25 December 2011


I just finally had the chance to watch the new version of The Thing and over all I really did not find it to be that terrible a film. I can surely recommend it, but the movie certainly, for me, has the issue of remakes lingering in the front of my brain at the moment. I am reading through a book called American Horror Film; The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium by Steffen Hanke who deals with various dilemmas facing American horror films not the least being the sudden rash of films that are high tech but low brow remakes either of Asian horror films or, more recently, of older more successful and influential American films. Someone should tell Mr. Hanke though that film books with rambling 27 page introductions is another one of the new millennium’s concerns as well. No doubt American horror, once the innovator and standard bearer of the genre, is in a creative slump. The reliance on remakes, on the one hand, and shoddy straight to DVD drivel on the other does not help matters much and the whole remake issue is something I want to explore as a topic in another article later, but the issue cannot be side-stepped with this 2011 remake (or prequel more accurately) of the 1982 classic by John Carpenter. I would easily go so far as to say this was Carpenter’s best film and if I pressed to name my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi film -I feel the movie is a successful melding of the horror and sci-fi genres, much like Ridley Scott’s Alien was- I would not hesitate to name The Thing.

There is an element in some reviews on online of acting like films like The Thing is some sort sacred matter and to redo it even as a prequel (a euphemism or sorts for remake in this case since some scenes are obviously meant to be modern redoings of the same scenes from Carpenter’s film) is tantamount to heresy. The problem here is that Carpenter’s film itself is a remake, and one that was not received with open arms when it was released, not it did it fare well at the box office. Many people felt threw was no way the movie could top Howard Hawk’s original film, 1951’The Thing From Another World. As time has gone I think people would say that Carpenter’s film did not in fact “top” Hawke’s film (which is also great movie in every sense) but it took the same story and retold in a new a way and added to the story by not only making it in color –though there is nothing wrong with the original’s black and white- but by also adding then state of the art special effects by Rob Bottin and a classic music score by Carpenter and Ennio Morricone. Carpenter did with his version of The Thing that any filmmaker worth his weight in salt is supposed to do with a remake, and that is make the story his own and take it to a new level. Not one that has to outdo the original but at least equal it in some sense. And now my two cents worth on the raging debate on the Internet these days: does the new The Thing at least equal its predecessors in retelling the story of a hostile alien life form that can take on the appearance of creature it absorbs, those creatures currently being dogs and humans stationed at some remote and claustrophobic base somewhere in Antarctica. Well, my answer is that, no it does not match up to either Carpenter’s or Hawke’s films. It falls short. But is it a bad movie and one that should be avoided or loathed? I would say it is an okay movie, entertaining enough for the times we live in when half way decent horror fare is typically lacking. Of course where this article is going to be heading eventually is in dealing with yet another culprit damaging modern day horror films, and that is the murky matter of CGI effects. Carpenter used what was then state of the art special effects in creating still outstanding scenes in his that was simply not possible in the original. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has the same right to push the effects of the new version into the 21st century, and the film may have not worked without CGI in some capacity, but is newer always better and were the CGI effects overused? I had read before seeing the film that the filmmakers had opted to use only minimal CGI effects but all I saw were computer effects. I will get to that a little later on and share my feelings about it, but for now lets look at the basic storyline. And as always, if you hate spoilers you had best skip the next paragraph or two. I, too, hate to read them but I love to write them. I will try to keep them at a minimum however. I will just introduce the general story then critique afterwards.

Mary Elizabeth Winsted plays paleoanthropologist Kate Lloyd who is offered the chance to fly to Antarctica by one Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to examine the remains of what turns out to be an alien creature that has been frozen in the ice for about 100,000 years. She is soon at a Norwegian base surrounded by Norwegian guys and one other female. Later some Americans (including Joel Edgerton as Sam Carter) arrive to mix things up a bit and to allow more of the film’s dialog to be spoken in English. As well as the alien creature there is a huge space craft buried under the thick ice and snow. The creature is transported in a block of ice back to the Norwegian base where further tests reveal the creature’s cells are still alive. The creature wastes little time in bursting free of the ice and since we know the thing can assume the appearance of other life forms we can safely assume that by the next some people at the base are not who they appear to be. Sure enough people we least suspect start mutating into a monster that makes quick work of its victims one way or the other. Either by simply killing them or by absorbing them and thereby taking on its victim’s appearance. Paranoia mounts and nobody is sure who is and who is not themselves or the space alien that is intent on killing or absorbing everybody at the frozen base. To make matters worse a serious Antarctic storm is blowing in and no one can leave the base until the creature and its imitations are isolated. There are chases by the creature and confrontations between the crew in the building where they are all huddled for survival, but by the film’s final scenes the action shifts to the interior of the space craft itself. The film ends in a way that is supposed to open the door to the John Carpenter film but I am not so sure about that as there seems to be some loose ends in my opinion. If this movie is actually a prequel then a few scenes in the other film are left completely unexplained and I will touch on those but not make a major issue out of it all.