Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Watcher - The Thing (2011)

If one film in recent years has fallen victim to the seeming scorn towards cinematic remakes and re-imaginings prior to its release, it is director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s ‘The Thing’. Whilst ostensibly a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic of the same name, this new offering is also a remake of sorts, as well as drawing fresh inspiration from the source material, John W. Campbell’s 1938 Novella, ‘Who Goes There’.

Comparisons with Carpenter’s highly regarded film are inevitable, particularly the given the filmmakers’ choice to link with the earlier film, exploring the fate of the Norwegian research base glimpsed briefly in the 1982 story. But given that both films were predated by Chris Nyby’s superior slice of 1950s B-Movie action ‘The Thing From Another World’, Its worth keeping an open mind.

From the moment a familiar pulsing beat - evoking Ennio Morricone’s score for the 1982 film - kicks in over opening shots of the rugged Antarctic terrain, the filmmakers’ wish to homage and evoke Carpenter’s work is clear. The opening does establish some new ideas however, as a team of Norwegian researchers discover the ship which first brought the ‘Thing’ to Earth.

By and large, the film gets off to an impressive start. Leads Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton are introduced efficiently and the pace picks up as an alien body is recovered and quickly awakened from its 100,000 year slumber. The film excels in the first act, as the creature stalks the hapless team through the cold confines of the base. The physical effects on show are impressively realised, and the brief glimpses of the creature in its early, more insect like form are suitably horrifying.

It is as the realisation of what they are facing dawns on the team and the plot properly kicks in that some of the early promise begins to fade. As the creature starts to evolve and its ability to mimic earthly life forms becomes clear, the plot quickly becomes a barely disguised retread of the first two films. While this inevitable, given the shared source material, several scenes so closely mimic Carpenter’s work that fanboy grumbles start to feel justified, with one particular scene where Winstead performs an identity test involving fillings drawing attention to this rather than winning plaudits for originality.

Of the cast, Winstead or Edgerton are capable leads, but neither brings a true sense of presence to the film, and in many ways they elicit less sympathy than the Norwegian team who rather rapidly, and shamefully, devolve into cannon fodder status. These problems are further compounded as Edgerton’s character is sidelined for most of the second act, and Winstead is forced to carry the film on her own.

The effects too, begin to lose some of their sparkle, as the ‘Thing’ surrenders to the inevitable and somewhat distracting lure of CGI, with none of the visceral horror of Carpenter’s original, exposing rather than correcting flaws in the overall design of the creature.

A final act face off in the ‘Thing’s’ ship provides some welcome divergence from earlier iterations of the story, and while nothing new is added to the mythos here, it does at least prove that the film is trying to bring something new to the table, if only half successfully. It is a shame however, that in trying to both dovetail with the beginning of the 1982 film and still subvert the audience’s expectations that ‘The Thing’ 2011 ends as more of a head-scratcher than a satisfying sci-fi horror in its own right.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe would still like to know how exactly one character survived...

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