Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Thing (2011)

Remakes are a funny thing.  On the one hand, you are making a movie to appeal to a newer, younger audience.  On the other hand, you are hoping for the built-in audience of fans who loved the original to also support the new movie.  Of course, there is almost always a backlash from the older fans who argue that the original was a classic that should not be sullied by a slick remake.  The filmmakers behind The Thing (2011) opted to sidestep that issue by making this neither a remake or a sequel, but a prequel to John Carpenter's low-budget classic The Thing (1982).  Hollywood knows how much you love prequels!  Especially prequels that doesn't come right out and tell you if they are, in fact, a prequel or not!  Seriously, how hard would it have been to not use the exact same title as the original?  Was The Thing: Episode I - The Phantom Menace taken?  How about 2 Thing 2 FuriousThe Thing 2: Electric Boogaloo?  Hell, given the plot, they could have gone the James Cameron route and just titled it Things.  But no, we have The Thing (2011).  ***sigh***

A group of Norwegian researchers has tracked down the remains of an alien spaceship that has crash-landed in Antarctica.  That alone would win them some sort of award, but the leader of the expedition, Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), focuses exclusively on the alien corpse they found frozen in the tundra.  The team extracts the block of ice with the alien and brings it back to their base.  There, Dr. Halvorson drills into the ice block and takes some DNA to study.  And that's when things (HA!) start to go badly.  The alien wakes up and escapes; it was strong enough to both explode out of the ice block and jump through the ceiling of the facility.  Worse, the alien appears to be killing people and then disguising itself as one of them.  How can you tell who's human and who's not when you're trapped in Antarctica and don't want to precisely imitate The Thing (1982)
Okay, sometimes that is easier done than other times

The acting in The Thing is surprisingly solid, given that this is a survival/horror movie.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly adequate as the heroine.  I would have liked to see some shades of grey in her choices, but that's more of a story problem than an acting one.  I was expecting more from Joel Edgerton, though; his acting was decent, but he spent a large chunk of the movie off-camera.  Eric Christian Olsen and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje were also also fine.  Nobody really stood out among the recognizable actors, but nobody was bad, either.  The rest of the cast (AKA the cannon fodder) was comprised of Norwegian actors who spoke little English.  Of them, only Jørgen Langhelle impressed me, if only because he was the only character who couldn't speak English, but he still communicated in a fairly realistic way. 
Actual dialogue: "Bork bork bork!!!"

The direction, on the other hand, was less impressive.  Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. made his feature-length debut with this movie, and it gets a bit rough in parts.  What makes the original The Thing so compelling is the suspense and the ambiguity.  This movie has little of either.  Instead of focusing on how anyone could be infected/assimilated, this film opts for the tone of a standard monster movie, making it feel more like a somewhat action-free Resident Evil than anything else.
Give that starfish some teeth and Milla Jovovich will kill it
It's not a bad idea to change the tone of this film significantly from that of the original film, but it's clear that van Heijningen Jr. wasn't doing that intentionally.  There are moments where the characters are accusing each other and acting paranoid, but those scenes lack tension and suspense.  Why?  Because the film doesn't focus on who has been alone and could be a monster.  Without the audience noticing who could be a Thing, it feels absolutely random and devoid of suspense or emotional investment.  And then there is the fact that many of the characters die of starfish-arm-powered chest punctures and everyone who is suspected of being a Thing actually is shown Thing-ing out.  I blame the director for taking a decent premise and boring me with poor execution.

One of the most iconic parts of The Thing (1982) was its truly stellar use of practical effects.  I recall hearing the filmmakers comment about how much effort was going into the practical effects of The Thing (2011), back when they were promoting the film, but there is also a substantial amount of CGI.  What practical effects were in the movie were actually pretty good.  Specifically, the alien autopsy had a pretty cool bit, although I imagine most species would have more internal organs than were shown here.
Oh, it had a person-sized pouch in its tummy?
Aside from that, though, I was significantly unimpressed.  The CGI wasn't that bad, but it was uninspired.  The monsters certainly became monstrous, but I would have liked to see more adaptation in the forms; mouths and eyes for the creature appeared to remain on the human head, which was puzzling because the original form from the ice seemed far more amorphous.
Becoming an alien, or about to projective vomit?  You decide
The most disappointing aspect of the special effects for me was how much they clearly imitated Resident Evil.  Sure, there was some continuity to the FX in the original film, but I hated the starfish-shaped killer appendages.  Is the Thing trying to murder the hell out of Antarctica, or is it supposed to be assimilating people and making its way to mainland to conquer the Earth? 
It's backup plan was to audition for The Addams Family

