Today: February 25, 2024
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The Thing

Way back in 1982, when computer effects were but a

Way back in 1982,
when computer effects were but a distant dream and the Internet nothing more
than a theory,
John Carpenter
delivered possibly the best film of his career.
Based on John W.
Campbell
’s short story Who Goes
There?
John Carpenter’s The Thing has gone onto become one of the
cornerstones of mainstream horror films along with the likes of The Exorcist, The Shining and The Omen. It is a film etched in the pantheon of
cinema for all the right reasons.
So naturally it was only a matter of time before someone struck upon the
idea of remaking it. Of course
this new incarnation of The Thing is not a remake but a prequel, a precursor if
you will to the events that occurred in Carpenter’s film prior to that dog arriving at Kurt Russell’s Antarctic base and
raising all hell.

In 1982 a group
of Norwegian scientists discover a ‘structure’ buried deep beneath the pack ice
of Antarctica. Recruiting American
paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary
Elizabeth
Winstead) to their
team, they set out to investigate what crashed on Earth thousands of years
ago. What they dig up though is a
nasty alien that kills one of their number before being barbecued and shot by
helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton). But something has survived and the team
realise that the alien cells are able to posses and replicate any living
creature to almost unidentifiable levels.
Before long the group are hunting and turning on each other with fierce
paranoia.

Like the titular
creature, director Matthijs van
Heijningen Jnr
’s film replicates, almost to a cellular level, John
Carpenter’s classic film. This
Thing may claim to be a prequel to Carpenter’s film but it is a copy, a less
satisfying duplicate. So where Carpenter’s
film bristles with unnerving thrills, the prequel relies on telegraphed
scares. When Carpenter took Rob Bottin’s practical effects to
jaw-dropping levels, here we get CGI monsters that fail to make an impact and
instead look as though they have escaped from The Thing-inspired computer game,
Dead Space. In other words, much
like its victims, this Thing is imitating something but lacks the heart and
soul that it should live and breath by.

For the most part
you feel like you’ve seen everything on display here done before and done
better. Winstead is a solid female
lead but lacks the strength or conviction of that other tough-girl Alien
fighter Ellen Ripley. Edgerton, on
something of a high after Warrior, is again on good form but feels like a cheap
clone of Kurt Russell’s character from the Carpenter film. He’s even the helicopter pilot for
crying out loud. He’s also trying
to imitate Russell’s grumpy growl but to a less effect level. And then there is the location. Sure Antarctica is a frozen alien
planet to us but here the use of the set design for the Thule Station is almost
indistinguishable from the Station the Americans occupy in Carpenter’s
film. Perhaps such things come as
Ikea style flat-packed furniture you build yourself but would it hurt to bring
a little creativity to the thing?

Of course much of
this review is assuming you’ve seen the Carpenter version, which need not be
the case. With this in mind if you
haven’t seen the original, The Thing is by no means a travesty. There are some nice set-pieces and
revelations that nicely build to Carpenter’s film which will now act as a rare
example of a sequel bettering the first film. Indeed even fans of the original film will feel like some of
the questions raised by MacReady’s discovery of the Thule Station are
answered. For example how an axe
is left embedded in a wall or how there comes to be a giant block of ice with a
humanoid shaped hole in it.

Director Matthijs
van Heijningen Jnr manages the slow-burn start well but is never given enough
script time to really get to know the host of characters. If anything there are too many, making
it obvious that most of them, are going to be burned, shot, chopped or eaten by
someone or someThing. He is also
pigeonholed into forcing the plot in a particular direction through the film’s
instance of neatly tying it into Carpenter’s original. Having said this there are some fun
jumps and an original way of identifying those who might be infected by The
Thing, no blood samples here rather a question of dental hygiene comes into
play.

If you haven’t
seen Carpenter’s film then this will allow you to absorb yourself into a frozen
planet before jumping into Carpenter’s joyous offering. If you have seen it then this Thing
reminds you just how brilliant the Carpenter incarnation is and just about fills
in some of the gaps from the Norwegian video footage on display there. But no matter how you look at it
you don’t need a dentist or a hot soldering iron to see that The Thing is an
imposter merely imitating Carpenter’s classic.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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