Monday 5 December 2011

The Thing Review

For fans of 80's horror classics, the idea of a The Thing remake was the final nail in the coffin, in a decade that saw every single major then minor horror classic of this golden era get redone. While not as well known to the mainstream audience as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, the John Carpenter's film, (itself a loose remake of the 50's sci-fi The Thing From Another World), holds a special place in the heart of many a fan of the genre. I quite simply hold it as the best horror film ever made.

The Thing (1981)

For those who have not seen it, the 80's version follows an American scientific expedition in the Antarctic as it encounters a shape shifting alien which assimiliates and replicates its preys, being able to then hide within the group. The film is notable for its incredibly tensed and slow-paced atmosphere, with some rare and sharp outbursts of violence and body horror, with some well ahead of its time animatronic special effects that have truly stood the test of time. The film was seen at the time as a metaphor for cold-war paranoia as well as AIDS.

Yet early signs for this new film were actually somehow promising. It had been decided that, given the iconic nature of its source material, a straight remake would be a bad idea, as would a sequel as it would ruin the wonderfully ambiguous ending of the John Carpenter version. So a prequel sounded like the most logical option, especially since many questions had been left unanswered as to what had happened before. Plus the production team had been very vocal about their love of the original and their willingness to respect it, stating that they would be using very little CGI to keep in with the organic style of the special effects.

In here, we have, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American paleontologist who is invited to a base in the Antarctic by the leader of group of Norwegian scientists, who have just discovered an alien spaceship buried deep in the ice. Having found an alien lifeform trapped in a block of ice, they unwittingly awaken it and unleash its toothy fury.

Sadly, first time director Matthisj Van Heijningen Jr, for all his good intentions, is certainly no match for horror master John Carpenter, and this turns out to be an untimigated disaster, that gets worse and worse as the film goes by. Sure a lot of efforts have been poured in to link it up with the 80's film. The scientific base as been faitfhully recreated based on the layout of the original. The grotesque and iconic image of the two bodies morphed into one that the expedition found frozen in the snow is here given a chilling backstory as to how it came to be. And the attention to detail is such the director even takes the time to show how an axe found lodged on a wall by the later expedition found its way there. There is even an echo of the original lo-fi electronic score.

Yet this is as far as it goes for the positive aspects. While the John Carpenter film went for a very slow paced and tensed approach, this new film does the exact opposite and ruins everything. In fact, one early scene that sees The Thing literally explodes free from its icy prison was the proof that it was heading in the wrong direction, as it becomes a distinctly average action horror that is too fast, too rushed, and despite the promises, filled for most part with some absolutely terrible CGI. Gone is the whole subtext of the original also.

The most frustrating aspect is how the paranoia that was so integral to the success of its vastly superior predecessor is here barely present. There is a rather amusing attempt to recreate the "blood test" scene with a twist but there is no space given for the action to breathe and the tension to build up. While the original Thing only ever revealed itself only when strictly necessary and if threatened, the creature here is far too powerful, as it merrily chomps its way through the supporting cast, making you wonder why it bothers ever hiding at all.

And just when you think it cannot get any worse, a short and laughably bad third act sees the action moves to the alien spaceship (with air-conditioning vents that allows you to easily slip inside its core, not so convenient when travelling in the vacuum of space I presume?) where it just becomes a very basic creature film, the sort seen a million time before. The last few minutes bring back a little bit of ambiguity, as well as a twist on the original's ending, before linking it up with a scene taken from the beginning first film that was so well done, it almost made you wonder whether you were watching the original or a recreation. But by then it is far too little too late.

In a strangely ironic way, I still feel fans of the original might enjoy this the most, as despite its sheer awfulness, the backstory elements will satisfy those wanting to know what had happened before. But others will wonder what the fuss is all about, and given how heavily this borrows to the John Carpenter film, and badly recreates some of its best scenes, it might even ruin a potential viewing for them.

In a way, the good news is that we have now run out of horror classics to remake, surely?

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