The Thing (Universal Pictures, R)

There is some question as to whether this film is technically a remake or not. Ostensibly, it is a prequel. Carpenter’s film opened with the titular monster running to an American science station in the middle of the arctic, pursued by seemingly mad Norwegians.

 
 
 
I have a confession to make. I hold John Carpenter’s version of The Thing in higher regard than The Godfather. It is a masterpiece, and possibly the finest example of its genre ever produced. I wanted to make it clear that I could never look at this film with complete objectivity. That said, I have nothing against the idea of remakes. Carpenter’s film was a remake. Great films can be remade as long as the remake brings something new to the table. I can watch the original 1933 King Kong and then watch Peter Jackson’s remake and get two different experiences, both of which are satisfying. The latest version of The Thing brings nothing new to the table.
There is some question as to whether this film is technically a remake or not. Ostensibly, it is a prequel. Carpenter’s film opened with the titular monster running to an American science station in the middle of the arctic, pursued by seemingly mad Norwegians. This film tells the story of the Norwegian station. They find a massive UFO buried in the ice and a frozen alien in the ground nearby. They bring the alien back to their station, where it quickly gets lose. They learn that this creature can perfectly imitate any life form, and quickly become suspicious of each other. Hilarity and mayhem ensue.
Lest American audiences be forced to read, the film focuses primarily on several American characters who are called to help out at the Norwegian station. The brightest member of this cast is Kate Lloyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. In addition to her, we have two parallel characters to those played by Kurt Russell and Keith David in the prior installment. The acting is solid across the board, but no one ever stands out as particularly memorable.
The long and short of it is that this film is a remake. The prequel elements feel tacked onto the script to add a sense of originality, but the structure of Carpenter’s film is followed very closely. Scenes and moments are recycled. The set looks identical. The characters have to come to the same realizations about the Thing that their predecessors did. Again, remakes are not inherently bad, but they need to add something to the original. The scenes which don’t recall Carpenter are the weakest in the film.
Many remakes are aided by advances in technology. In Howard Hawkes’ The Thing from Another World, they did not have the technology to show the complex transformations described in the original novella, and simply changed the story to be about a Frankensteintype man in a suit. By 1982, effects had evolved, and Carpenter had the brilliant Rob Botin, who was 21 years old at the time, working on his film. Now we have CGI, which can apparently do anything. But can it do everything well? Botin’s practical effects hold up to this day. You can tell the actors are actually seeing and interacting with real effects, and the imagery is so bizarre and freaky that you can’t believe what you are looking at. CGI replicates many of the same images, but without any of the weight. This could be excused if the imagery here were original, but for the most part it is not. Visuals recall Botin’s work, as well as the films of David Cronenberg, the Alien series, Men in Black, and the recent trend of alien films in which the aliens crawl around on multiple insect legs. We have seen these effects in other movies, and these versions of them will be horribly dated within a year.
The Thing is the kind of film I dread the most. If it seems like I have little to actually say about the movie, it’s because I have very little to actually say about it. It’s not a particularly bad movie. If it’s your first exposure to this story, it may even seem above average. The problem is that it is somewhere in the middle, which leaves me feeling nothing. If it were good, I’d be thrilled, and if it were horrible, at least I would be thinking about it. As it is, it’s just a movie I saw, the good parts of which have been done better before. There is no compelling reason not to watch it, but there is even less reason to watch it. | Sean Lass

 

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