THE THING - THE PIT OF HORROR REVIEW -- [Posted 16 October 2011]
In today's climate of endless remakes, reinventions and re-whatevers, it's refreshing to see a project which attempts to tell a few-days-before "prequel" to a classic horror film. And when the project does both of two prerequisites--a.) tie in the inter-movie consistencies and b.) manage to be damned entertaining on its own--you've got a winner. Thankfully, that's exactly what Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s The Thing brings to the table.
Antarctica in 1982 is the setting, the opening title card tells us. A group of Norwegian scientists riding in a Snowcat are travelling to an excavation dig. Just to humanize them, the script has one tell a sex joke (all the more humorous because it's subtitled) shortly before the vehicle breaks through the icy earth and plunges hundreds of feet into a vast cavern containing something which mesmerizes the occupants of the fallen Snowcat.
A short time later, American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is met by her colleague and friend Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen). He has been tapped to recruit her for the Antarctica project, led by famed scientist Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen). The guy, who looks like Sting with a five-day beard growth, is clearly a self-absorbed asshole and will likely take on an antagonist function. Still, he convinces Kate to join his team on the dig. She arrives and learns that they've found what appears to be an extraterrestrial creature buried in the ice near the site. As Kate watches in dismay, Halversen recklessly has his workers extract the block of ice containing the being. And once the ice is compromised after a flesh sample is drilled out of it, if you've seen John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982, you can guess what ensues.
The titular "Thing" is an alien creature with the ability to consume and assimilate the properties of other beings, creating replicates of human characters who can fool acquaintances. As things go awry at the station, Kate begins to connect the dots and, shades of Kurt Russell's "MacReady" character from Carpenter's film, gradually figures out what's going on. The element of distrust among the surviving scientists quickly evolves, and when the possibility blood tests are soon sabotaged, Kate figures out a clever alternate method of determining who's a Thing and who's not.
Levels of distrust elevate so that at one point it even becomes "It's the Americans!" from a few Norwegian characters, briefly pitting the paranoia into one nationality against another. And even though there were no hostilities between the USA and Norway in the early 1980s, the "Cold War" was still in effect, so the paranoia factor works here. During an early scene in the camp recreation room, "Who Can It Be Now?" by Men At Work is heard playing on a cassette player. A timely joke or just a coincidence? Whichever, it helps to sell the scene.
The script by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore takes special care to connect the events in this tale with what we saw twenty-nine years ago when MacReady's team first investigated the remains of the Norwegian camp. Burnt and mutated stretched-face specimen? Check. Suicide guy in chair with razor in hand? Check. Random axe planted in door? Check. These guys got it right. Even the denoument that runs during the end credits make for a fan-pleasing bridge between Carpenter's film and this one, even augmented by a quickie re-use of Ennio Morricone score from that film. The rest of the music, by the inexhaustable Marco Beltrami, remains true to the spirit of Morricone's original without stealing from it.
The inevitable question comes, how does this one compare to Carpenter's film? The inevitable answer is, it doesn't. But it doesn't try to. This installment works well enough as an introduction which sets the stage of the 1982 film we all know and love--and which actually is itself a remake of a 1951 Howard Hawkes film of the same name. True, Rob Bottin's special makeup effects in 1982 might engender a nostalgic edge over the incessant CGI we see now. But the effects here are simply improvements, and hardly inconsistent with Bottin's work.
At this point in time, you'd be amazed at how many people out there don't realize that this is a prequel instead of a remake to The Thing. Poor early marketing may have promulgated that thought, as well as the choice not to alter the title of this thing. But Heijningen's new film is a riveting little adventure and will likely have you fishing out your worn VHS copy of Carpenter's now-sequel and popping it into your trusty old VCR just to see how well they got the Norwegian camp parts right twenty-nine years later.
'THE THING' A Film by Matthijs van Heijningen.
Starring MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD - JOEL EDGERTON - ULRICH THOMSEN - ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE - KIM BUBBS - ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN
Written by ERIC HEISSERER and RONALD D. MOORE. Directed by MATTHIJS VAN HEIJNINGEN, JR.
[DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS] [Review By Petch Lucas]
RUN TIME 102 minutes (US)
CERT: USA, R