The Thing (2011) The Thing Anthology Part III

thing

We are in a constant state of ever expanding cinematic universes. Successful standalone films are few and far between these days, once something is found to be profitable, it only makes sense to milk that cash cow dry, critics and fans be hanged! If it makes money, you continue to grow the franchise, it’s the way Hollywood has been working. So, it came as no real surprise that in 2011 we were “treated” to a prequel to a very successful (and my personal favorite) sci-fi horror film from the 80’s. The Thing  replicated the same title as the 1980s iteration; an oddly appropriate move given the nature of the monster in the series. The Thing (2011) is the third installment in this quasi-franchise. It started with The Thing From Another World  in 1951, was remade in 31 years later with The Thing (1982) and a prequel to that film leaves us with what is now somewhat of a period piece of a 1980s scientific expedition gone awry. Maybe in 30 more years we’ll get a proper sequel, but I hope not.

The Thing doesn’t pluck it’s story from thin air, but actually has a very appropriate starting point. In the 1982 version, the scientists stumble upon a destroyed Norwegian camp and one huge spaceship encased in the antarctic ice. The Thing (2011) tells the story of just what happened at that Norwegian camp. While we know the events are probably very similar to the horrors that unfolded in the original film, we didn’t know the exact details until this film came out. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is hired to aid the in the retrieval of an alien spaceship and life form that has been frozen for many millennia. To their horror, the life form is not only alive, but wanting to feed. In standard Thing fashion, it proceeds to eat and replicate the motley crew of scientists in the most horrific and gross ways possible. Paranoia and terror run rampant as the isolated group must attempt to sift the “thing” from the humans before it reaches the general population of the world.

While the plot is virtually indistinguishable from John Carpenter’s classic, they manage to throw in a few original ideas that work really well, and of course there are plenty of jump scenes. I especially liked the way they were able to distinguish the humans from the monster in this film. Without giving it away, it was completely different from the last film, but made complete sense in the scope of the universe. The acting was actually pretty top notch, Joel Edgerton in particular did a pretty great job as the American helicopter pilot, channeling Kurt Russell quite well while still managing to be his own character. It was spooky, it was fun but it wasn’t great. While The Thing (1982) was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, this iteration lacked the claustrophobia and grit that it took to really leave the audience unsettled. The CGI, in particular couldn’t compare to the practical effects used in the 80s in it’s ability to make me queasy. The atmosphere managed to be more comforting as well. The original film used the environment, the dark and the cramped base to make you feel utterly unsafe the whole movie. The base in this film seemed much larger, the weather tamer and the thing itself was far more tangible than it was when it attacked the American base. Instead of revealing it’s monster form only while transforming or going in for the kill, the monster would hunt in the form of a mass of flesh and bones, crawling around on all fours while it actively searched for other people to kill. What made John Carpenter’s Thing so frightening was how it would try to get away unless it was threatened. It would do anything to get away from prying eyes and transform into human form, then try to trick the others.

This was a fun prequel that took new approaches to the similar storyline presented 30 years prior. With a fresh new cast and take on the cinematic legend, The Thing (2011) managed to give some mild scares and some genuinely suspenseful moments. Where it falls short is in it’s presentation of the monster itself. What was an intangible horror is reduced to something that looks like it hopped out of the latest Men in Black movie; also the fact that it’s atmosphere was not the proper material you need to conduct the type of horror that made The Thing as truly horrific as it was.

Part 1 Part 2

 

 

The Thing (1982) (The Thing Anthology part 2)

Previously I reviewed The Thing From Another World While that movie was good in it’s own right, especially in it’s contribution to the horror genre as a whole, it ultimately pales in comparison to the John Carpenter remake that came in 1982. With almost the exact same story, a group of scientists in the Antarctic find themselves in a head-to-head battle against an alien life-form that has been trapped beneath the ice for thousands of years. Whereas the previous iteration was essentially a carnivorous plant, this new monster is decidedly flesh based. Capable of perfectly replicating any of the team members inhabiting the claustrophobic base, tensions rise as trust between the humans falls.

Kurt Russell plays MacReady the groups helicopter pilot and eventual leader when things go down hill. Once he and the others realize that the alien they’ve discovered could have taken over and duplicated any one of them, it is far too late to do anything about it. MacReady is forced to come up with a way to differentiate between those that are truly human and the thing, while in the mean time accusations and suspicions run rampant. The tension is perfectly transferred to the audience through excellent camera work  and cinematography. that makes us feel almost as claustrophobic and stuck as the cast. While outside the environment looks hostile and unforgiving, just as dangerous as the monster that seeks them. Another fantastic element is the incredibly unsettling use of 1980s era special effects, coupled, of course, with gallons of blood. But it isn’t the blood that makes this movie truly terrifying, rather it’s the intellectual concepts behind the terror. People that were friends or colleges are being perfectly replicated, even in attitude and manner. Given the chance, these people that were once friends will do all they can to end your life and assist in the destruction of the planet.The film does a great job of examining the relationships and prejudices of each character. Some are liked more than others, while those that weren’t favored before the alien arrived become targets for the largest amounts of suspicion.

