Friday, October 21, 2011

the thing

Back in the best year of all, 1982 (three guesses when I was born, folks), a movie came out known as The Thing. With the release of 2011’s The Thing, 1982’s The Thing has been referred to frequently (well, by me at least) as The Original The Thing, though people have been saying there’s an Even More Original The Thing that came out in 1951. But that was called The Thing From Another World, so I’m going to continue by calling John Carpenter’s smack-down-great movie The Original The Thing and Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s new actually-pretty-good-prequel The New The Thing. Though it’s set before Carpenter’s. Ahem.

For those who have seen The Original The Thing, you’ll know it starts with two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog at the South Pole, and the subsequent shitstorm that follows, because aliens. The New The Thing tells the story of how things got to that point, and luckily, it’s not really a spoiler to know the beginning of The Original The Thing.

The Norwegian base camp at the South Pole has made a discovery: there is an alien structure beneath the ice, one dated from a very, very long time ago. And alongside this structure, something else is found: the inhabitant. It’s the most important discovery in science, and the Norwegians need to assemble a team to make sure everything goes according to plan. [insert scoff here].

The worry of creating a subtitled Norwegian blockbuster is neatly sidestepped by hauling in a bunch of Americans to help solve the problem, and then making everyone speak English about 80% of the time. It’s corny, but better than hiring A-list actors to pretend to be a certain culture and then failing miserably (I’m looking at you, Scottish lead of 300.) Norwegian scientist Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) brings his research assistant, Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen, one of my favourite people: he played both Vaughn in Community and Austin “Jakey Jakey about to make a big...mistakey” in Not Another Teen Movie) who then suggests his friend, palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who will forever be known to me as Ramona from Scott Pilgrim). Helicoptered over to the South Pole by able pilot Sam (Joel Edgerton), tensions arise early between sensible Kate and Sander, who is making rash decisions out of excitement. Her cautiousness is proved right when the alien, brought in a block of ice to their base, thaws out and instead of sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat about interplanetary politics, goes on a murderous, stabby, regenerative rampage—because it’s a creature who can take on the form and nature of those it imbibes.

It’s the are-they-aren’t-they tensions that make these movies so fun: who has become The Thing and is hiding it behind their poker face, and how can the others figure it out? Scenes in The Original The Thing involved an excellent tense moment when blood was tested, and because that scene is so grand I’m pleased they didn’t recreate it, and instead went for a punchier version, opined by Kate, whose know-how and level-headedness almost instantly sees her grab control of the situation. This upsets some—namely Sander, who clearly has issues—and mutiny is afoot, like they don’t already have enough damn problems.

The New The Thing is a good prequel to The Original The Thing because it could have easily been terrible—many, including myself, adore John Carpenter’s version and were hesitant to like anything new. But it’s got a cracking pace, good effects, hair-chewing tension, and a woman with a flamethrower. It also passes the Bechdel Test, admirable considering there wasn’t a single female in The Original The Thing. Kate is the Ripley of this piece, taking charge and rightly so and saving cowering menfolk from getting dead. It’s quite inspiring.

Alas, there really isn’t enough character development in this—to have enough characters to be able to (not really a spoiler) kill a bunch of them off, you’ve got to care somewhat for everyone, which you do, at the expense of caring particularly hard for anyone. There’s a hint of a romance between Kate and Sam, and some clear friendship lines that, when broken, make you sad, but that’s about all they give you. There aren’t any of the mindblowing set monster pieces from The Original The Thing—walking head, anyone?—but it more than adequately steps up to the monster plate with some pretty gross stuff. Otherwise, my only real issues were a pixelated spaceship drive that does not at all look like it’s there, and the 1980s costuming that is basically nonexistent—not a mullet or a teased fringe in sight, and Adam dresses about the same as a 1980s scientist as he does a 2011 hippy, though with, sadly, less nipples showing.

I give it five out of eight disgusting stumpy limbs.

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