horror films, a bit of an underdog flick that really only earned the respect it deserved years after its original release. It’s dark, sometimes funny, boasts creature effects that’ll make your skin crawl, and features one of Kurt Russell’s best-ever performances. It also happens to represent Carpenter at the top of his game, and when you consider the other films that the dude’s made over the years, you know that that’s saying something.
A new version of The Thing— be it a prequel, a sequel, a remake, whatever– seemed ill-advised from the get-go, so when early word began to indicate that van Heijningen’s film was a bore, I can’t say that I was surprised. But even though I’d read the scathing reviews, sighed heavily through the commercials, and had spent the past few months expressing open disdain for the flick, I decided I oughtta give it a shot. For one thing, I’m a Thing fan, and wanted to know what a 2011 version of the film would be like. For another, I wanted to know if all the reviews were right: were critics getting all hyperbolic up in this piece, or were they just being frank? Only one way to find out.
Much to my dismay, the 2011 version of The Thing isn’t as good as some might have hoped, but– even more troublingly– it’s also not as trainwreck-y as some critics would lead you to believe (Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles compared the film to a warm bowel movement earlier in the week). From where I’m standing, that’s much, much worse: I would’ve been happier with a balls-out cinematic disaster than the tedious, yawn-inducing time-suck that van Heijningen’s film turned out to be. At least with a disaster you’re not bored.
The 2011 version of The Thing starts off promisingly enough, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Anything that starts with Mary Elizabeth Winstead is automatically ten times better than anything without Mary Elizabeth Winstead, unless it’s the 2011 version of The Thing, in which case it’s just a waste of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s various talents. When I find out that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is in a movie, I have expectations of that movie, and none of them involve keeping Mary Elizabeth Winstead wrapped in a three-foot thick parka for 90 minutes.
In the film, Winstead plays a scientist/archaeologist named Kate Loyd. As the film opens, a dude who thinks he’s John Hammond from Jurassic Park shows up to drag Kate up to the Antarctic, where he needs her to do a few questionable science-y things with an alien that’s been found there. See, a spaceship has been found buried under 100 feet of snow, and the lone survivor of that spaceship crash has become trapped in a block of lucite (I mean, ice). John Hammond Redux wants to get that alien out of the ice because– as anyone who lived through the 80’s can tell you– thawing out accidentally-frozen aliens was one of the cornerstones of modern science during the “Me Decade”. Kate agrees, and off to Antarctica she goes.
Kate learns that she’ll be camping out with a group of Swedes during her trip, none of whom turn out to be as rapey as the situation (and one character’s inexplicably ominous dialogue) would suggest them to be. They’re just a bunch of good ol’ boys with wacky accents and flannel shirts . As it turns out, most of their shirts should be red, as the vast majority of these “characters” end up being just as forgettable– and expendable– as the Star Trek non-characters who gave birth to that geek-friendly term: Once the alien breaks free from its block-O-ice, it starts eating its way through these guys with a quickness.
Meanwhile, Kate’s all like, “This alien is replicating ya’ll, ya’ll”, and everyone else is like, “Nuh-uh, whatever, what do you know?” And of course Kate’s right, but who’s going to take Mary Elizabeth Winstead seriously? Even if she is warning you of impending disaster, she’s just so damn adorable that you can’t be bothered to get riled up about whatever she’s saying. You’d be like, “Hey, girl, let’s chill with all this ‘replication’ talk and just get down to the snuggling”, and she’d be all like, “You’re going to die”, and you’d be making her a mix-tape and hot chocolate (it’s cold outside). So, the warnings go unheeded.
And, sure enough, the alien’s replicating– just as it did in the Carpenter version– and running all over the place, eating dogs– just as it did in the Carpenter version– and making life difficult for everyone. Just as it did in the…oh, y’know what? You get the idea. One of the biggest problems I had with the 2011 version of The Thing is that it apes Carpenter’s version so thoroughly, you kinda feel like you’ve already seen this movie: there’s the scene where the dog gets slaughtered in the pen, the scene where a “test” is administered to find out who The Thing is, the scene where body parts go crawling across a floor on suddenly-sprouted alien legs. It’s basically beat-for-beat the same as the original, it’s just nowhere near as compelling because the characters are total ciphers.
So, anyway, the majority of the film revolves around The Thing running around the Swedish camp, eating people and melding with them in equal measure. It’s nice that they remembered to include all the “rampant paranoia” scenes from Carpenter’s version, but you can tell that everyone involved was way more interested in presenting gory CGI creatures than they were with establishing and developing things like “character” or “plot”. It all just kind of slogs along for 80 minutes or so, and then there’s a big climax in and around the alien’s downed spacecraft (which suddenly looks a lot bigger and more modern than it did 29 years ago), a few flamethrowers get shot, and then it ends precisely where Carpenter’s film (and my 10th birthday party) began: with a couple of Swedes hanging out of a helicopter, shooting at a dog.
The Thing (2011) isn’t as god-awful as you’ve heard, but it might be more boring than you’d expect. The film builds absolutely zero atmosphere, sense-of-dread, or character, so you’re basically watching Carpenter’s original with all the good stuff taken out (or turned into glistening wads of CGI). My advice? Rent (or, better yet, purchase) Carpenter’s version, check this one out when it shows up on HBO in a few months, and then grumble about how they got it wrong before you rewatch Carpenter’s version. That’s what I did, anyway.
My grade? C-
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