Unique and thought provoking concepts in horror give me the biggest scares, which is exactly what this film delivers. An unfortunate idea behind modern horror is that the scariest thing that can happen is you die at the hands of someone in a scary mask . While that certainly is a frightening prospect, it’s become incredibly cliche. The Thing manages to incorporate the element of a terrible death and build upon the reasons behind the terror. It isn’t just that you could die, but you could die at the hands of someone you trusted. Death isn’t the only thing to fear in this film, but the consequences of losing to the monster becomes apparent in the fact that losing to it could mean the destruction of the entire human race, everyone one you love and care about, dead because of your failure to protect them. It’s uncommon for horror movies to strive for anything more than a cheap scare, but this is just as much a sci-fi as it is a horror movie; as such, it uses various methods to present concepts that are engaging and interesting the the audience, while at the same time scaring us beyond reason. While the film certainly utilizes gross out and pop up scares, it’s the underlying raw paranoia that keeps you enthralled and terrified, even after the credits begin to roll.

Part 1 Part 3

The Thing From Another World (The Thing Anthology part1)

The Thing From Another World is generally considered one thing in pop culture today: The original movie that inspired John Carpenter’s 1982 remake The Thing.While this is true, it is many other things, including one of the most renowned pieces of Science Fiction film from the 50s. I wish that I could give an account of how this movie stands up to it’s source material, the short story Who Goes There, but I am unable to do so at this point, having never read it. What I can attest to is the fact that this is the origins for one of cinemas most frightening creatures “The Thing” an alien being that means to destroy humanity and claim the earth for himself.
The story follows a group of military men, scientists and a news reporter as they respond to a strange sighting in the Arctic. The men discover a massive space craft in the ice. They liberate the alien pilot (liberate to an extent, the creature is trapped in a block of ice) and bring him back to their base. Once the inevitable escape happens they are faced with the how to act against the monster. The scientists are adamant about not harming the creature, wanting to communicate and learn from it. However, after the creature kills two men, the military personnel at the base turn only to thoughts of destroying it before anyone else dies, or worse, before the thing gets to civilization.
There are two types of characters that are very common in sci-fi. The first is the survivors, those characters that will do whatever it takes to preserve their own life. Then there are the inquisitive types, those that long to learn the answers to questions that humanity could never answer them. Both forces are present, keeping the conflict in the secluded Arctic base interesting. The dynamics between the human forces are familiar, because we know them to be human nature. Having watched both this film and Ridley Scott’s Prometheusin the same weekend, it was fascinating to see how many qualities the characters shared with those in The Thing From Another World. This is not due to an overused cliché, but rather a fundamental truth amongst humans that has been reaised namely though this genre. The drama, the emotion and the sentiment shown by the characters rings true, even today.
The film has some genuinely creepy moments, however the value of it comes not from it’s scares, which generated by dated means of special effects and older styles of film making, rather it comes from it’s use of a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, a plot that builds on that atmosphere and fills it with characters that are well rounded and generate plenty of drama. Considered one of the best flying saucer movies of the 1950s, the film paved the way for hundreds of other science fiction thrillers. The film is considered one of the best sci-fi films of all time (Time Magazine selected it as the best sci-fi of the 1950s). In 2001 it was deemed “culturally significant” and was preserved in the National Film Registry.
As I have stated before this movie dates itself quite a bit, namely in bits and pieces of it’s story telling. The romance aspect of the film, for example. Though there is a horrible monster bent on destroying the world, there is still time for a warm, playful romance between two characters. This along with the tones of lighthearted joking and incessant whining about careers in the midst of a murderous alien on the loose tend to water down some of the tension. Horror films today have a tendency, to a fault, to be unrelenting in their suspense, so much so that it loses some of it’s impact. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this film throws quite a lot of warm banter and innocent romance at you, to the point where it seems like we’re being told “don’t worry, it’s going to be ok”.
The movie is good, it’s tense at moments and honestly has a great story. However I believe it’s purpose wasn’t served (a purpose not meant by anyone really, especially not the filmmakers) until 1982. This movie was the seed for what is, in my opinion, one of the best films in either the horror or the science fiction genre. Arguably there are far too many remakes in Hollywood, but the remake of The Thing From Another World came 30 years later and did something that the original was incapable of doing. Great art is often times inspiration for other great art, and this film is the shining example. When the craft of narrative film making was still fairly young, the audience was given a glimpse of the horror that was to come.