Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Thing about 'The Thing'

(Spoiler Warning! This article contains plot points and spoilers of the most recent version of The Thing, so if you don't want anything ruined, skip it.)

So, I recently watched the remake of the seminal 80s John Carpenter flick similarly entitled The Thing. As any fan of that great film would, I approached this new one with certain trepidation – after all, is there much point in attempting to remake an already awesome film that still stands up to this day?

Keeping my expectations fairly low, I sat down to watch it. It was actually the third time I had attempted to do so, as the first two times I had fallen asleep – not because the film was boring but because it was late and I was watching it in the dark. Anyways, third time lucky – and off we went.

The film centres around a group of Norwegian dudes in an research centre in the Antarctic and they are joined by some American’s as they discover a crashed spaceship and the remains of an alien trapped in ice. I’m guessing you know the rest of how it goes – the alien (or the lifeform pretending to be the alien?) can attack and mimic other lifeforms in order to survive and spread and a lot of the film is about paranoia as they need to try and work out who is infected and who is not.

So far, fairly similar to the original.

Now the first difference here is the female lead – Mary Elizabeth Winsome, miles away from her sassy Ramona Flowers incarnation; and dare I say it a little chubbier? No matter, she still has those big cute eyes that are to die for. And yeah, she gets to run around wielding a flamethrower and not once does she play the role of scream queen… Love it.

Now the creature effects in this film, the majority being CGI compared to the first film’s practical effects, are pretty impressive. The first time you see the creature I sat up and thought ‘damn, this film might actually be really good!’ All the gross morphing and body horror stuff is totally awesome, but it’s only in extended scenes where the creature is running around and such that it looks a tad videogamey. The original’s practical creature effects had an oozing gooey rubbery look to them (in a good way) that the new film lacks, but obviously you can do some much more with a CGI creature and today’s technology – the imagination is your limit, really. The detail in the creature effects here is simply amazing.

Special mention also goes to the sound design – its superb in the film. All squelchy and slithery as well as the hissing moan - all cues taken from the original film and reproduced well.

The central ‘test’ scene is also represented – where they are all in a room and need to determine who is human and who isn’t. Instead of the original ‘blood test’, this one is cleverly replayed as a ‘fillings test’.

Everything keeps going well… until towards the end. When ‘The Thing’ tries to get back to the ship to fly off and escape. Wtf???

Now here's my problem with this whole ending bit on the ship. It just seems really incongruous that what is essentially a killer microorganism parasite thingee has this massive spaceship that it can fly. It just doesn't make sense. Sure, it may have hitched a ride in the body of another alien that the ship belonged to (which explains why the alien crawled from the wreckage – the Thing wanted to find more hosts to spread to) so why did it want to fly away later? Perhaps it just wanted to lie dormant in the crashed ship for other humans to find? But no – it was firing up the engines!

I always imaged the ‘Thing’ to be essentially bacteria of limited intelligence that just reacts to survival instinct and can absorb and mimic other lifeforms. How intelligent is it really? What is its ultimate aim apart from simply survival? Sadly, not many answers come to light.

You see, the thing about The Thing is that the film makers are obvious fans of the original and it appears they have set out to make a film for fans of the original. In fact, so much is playing up to the expectations of the first film that many people who haven’t seen the it will be left a little nonplussed at many details sly nods and references.

For example, some guys are evaccing in a chopper – the one who looks ill and anxious turns out not to be the ‘Thing’ but it's the other, totally normal guy sitting opposite him! Other than deliberately going ‘aha! We tricked you!’ to the audience, it doesn't make sense – why would the ‘Thing’ (assuming it knows what it was doing) want to crash the helicopter instead of letting it take him out of there to a greater populace? Or why did it attack the other guy who was weak and sick and definitely suspect if you were looking for an alien when it was posing as a perfectly healthy and unsuspected human?

The answer: just to turn it around on the audience.

Similarly at the end, when it appears only Ramona and Joel Edgerton have survived (much like McReady and Childs at the end of the original), she turns around and calls him out as an alien and torches him. Despite giving a reason for knowing that (although makes sense) it just seems like the film makers where going ‘aha! Two people survived the end of the last film – you thought the same was going to happen here didn't you!? Well guess what we tricked you again!’ - at the expense of actually crafted a solid narrative.

Lastly, the very very ending is the ultimate taker of biscuits. It shows another Norwegian guy (previously thought dead) did actually survive back at the base and ends up chasing the ‘Thing’ (disguised as a husky) in a helicopter, whilst shooting at it in the rifle. Hang on a minute… that's just like the beginning of the original f-

…Holy shit!!! It’s not a remake at all! It's a PREQUEL!!!

Mind. Blown.

That one I did actually like. From the shots to the score, everything from the John Carpenter movie’s very beginning is recreated perfectly.

But you know what? To anyone who hasn't seen the original film – scratch that, lets call it ‘PART 2’, this ending wont mean a thing as the dog is referenced to only briefly earlier on in the film (where has it been hiding all this time?).

It just seems too much like playing up to fans of the original rather than concentrating on crafting a solid film in its own right. Much like how the actual alien itself acts: certain shots, scenes, set design and narrative beats mimic the original film and poses as a copy of it until it reveals itself at the end as (gasp!) a totally different film after all - a prequel posing as a remake.

And that, my friends, is the thing about The Thing.

Was it a genius move or purely coincidental? Who knows...

(If you are interested, a trailer for the original 1982 The Thing can be seen HERE.)

26 Dec 2011

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