I can’t be sure of what year it was, but one late night, back in the mid-eighties, I remember falling in love. Even though back then, I had no idea what love was, looking back I know now what I was feeling was the greatest of emotions. The pinnacle of feelings. The almighty of goodness. And it’s all because of Kurt Russell.
Well maybe not all, but he was a big part of it.
That fateful night, I watched John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for the very first time and from then on, I was hooked on horror films. Sure, I had watched other horror films … mainly for a peak at a boob or two, but this was different. This was scary. This was weird. This was something special.
To say I am biased about this 1982 horror classic is a little bit of an understatement.
Fast-forward more than twenty years later. I have the special edition on DVD (you know, the multi-disc version with interviews with everyone and the featurettes on the creature effects), I’m still holding on to my VHS copy and the blue-ray version is on my desk as I type.
I am still in love.
You know what I’m not in love with … premakes. You know, a prequel with remake qualities. More specifically, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s premake of “The Thing.”
To be fair, it’s not that it’s a bad movie – actually, it looked and flowed very well … it’s just … kind of … well … sort of … eh.
But take this opinion with a grain of salt … this was my first love.
Setting the stage for the events of the 1982 film, the new film focuses on the small team of Norwegians in Antarctica who first discover the alien menace.
After discovering the proof of alien life, Dr. Kate Llloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Ramona to all us geeks in the world), research assistant Adam Goldman, (Eric Christian Olsen) and Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) are all called in from the states to help make sense of the new discovery. With a storm moving in and isolation surrounding them, the team of researchers fights to stay alive when their discovery turns bad.
To give the film credit, the filmmakers have worked extremely hard to make sure that all the set pieces and destruction match the look of the deserted Norwegian camp found in the 1982 film. So much in fact that I couldn’t help but smile when little items and bodies found their final resting places. Done specifically for nerds like me, this attention to detail was greatly appreciated and showed that, while maybe not at my stalker level of commitment and love, the director and set designers had a big admiration for the first film.
However, that’s about as far as it goes.
While not a bad movie, “The Thing” never really finds it’s own mojo and unfortunately comes off more like a remake then a prequel. Set-ups for scares are nearly the same and while the film does a good job at setting the tension from time to time, it’s pretty obvious who is walking away for which situation and, if you have seen the first film, who is destined to become a set piece.
Along with that, while I was mesmerized by the creature effects – using a mix of digital and live action effects – it was disappointing that nothing original really happens in he film. Sure there is a fun little tidbit about teeth fillings, but basically, once all the players are in place, the film becomes a beat for beat rehash of the first film. Homage is one thing, but this is more like retelling with new characters rather than a previous chapter in the story. And maybe that’s what the director and writer’s were going for – I don’t know for sure, but, in my opinion, you just have ask yourself, Why? Why spend the money? Why build the sets? Why pay the actors and the writers and the rest of the crew? Why tell the tale if nothing original will come of it?
This was a big opportunity to give us a whole new aspect of the horror tale, and for me, it was missed by a long shot.
In terms of the acting, everyone actually does a pretty good job – including Winstead. As a new leading lady, she never comes off as overwhelmingly out of place and she holds her own well amongst the beards and blondeness of the rest of the crew. On that note – can the rest of the team be more stereotyped? Save for a few of the male actors, the Norwegian team is as interchangeable as toy lego blocks. Anyone with blonde hair and a scruffy beard could have played those parts. Of all them that stand out, Jørgen Langhelle (Lars) is the only one that really shines, but that’s because it was pretty obvious (at least for me) what his future fate was.
Also missing was the overwhelming feeling of isolation and aloneness that the first film conveyed so well. Alone, working with the same people for weeks away from home in the cold sounds horrible to me, but no one really looks or acts miserable. This is opposite from the original film and, in the original, this is aspect is what made it work so well.
I could go on, but no need you get the idea.
For new audiences who may have never seen the original, I think they will enjoy it. Some of the set-ups will seem new and the monster will be unique, but for us horror freaks who know all of MacReady’s lines beat for beat, this will be a tame stroll down memory lane. I’m extremely swayed, as I wrote above with the original so not seeing something new really bummed me out. However, it was entertaining and yes, I would watch it again – probably with the original back to back to really make it a good night of horror.
Stereotypical scares, not enough originality and too much of the same make this one a so-so scarefest, but good tension, solid acting from the leads and some fantastic monster effects help bring it back from the dead to become a slightly above average horror film.
Just remember, no”thing” is as it seems.
3 out of 5 Porcelain Molars