Friday, October 21, 2011

It Came From The Cineplex: The Thing (2011)

Oi, move along! Nothing new to see here, move along. Go back to your homes, move along!
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In 1951 Howard Hawks directed The Thing From Another World, which most fans shorten to simply The Thing. In 1982, John Carpenter directed an excellent remake titled The Thing. Now in 2011, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (whoever the hell that is) presents a prequel to Carpenter's movie, which is also imaginatively called The Thing. So for the record we have three movies with the same damn plot and the exact same name. That's won't be the least bit confusing when you go to the video store. Well done, Hollywood.
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If you'll recall, the 1982 Thing opened with a couple of crazy Norwegian scientists chasing a sled dog into an American scientific outpost, somewhere in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. The dog turns out to be the Thing, and wreaks havoc for the American scientists.
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Throughout the course of the '82 movie we learned quite a bit about the Norwegian crew's back story. They found an alien space ship buried in the ice and they found what appeared to be the pilot of the ship (also under the ice). They dug up the pilot, thawed him out, and all hell broke loose, culminating in the dog-chasing incident at the beginning of the film. There really didn't seem to be much left to tell regarding the Norwegians.
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Hollywood can't leave anything alone though and evidently thought we needed to know more about the brave little Norwegians, so they went and made a totally unnecessary prequel.
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So how does the prequel stack up to the '82 Thing? Sadly, not so well.
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Things start out on a promising note. After the Norwegian team discovers the ship and its pilot in the ice, Dr. Sander Halvorson enlists paleontologist Kate Lloyd (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or maybe it was Summer Glau) to accompany him to the Antarctic camp and examine the alien creature. Curious, she agrees and the action shifts to the Antarctic. When Halvorson recklessly orders a tissue sample of the frozen creature, it awakens and hijinx, as they say, ensue.
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From the moment the Thing awakens though, the prequel is pretty much a note by note remake of the '82 version. The Thing imitates various humans and the cast gets picked off one by one, Ten Little Indians style. Virtually every single event in the '82 movie has an analogue in the prequel. They even come up with a test to see who's human! The entire "test" sequence is practically a shot for shot remake of the '82 test scene.

They even copied the original poster! That's the '82 version on the left, and the '11 version on the right. Both feature guys in parkas with something weird emanating from them. They even copied the logo and its kerning!
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One thing I noticed about the two movies: I can name every character in the '82 version. They took great pains to have the characters use each other's names as often as possible to give the audience an idea of who they're watching. The '11 version? Not so much. The heroine's name was Kate. I think there was a guy named Lars too... that's about it. I have no idea who the rest of the characters were. Bad form, movie!
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Since this movie was made in 2011, naturally it's chock full of CGI Thing effects. They're not bad, but they just cannot compare to the old school physical effects of the '82 version. I think part of the problem is that no matter how cool or realistic the new effects look, in the back of your mind you know that they were created by an army of people sitting at desks, staring into computer monitors. They were added after the fact.
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In the '82 version, all of the creature effects were physical. They didn't have computer animation back then, so when a guy's head splits off from his body, falls on the floor, sprouts crab legs and scuttles away, you know that it was filmed right there on the set. They used rubber heads, puppets and buckets of fake blood of course, but they were still real, actual items. Those effects still hold up to this day, almost thirty years later. There's just no comparison between the old live effects and the new CGI. I know, I know, I'm old and I like things the way they used to be. Get off of my lawn!
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Story wise, there's just no real suspense. Because this movie is a prequel, you know that there's no way Team Norway is going to defeat Team Thing. I mean, they can't right? If the Thing is there in the '82 version (which I guess just retroactively became a sequel- Oy!) then it can't die here. Another reason why prequels are always a bad idea.
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So since this movie is a prequel, we should expect it to line up perfectly with the '82 version, right? Wrong. They do a good job of recreating some of the sets from '82, so they get a pass in that department. There were a couple of other hiccups though. In the '82 version, the American crew watches a video tape of the Norwegians discovering the alien space ship. It's buried in the ice, so the Norwegians use thermite charges to uncover it. However in this movie, the ship remains buried in the ice until the very end, when the Thing enters its ship and fires up the engines (which amazingly start up after sitting under the ice for 100,000 years). The heat from the engines then melts the ice above the ship. Whoops!
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The new movie tries to dovetail their ending into the beginning of the '82 film, with mixed results. They get most of the details right, but the dog-shooting Norwegian in the prequel looks nothing like the '82 version. Even his snow goggles are way off. A minor detail perhaps, but if you're going to try to recreate a movie that loyal fans have been watching for 30 years, you might as well do it right.
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All in all, an exercise in pointlessness. It's as if the film makers knew they couldn't outdo the '82 version, so they opted to do a lukewarm remake and pretend it's a prequel.
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Take solace in the fact that if the current 30 year (give or take) pattern holds, we'll be spared another Thing remake until sometime in 2041.
My verdict: Prequels are a bad idea. This is a prequel. Go watch the original. I give it a C.

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