Thursday, 8 December 2011

Film Review: The Thing

Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) is recruited to investigate a potentially Earth-shattering discovery at a Norwegian research base in the Antarctic. Upon her arrival she learns of an alien spacecraft buried beneath the ice for over 100,000 years, as well as its sole survivor. Left to thaw, the creature suddenly springs to life and takes not only to gobbling up the scientists manning the outpost, but also to xeroxing their appearance.

John Carpenter's 80s sci-fi cult-classic The Thing hinted at a Norwegian expedition next door having encountered its shape-shifting extraterrestrial before Kurt Russell arrived in the original. Well, here they are. Now we find out what happened at that ill-fated Viking base camp. However, this Thing is also as much of a remake as it is a prequel of that Thing in that the set-up is virtually the same as Carpenter's 1982 Antarctic alien epic. Thing 2011 is still a claustrophobic thriller where snowbound scientists are stuck in a blizzard with a murderous creature capable of precisely replicating their anatomy down to the last molecule. Cue a witch hunt fuelled by paranoia as no one is quite sure who the other really is and we have the same suspense scenario. Certainly the feel of this Thing is similar to that of Carpenter's original, although director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. appears willing to let his version rest on its brand name rather than push any boundaries.

It's quick off the mark as no longer than twenty-minutes in does the bloodshed begin. Mr. Thing appears to be a crabby carapace which shoots tentacles that spear and genetically graft onto his prey. However, as soon as it kicks off The Thing quickly descends into one gut-busting death after another, shattering suspense in favour of tedium. It is also a tad confusing as to how many parts of Mr. Thing there are, an unexplained mystery where lots of little Things seem to keep popping out from nowhere. Just as soon as you think it's dead another part rears its ugly head without warning or plot device. Likewise, poor CGI makes the creature more laughable than terrifying, so much so that a case could be made that it probably looked better thirty-years ago.

For such a nasty little bugger which ungraciously devours people with aplomb you also start to wonder why Mr. Thing feels the need to hide amongst humans at all. Indeed, this 'prequel' disappointingly fails to answer a thing raised in the original. Where did it come from? What are its motives? Instead we are left with the strabismic Hollywood prospect of beings capable of interstellar travel relegated to nothing more than barbaric beasts with a penchant for human flesh. For a space crab able to pilot a flying saucer through the cosmos, Mr. Thing doesn't seem to display that much more cunning than Lars, Sven, Thor, whatever, and their other bearded Norwegian associates.

Which is another thing. Such is the near-identical appearance of everyone that it is incredibly difficult to keep track of exactly which hairy Norde is left standing. It's a situation not helped by the fact that we aren't given nearly enough time to become acquainted with everyone before the shit hits the fan. What we have here are lambs for the slaughter rather than well-rounded characters. This serves to shift the audience's hopes and sympathies on Kate, one of only two females at the base and thus markedly distinctive from all the bearded men. In a way she's sort of a Ripley of the ice, although this position isn't earned as The Thing's tepid script fails to give her the physical opportunities and immortalising one-liners which make such characters great.

So here's the thing. While this female-centric remake of a sci-fi classic has a reasonably solid premise it is unfortunately poorly executed. It'll probably be acceptable for the uninitiated but, as with most remakes, doesn't really do a thing better than the Carpenter version did.


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