Film Review: THE THING (2011)

Question: Was there ever really a need to see what happened with the Norwegian research team, since the devastated remains of their camp played a very important role in Carpenter’s ‘reimagining’ of the Howard Hawks classic? How you answer this will determine how much you will or won’t get into this ‘prequel’ directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, directing his first major Hollywood flick here.

Skewing closer to the original John W. Campbell Jr. story that kicked off this whole thing, it’s exactly how you’d expect it to start: following a beacon that could be a distress signal, several members of the Norwegian team accidentally discover…an alien craft nestled underneath the ice.

In short order, Dr. Sander Halvorson, (ULRICH THOMSEN of BANSHEE and THE BLACKLIST) contacts noted paleontologist Kate Lloyd (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD from GRINDHOUSE: DEATH PROOF and THE RING 2), via an associate, Adam Finch (ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN of DUMB AND DUMBERER: WHEN HARRY MET LLOYD). You already know when he offers her the assignment to help him examine the “specimens” they’ve collected, she says yes…otherwise this would have been a REAL short flick.

Full disclosure: I put off watching this for so long, because I was one of those folks who really didn’t feel like this was a story that was necessary to explore. I knew it would probably be a rehash of what Carpenter had already presented, so I took my sweet time with it. But then, upon learning that KRISTOFER HIVJU was playing Jonas, one of the scientists, my tune really changed. For those not in the know, Kristofer is killing it (literally) every week on HBO, as the Wildling warrior – and comic relief – “Tormund Giantsbane” on GAME OF THRONES. No, his role isn’t huge, but he was definitely more of a draw for me than anyone else.

Besides the remaining research team members, who couldn’t be more obvious “red shirts” if they were actually wearing them, JOEL EDGERTON (IT COMES AT NIGHT, BLACK MASS, WARRIOR) and ADEWALE (HBO’S OZ, TRUMBO and SUICIDE SQUAD) round out the cast as the American ‘copter pilot, Carter, and his co-pilot buddy, Jameson, respectively.

Okay, so let’s get this out of the way, shall we? If you saw the original or Carpenter’s version, you know where it’s all headed before it gets there. Not that it does it poorly at all – the mix of practical effects and CG, courtesy of Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis’s outfit Amalgamated Dynamics, shows how far we’ve come since Rob Bottin nearly went batshit crazy, coming up with the mind-bending work that was state-of-the-art at the time he and Carpenter mined this story, for what is now considered a horror classic.

But the problem is not the level of skill on display. The overall feeling of FAMILIARITY sucking all the air out of the room…THAT is the bigger issue here.

A buddy of mine ‘took one for the team’ by watching the version from ‘82 and this one back-to-back, and he alerted me to some cool “Easter eggs” included in this version – some continuity nods to Carpenter’s version. I looked them up, and low-and-behold, he was correct about them. Nice to have a few details to break the monotony of a story we already know all too well. (I’ll give you one for free here: watch for an axe that ends up stuck in a wall during a tense sequence. It’s a reference that returns later.) So props to writer ERIC HEISSERER (ARRIVAL, LIGHTS OUT) for being a fan of the films, and detail-oriented enough to include those.

No fault can be found with the performances, as far as I could tell, since everyone reacts appropriately to being traumatized, folded, spindled and mutilated. (Not counting the atrocious dubbing job that was done on all of poor Adewale’s dialogue). And Thomsen, who does his best not to come across as a stock villain is still hobbled by a role that almost allows you to VISIBLY chart his character’s story arc all the way to the ‘big finish.’ (Or is that ‘Big…FINNISH?’ Sorry, it was there…)

Marco Beltrami’s score keeps much of the vibe of Ennio Morricone’s previous work, being sure to include the maestro’s original, disturbingly ambient theme at the climax.

Knock-offs, sequels and prequels are nothing new, and will continue to be cranked out, as long as they make money. THE THING turned a pretty profit for Universal, I’m sure, and though it’s not a TERRIBLE picture, unless you’ve never seen either of its ‘sibling’ films, it’s pretty much just a great-looking, fleet-footed time-filler.

Two-and-a-half stars from Yours Truly.

TRAILER:

Author: Samuel Glass Jr

From the first time, at age eight, when he saw little Rhoda Penmark’s evil ass get taken out by a lightning bolt, Sam Glass Jr. has been freaked out by lightning…and completely captivated by horror.

The son of an Air Force communications specialist and a government worker, he’s been a writer and sometime actor, and his biggest claim to fame is getting to appear in a John Waters movie, CECIL B. DEMENTED, in 2000.

His biggest passion is reviewing horror films and attending conventions, and overall favorite movie is PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Currently, he resides in the city of Las Vegas with his partner of twenty years.

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