Monday, October 31, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

The Thing

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton
Rated R

For Halloween, I'm checking in with a movie review. The prequel - not sequel, not remake - to the 1982 John Carpenter movie of the same name, The Thing has some big shoes to fill. The Carpenter movie was easily one of the scariest movies ever made. It was (and by extension, this was) based on a 1938 short novel called "Who Goes There?" by John Campbell. Not the 50's movie The Thing From Another World, as is commonly believed. We get all that? Good.

This new incarnation of The Thing (in theaters now!) was released in mid-October to throngs of adoring fans. And by throngs of adoring fans, I mean throngs of enraged nerds who hadn't seen it yet but already had a bone to pick (not the best word choice, given the movie in question) with it. What are they so mad about? I'm not sure, but I think it might have to do with this movie not being the 1982 movie. The people behind this movie made a good call having it be a prequel rather than a remake. For one, the Carpenter movie set up a prequel really well. For another, a remake would be unnecessary. No matter what, this movie is going to be compared to Carpenter's movie, but it being a prequel lessens the pressure on it to be perfect. John Carpenter's The Thing is quite the pedigree; hell, I gave the creature from it the top spot on my Top Ten Scariest Antagonists list.

"I'm ol' Jack Burton, bitch."

This movie stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead: our generation's Kurt Russell. Well, not quite. She plays a brilliant scientist (cue Vegeta soundbite) named Kate, brought to Antartica to investigate the first extraterrestrial discovery in human history... which - spoiler alert! - will be the last extraterrestrial discovery in human history if it reaches civilization. Some critics were probably skeptical of the casting choice here. "How can she play Kurt Russell in this remake?" they asked while puffing on their pipes. Fact of the matter is, she does a fine job with this role. Rather than a hard-nosed badass like Macready was in the 1982 film, Kate is more cerebral and figures things out before most of the rest of the cast has any clue what is going on. Considering the actress in question could probably just go around starring in teen movies, the fact that she took on this role and excelled at it shows how talented she is.


Intrepid readers might remember my review of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, during which I admitted having a crush on her. Well, she doesn't have multicolored hair in this movie, but the crush still stands. Aside from her, this movie has rising star Joel Edgerton playing a somewhat Kurt Russell-esque role. He at first appears to be the badass hero character du jour, but surprisingly enough Winstead's character Kate manages to out-action hero him as the story progresses.

Antartica, or the northeast Halloween blizzard?

Aside from the casting, this is a movie that sinks or swims based on two things: the special effects and how faithful it is to the source material. On one of those, it succeeds, while on the other it only partially succeeds. Let's start with what it was only partially successful at. The special effects are good - most of the time. Some of the CGI effects don't look very realistic at all, with some particular face-morphing effects standing out as being poorly done. That said, the creators of this movie relied on animatronics instead of CGI for a lot of the scenes; it's rare to see animatronics still get this kind of usage, and it was a good idea on their part to add to the realism. It's too bad that the CGI that is there isn't better, but it isn't a total dealbreaker.

This is what you'll look like if you watch this movie on shrooms. Any questions?
I'm not anti-CGI; it has its uses, and it certainly allows filmmakers more freedom than they had thirty years ago. As a result, in 2011 we get to see a lot more of The Thing. However, that isn't necessarily a good - ahem - thing. Half of the intimidation factor of the Things in the 1982 movie is that they're usually obscured heavily by shadow; we rarely get a good look at them, and it adds to the menace. In this movie, they're well-lit and in your face. It's an interesting contrast to the behavior of the Thing(s) themselves: in this prequel, the malevolent Thing is almost cocky. It storms around in various forms attacking prey with reckless abandon. In the 1982 movie, the Thing was far more subtle and stealthy, operating in shadow both figuratively and literally. Maybe it learned from its experiences in this movie. Either way, it's up to the individual viewer whether or not they think that the Thing(s) were overexposed onscreen in this one.

"Fuck youuuuu!"

Not only is this movie too well-lit, it lacks a lot of the tension that the 1982 movie had. The sense of total isolation just isn't here, for the most part. It always feels like there is a "way out" for the protagonists; in the 1982 movie, there was no way out and the viewer could feel this. When it comes to capturing what made the 1982 The Thing horrifying, this The Thing comes across as a close but impure facsimile... not unlike the titular monster itself. But as far as follow-ups of great movies go, this one isn't bad at all. The attention paid to the source material is what sets it apart; many sequels and restarts go off on their own tangents and don't pay the appropriate tribute to their source to placate the fans.

"Fuck yooooooou!"

More about the source material and the attention paid to it: perhaps the most important question surrounding this movie was whether or not it would be loyal to the source material. The people behind this movie did their research and clearly paid a lot of attention to both Carpenter's movie and the novel it was based on. There are so many connections between the two movies that one can watch them back-to-back and numerous plot points in the 1982 sequel will make more sense. At the very least, you'll know what happened beforehand. For that alone, this movie is worth watching for any The Thing fan. Just be sure to go in with an open mind and don't expect it to be the Carpenter movie. It isn't, but it's a neat addition to the mythology. On the flipside, those new to The Thing would be wise to check out the 1982 movie after watching this one. It's worth it, and the fact that this new movie leads directly into the 1982 version is much appreciated.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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