And so, another week comes to a close with some delicious blood and guts. We’re in the final countdown folks; barely 50 days left in the year. Can you stick it out with me? There’s no way I’m quitting now.
Ripley on ice. With flamethrowers!
In Antarctica, a Norwegian science team have discovered something immense under the ice, as well as what appears to be an organism of some kind encased in an ice block. American paleontologist Kate Lloyd is recruited by the expedition leader to come and help examine the discovery, only to find that the organism is still alive and determined to stay that way.
In the big list of unnecessary films, this has got to be near the top. Almost thirty years after John Carpenter’s seminal sci-fi horror classic The Thing, producers Mark Abraham and Eric Newman – the pair behind 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake – decided to again raid the vaults at Universal in order to find their next big movie*. Spotting JC’s 1982 masterpiece, they decided it would be a good idea to tell the story of what caused the destruction and carnage seen at the Norwegian camp in that flick. Unfortunately, in doing so, they missed the entire point of that story element: the fun, and the fear, is in not knowing. It’s in the mystery.
So anyway, in the hands of scripter Eric Heisserer (Nightmare 2010), the Norwegian expedition becomes a multi-national team with a Danish chief, an American chopper crew and an English radio operator. In fairness, that particular decision works in the flick’s favour, with the language gaps adding an extra layer of paranoia once the truth about the creature has been deduced. Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. – in his feature debut after a varied career in the industry – made the right decision in casting Norwegian actors for the science team. The crew he got are basically Vikings, all massive beards and and wild hair. Unfortunately the only characters that are given enough space to resonate are the two American heroes, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. I don’t feel I’m giving too much away with that statement, since a mere glance at the title and the cast list is all you need to know who lives and who dies. Winstead is very good in the role of Kate, selling the science-speak as well as being believable when it’s time for her to take charge of these older, more experienced men. It’s just a shame her character is almost a direct facsimile of the iconic Ellen Ripley.
The (other) Thing would be more successful among audiences who hadn’t already seen Carpenter’s. For those of us familiar with that classic, this follows basically the same blueprint. There is a little fun to be had in joining the dots between this and the other, such as the fire-axe and the radio operator, but the film as a whole is not quite enough to justify its own existence.
I was a bit worried about how the Thing itself would be realised in these days of digital tomfoolery, but van Heijningen did a good thing by bringing in monster makers extraordinaire Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, former protegés of the late Stan Winston. Rob Bottin’s gloriously gruesome work for Carpenter was a major component of what made that film really sing, and this update goes with the best of what modern technology can create, combining puppet and costume work with some digital manipulation. There are moments where the post-production tinkering is a shade too obvious, but a lot of the really slimy stuff – and all the flamethrower action – was done on set, which helps up the visceral impact of the transformations. While each iteration of the Thing is unique, a lot of them share certain qualities – such as the big maw of teeth – something that was missing from Bottin’s designs.
In the end, The (new) Thing is just The (old) Thing in a shiny new coat. It’s a nice enough coat, but there was really nothing wrong with the one it had before. Just like the Thing itself consumes and copies its victims, so this tries to emulate something else, but can’t quite make it. Ooh, meta.
*And there’s the whole problem in a nutshell. When did Hollywood decide that the best way to find a new movie to make was to have a scavenger hunt through the movies that had already been made before (or, as in the case of The Thing, twice before), instead of raiding the endless piles of new scripts that turn up every day from ambitious, fresh, new writers? It is creative entropy, and it needs to stop if the industry is to regain any semblance of relevance beyond that of the small indie filmmakers. Rant over (for now…)