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The Thing (2011) review

 

First it was going to be a sequel, then it was going to be a remake. Or to put it more accurately a remake of a remake. But somewhere, reason spoke up and said;

"You know what? This movie has already been made twice and you can’t remake something that’s been done perfectly well before" Words not often heard in the hallowed halls of Hollywood production offices. "So let’s not make a remake - let’s make a prequel"

Sorry? Come again?

Somebody actually saw the light and decided to take John Carpenter’s masterful version of The Thing, which began with an action sequence - and make a film about the events leading UP to that? Well, damn. That’s crazy enough to actually work - but hold it a second. We know basically what happened to the team of scientists in the Norwegian camp, we’re told about it and we see the aftermath. Is this even a viable film if we all know the story?

Carpenter set his movie in the then present day of 1982. Would this compliment that - or would we be stuck in a J J Abrams Star Trek prequel scenario where everything’s higher tech that the events it’s supposed to precede?

Could Carpenter’s unique style even be replicated?

Big, big questions.

To start with, John Carpenter’s The Thing wasn’t even a success on its first release. It’s shocking physical effects by Rob Bottin were seen by many of the critics of the time as being far too strong, surreal and "out there". "Thing" was way more alien than James Arness as a man in a boiler suit. Carpenter took his cue from the story which inspired the 1951 film, "The Thing From Another World" (and there’s more about that one in Cult Corner). The story was "Who Goes There" by John Campbell and HIS alien is a shape changer.

One of the most vivid scenes I remember seeing in the cinema EVER was the fist appearance of the Thing in Carpenter’s version, where we virtually saw a dog turned inside out. Both Carpenter and Bottin went all out and shocked us with sights we’d never seen or imagined before as the hunt was on for the alien hiding in a human body. It seemed that Carpenter, known for his atmospherically dark and moody films, had traded subtlety and substance for the cheap shocks and nausea value of basically throwing a bucket of offal at the audience. It was only later on home video that The Thing was seen as a classic exercise of movie making with ground breaking effects from a master in the field.

So, a prequel can go wrong in so many ways. More ways than a remake. A prequel insinuates itself as part of the original story rather than reinvent everything. It has to fit in to the continuity and style of the tale already told or it falls at the first hurdle. By any measure, it’s a risky venture.

But here - it works. It REALLY works. Everything I was looking for is right here with some nods to the 1951 film. It gets full marks for being virtually complete.

It’s set in 1982, the Norwegian camp is there, staffed with an international delegation of scientists investigating the discovery of a large spacecraft under the ice. An occupant is discovered buried a distance away and is taken back to the camp where it breaks out of the ice and begins to cause mayhem. That’s the basic story of every Thing movie and there’s no change here. If fact, I’d say why change it if it works?

So, good things - If you’ve ever wondered why there was a large hollow cube of ice lying there in a room that had holes in the wall and ceiling for Kurt Russell to discover. You’ll know why. Remember that half formed apparition with the two faces melded together? Yep, you’ll see how that came to be. You’ll also see a whole new range of strange and bizarre creatures made of human body parts scuttle around - and I particularly loved the detachable arms.

A few minutes from the end, I was concerned that what I was watching didn’t blend with the Carpenter version, but that’s neatly taken care of and it finished exactly where it should, right at the beginning of Carpenter’s. Even with the same familiar music.

Naturally, nothing’s perfect and there are a few glitches, the most striking of which is the CGI. I have two minor problems with this - one is that ever present niggle that you KNOW you’re looking at a computer generated image in certain instances - especially some scenes showing a human face. The skin tone is never quite right. The other is that try as they might, I can’t get beyond knowing what I’m watching is a computer image, yet almost 30 years ago - all the effects were crated mechanically by the insane genius of Rob Bottin. BUT - I have to give credit that the CGI technicians have tried to replicate the look and overall style of Bottin’s work.

In fact, to expand on that point - that’s the film’s biggest selling point to me - the film makers have gone to insane degrees to replicate the sets and reconstruct the events so that when the DVD comes out, I guess you can watch this movie, followed by Carpenter’s and it’ll be one cohesive story. That’s the big trick on this, and damn - they pulled it off.

 

Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.

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