It is Halloween month and I say le boo to you. In honor of eeeeek-month, I have chosen to review a film called The Thing (2011).
In England, I’m a horror movie director. In Germany, I’m a filmmaker. In the US, I’m a bum.
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Writers: Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell Jr. (short story “Who Goes There?”)
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen
How do you compare anything to a John Carpenter film? In my opinion, you can’t – his work stands alone. It takes unbelievable chutzpa to make a prequel to a classic. I even thought “how can I review this film and be fair?” The impulse to create a prequel to The Thing is completely understandable but as a film one must isolate it from the 1982 film. Yes, there is a strong thematic connection and certain elements did invoke the original film like the Norwegian camp, but it also has a different director which means a different aesthetic. If information is the only reason to see a film, I’m tempted to say ‘read a newspaper or a book.’ Look, at the outset you know that you’re not going to get a John Carpenter film – do not expect one that isn’t his. We might look for an homage or respect here – that’s it, die-hards. If I were to do a comparison I’d be in ‘Why bother?’ mode.
I invited 2 people, who had not seen the 1982 film, to see this film with me (‘A’ and ‘B’). Their reactions are below. I was very interested to see if this film could stand on its own.
When Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s planned zombie film called Army of the Dead, was cancelled he became involved in The Thing 2011. Alien and The Thing 1982 are his favorite films. “We’re telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did,” van Heijningen Jr. said
A little while ago I had a brief but gasp-full conversation with John Carpenter about aesthetic on Twitter:
I asked him if his early affinity for John Ford films influences his work (While Ford is known for his Westerns he paid careful attention to aesthetic detail.)
John Carpenter replied – “Somewhat. Not as much as the movies of Howard Hawks.” (Hawks is a brilliant classical filmmaker)
I still cannot believe we talked.
Plot: At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson.
So, this film begins right before the events of the 1982 film and ends with the dog we see at the very beginning of Carpenter’s film. If you want the story-line you can read it here. “In order to not try to compete with Kurt Russell’s portrayal of the 1982 film’s protagonist, R.J. MacReady, the character of Kate Lloyd was designed to have traits in common with the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien film series.”
Mary Elizabeth Winstead was asked,
“Your character is sort of an interesting hybrid of a Jamie Lee Curtis-style final girl, and almost an Alien-era Ellen Ripley. How difficult was it to create a female who was tough and resilient but not invulnerable?”
She replied, “That was what was so exciting to me, a realistic portrayal of a woman in danger. We don’t ever see that—at least, not a smart woman or a strong woman. We see sexy girls who are running around screaming in tank tops and they get killed. Or, we see super badass girls who are unrealistically kicking the asses of men twice their size. So it was such a rare thing to read something that was like, “Man, this is how I hope I would react in this situation, and I want to see a woman like this in a movie.” It seems like something I would aspire to, so I was so excited about that-it’s not the type of thing that I get to do very often.”
As I said before I went with ‘A’ and ‘B’ to see this film. Both had not seen John Carpenter’s film. While not critics, they have seen many sci-fi movies. ‘A’ thought it was a barbecue-fest and wanted more insight into the psychology of the creature. She wondered why all that it wanted to do was eat. ‘A’ likened the creature popping out of the chest to Alien but said it was not as good. She also said that like Cowboys and Aliens a relatively small device is used to try to destroy the creature.
‘B’ liked it and thought that the science was credible. He said that it followed a sci-fi formula and talked about the film, The Fly, where the threat is man-made and not alien. He acknowledged that there were a few ‘leaps of faith’ but he liked the reactions of the characters, said the directing and acting were very good.
What to say about this film… Is it comparable to John Carpenter’s film? Of course not. Is it as good as The Shining, for example? No. It is what I call a junk-food movie. You consume it but it has no nutritional value. It satisfies an initial urge or craving, and then you might crash. Sometimes you feel like puking afterwards, sometimes you’re left with empty calories or an empty experience. It’s all in how you relate to junk-food. Take it for what it’s worth. Did I like this film? It was what it was. A momentary binge. I might not give you a ‘yes, see it’ or ‘no, stay away’ because there are factors here that go way beyond my opinion and I recognize that.
An interesting dichotomy was set up. Beyond Human vs. Alien you had American vs. Norwegian. This established a rupture in the camp and added layers to the film. Seeing Lars and the dog was satisfying and invoked the 1982 film. It was mildly gory and I found it only mildly frightening. The acting was fine and so was the directing and cinematography. The CGI (computer generated imagery) was plentiful. The writing… not very original. The plot is obviously predictable but it could have been more complex and layered. I think that there are different approaches to back-story. A successful prequel is X-Men: First Class.
Brian Miller of the Village Voice says, “John Carpenter should approve of this reasonably respectful and tough-minded prequel to his 1982 The Thing.” Respect is good because frankly, even John Carpenter must acknowledge, that’s all you can hope for.