Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 14th: The Thing (2011)

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) to travel to Antarctica, where a team of Norwegian scientists have stumbled across underground caverns, though Kate is kept in the dark about what the Norwegians found.
Arriving at the Norwegians' base and meeting the team, led by geologist Edvard Wolner (Trond Espen Seim), Kate is taken to the caverns and sees for herself what the Norwegians discovered; a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship, buried under the ice for at least 100,000 years, and its pilot, presumably dead. Despite Kate's protests, Dr. Halvorson and Wolner begin experimenting immediately and take a tissue sample.
Later that night as the team celebrates their find, The Thing escapes and begins killing the crew off. Studying the tissue sample, Kate discovers that The Thing is capable of absorbing living organisms' cells, allowing it to perfectly mimic those cells. Realizing that The Thing is trying to imitate the crew members as a means to escape Antarctica and infect the world, Kate, American Pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Norwegian Lars (Jorgen Langhelle) arm themselves with flamethrowers and begin testing the increasingly paranoid crew to determine who is and who isn't The Thing
John Carpenter's The Thing was an undeniable failure upon its release; the general consensus at the time was that it was too grotesque and nihilistic, especially compared to the far more successful E.T. In the 20+ years since its release, Carpenter's film has under a critical reappraisal and is now considered one of the all-time horror classics, far superior to its enjoyable 1951 original, The Thing From Another World.
With films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and Psycho getting remakes, horror fans were bracing themselves for the inevitable Thing remake. While some people still think this is a remake, The Thing 2011 is actually a prequel to The Thing 1982, set three days earlier and centered on the Norwegian crew who uncovered The Thing that stalked R.J. MacReady and his crew in Carpenter's film. Nevertheless, red flags were going up amongst the fan community, concerned that this new film would add nothing to Carpenter's film or worse, take away from it by answering unnecessary questions Carpenter knew were better left unanswered.
Having seen The Thing 2011, I can understand why people presumed it to be a remake; it's the same damn thing, only with a female lead, Norwegians and a massive drop in quality. Now to be fair, there are other minor differences that pop up on occasion, but its few and far between, not to mention frustrating. It's bad enough when a remake just copies the plot points of its original verbatim, but at least remakes, by their own nature, exist outside of the original film. For a prequel to imitate its predecessor so blatantly is inexcusable.
Prequels are constricted by what happened in the original film/films, so it's vital for the filmmakers to reveal new information. The Star Wars prequels, as god awful as they are, introduced us to new, important characters. Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist told us Father Merrin had lost his faith after WWI, something William Friedkin's film never brought up. Paranormal Activity 2 informed us why the demon was after Katie and Kristi. It's a simple rule; for a prequel to work, the filmmakers must shed new light on the original.
The Thing 2011 fails miserably because it doesn't provide anything new. In Carpenter's film, we were told that The Thing was discovered by a Norwegian crew, subsequently wiped said crew out and escaped from their compound. It wasn't particularly specific, so there was plenty of room to expand and elaborate. Instead of doing that, director Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr. and writer Eric Heisserer chose to steal from Carpenter. Many of the plot points have carried over, the characters' growing paranoia is identical, The Thing looks no different, and it ends on a similarly dark note.
The only key difference between The Thing 1982 and The Thing 2011 is that this version features a female hero, in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Kate Lloyd. Other than Final Destination 3 and Live Free or Die Hard, I can't profess to being an expert on Winstead. However, her performance here is enough to convince me to go no further. Winstead looks far too young to be a paleontologist, my eyes rolled every time she tried to come off as authoritative and I was never given any reason to like her or want her to be the hero. She's just another bland, dull Ripley knockoff that Sigourney Weaver, even at her age, could beat the living crap out of in ten seconds flat.
The closest this film has to a likeable hero is Joel Edgerton, as pilot Braxton Carter. Don't get too excited, though, because Braxton Carter is clearly modeled off R.J. MacReady, the protagonist of Carpenter's film and John W. Campbell, Junior's original story Who Goes There?. Though clearly an anti-hero, MacReady was a supreme badass, the essence of cool and tough, helped immeasurably by Kurt Russell's performance. Edgerton is a solid actor, but he's just not as cool as Russell and the obvious parallels between the characters make it impossible to not compare them. Of course, it doesn't help that Edgerton isn't given anything to do that would make him unique and different (unless an earring counts).
Fans of Carpenter's version will tell you that every character was memorable and I'm inclined to agree with that. Every single character, even such minor characters as dog handler Clark, station chef Nauls and redbeard Bennings, had their own moment to shine and they all stick with the fans. This film? None. Not a single fucking character is unique or memorable, let alone fun to watch. They're all just generic, straight-laced people with no personality or charisma. As weak as the performances are, I'd have to blame Eric Heisserer. The writer responsible for that wretched A Nightmare on Elm Street remake strikes out yet again, proving his complete and utter lack of talent.
While it's hard not to compare the two, does The Thing 2011 hold up on its own? Not at all. As we've already established, there's no reason to invest in any of these characters, so there's nothing in the way of tension or suspense when The Thing starts wrecking havoc. The film relies a lot on jump scares and loud noises, which any true horror fan would tell you doesn't count as a genuine scare. Unfortunately, Heijningen only adds to the problem by making the movie glossy and overproduced, not to mention (back to comparing the two films) that most of his visuals are lifted from Carpenter.
It's because of films like this that I curse the day CGI was invented. Even nearly 30 years later, Rob Bottin's effects in The Thing hold up perfectly. Bottin's vision of The Thing is the stuff of nightmares and will never be topped. I knew going in these effects weren't going to come anywhere near that, but even then I was still outraged. The Thing can contort itself in so many freaky ways, yet Heijningen is content with just copying Carpenter yet again and not doing something different with The Thing. I'm not inherently against CGI, but when this Thing looks just like Carpenter's Thing, all you're doing is reminding me of how much better practical effects are and, in turn, pissing me off. That pretty sums it up right there; Heijningen and Heisserer have done nothing but remind me that The Thing 1982 is far superior to this piece of junk retread.
According to both John Carpenter and Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr., The Thing is an evil entity capable of absorbing the cells of living organisms and perfectly imitating them. Given the recent trend of horror remakes, I'm not the least bit surprised to see Heijningen try to mimic the original film. What outrages me is how poorly they've replicated Carpenter; this is far from a perfect imitation. If you've seen The Thing 1982 and The Thing From Another World, there is nothing about The Thing 2011 that will surprise you; it's just another soulless Hollywood clone. 1 out of 5 Stars.

Next Up: October 15th: Wolfen (1981)

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