Even with the poor direction and the disappointing special effects, The Thing could have been a mediocre movie.  But it's not.  Why?  To put it simply, this film doesn't follow its own logic.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character is a paleontologist who is hired to examine the alien.  That makes sense, right?  And yet, not only is everything she says dismissed, she doesn't even do the preliminary examination of the alien's blood or body!  What the hell is she there for, if not those exact reasons?  For that matter, why is everyone so interested in the alien body, but not the ship?  The group extracts a huge ice cube with an alien inside it and where do they keep it?  In the heated building, of course.  To be fair, it was still cold in the building, but why risk any thawing/spoiling when you can just leave it outside?  It's not like a passerby is going to steal it.  Speaking of the alien, its ship was found hundreds of yards beneath the surface of the ice, and yet the alien was found only inches below.  I'm not saying that is impossible, but it seems unlikely.  Even less likely is the irrational acceptance of fire as a cure-all in this movie, despite important evidence to the contrary. 
Above: a demonstration of "Dr. Halvorson's Botanical Syrup and Skin Bronzing Solution"
So they all discover the monster, right?  And then they burn the shit out of it, right?  Well, it is soon discovered that the blood from the dead creature was not dead, which means that the crispy critter was also not dead.
And we're not talking Miracle Max or "mostly dead," either
So fire doesn't kill these Things.  And yet, it does.  You would think a little thing like its blood surviving char-broiling would lead to the "dead" Things coming back to life, but no.  And nobody has a problem with that.

From a production aspect, I have to wonder why this movie was ever made.  Was anyone dying to know how the alien was discovered?  I don't think so.  No, I suspect that someone saw the opportunity to make some cash by remaking a well-remembered horror flick and figured out a way to differentiate this from all the other horror remakes out there.  After all, the original movie touched on the Norwegian group that went through virtually the exact same experience as Kurt Russell and friends; why not exploit that to make virtually the same movie, but not have to deal with fans whining about the changes made in the update?  Of course, if they really wanted to differentiate this film from the original, then it wouldn't have the same damn title.  If this movie wasn't such a faded ditto copy, I would be a little more lenient and say it was just sub-par.  Aping a classic without the guts to admit it, along with its clumsy execution makes this movie pretty awful.

On a side note, what are the odds that Joel Edgerton's character A) has an earring in 1982 and B) is desperate for news about the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were in the middle of a 9-year period of atrociousness?


  1. Seeing as I now have no reason to put myself through this flick (thanks), do they bring it full circle and show the dog at the end?

    1. Actually, yes. They actually go to great lengths to account for what Kurt Russell saw in the facility, too. Unfortunately, instead of being cool little homages to the original, most of them make little sense in the context of this movie.

      So the dog (the real one) was the first thing killed by The Thing (sound familiar?). That Thing gets burned and they autopsy the body, only to find the blood isn't dead. Cut to the end of the film, and a helicopter lands. A character that was presumed dead an hour ago runs out with a rifle to threaten the pilot when the Thing (in dog form) busts out of a window and starts booking it. Crazy rifle man and frightened chopper pilot immediately agree to chase the dog until they shoot it dead. So...A) the pilot somehow was on the same page as crazy man or B) the pilot hates dogs and C) the only way the Thing could have assumed the shape of the dog was if it was the same Thing that supposedly died by burning, which means D) none of the Things should be dead and they should all kill Kurt Russell when he arrives.

      And this all happens during the closing credits. The climax of the story tried to have the same bad-ass ending that the original had, only without the doubt, the resignation, or the awesomeness.

  2. Well, the same writer penned the newest Nightmare on Elm Street and Final Destination 5. I think we can agree to keep an eye out for this budding star.

    1. Ooooh! Nice catch! I didn't even think to give a crap about who wrote this. He's pretty bad, but I might have to give him a pass if the rest of Final Destination 5 is as amusing as this scene: