In the beginning there was John W. Campbell, Jr.'s 1938 novella "Who Goes There?"... and it was GOOD! Then, in 1951, the first film adaptation thereof hit the screens like a paranoid dart tossed by Hercules on steroids and anti-depressants and it was known as The Thing from Another World! It, too... was GOOD!
And then, in 1982 a more faithful adaptation was created known simply as "The Thing", from the bold, daring and all around Spiffy, Nifty and NEAT-O John Carpenter! This film... was met largely with Apathy by the movie going public (who opted for their Aliens to be cute, like "E.T.") and met with mixed reviews from critics. Thereafter, somehow, it managed to morph, much like its title creature, into a great commercial and critical hit for Universal Studios and is looked upon today as one of the best examples of Sci-Fi and Horror ever to hit the screen, not to mention a thrilling and chilling paranoid mystery where EVERYONE is, quite literally a candied candidate for suspicion and suspense!
Even more amazingly (and a possible explanation for its post-box-office successes) The Thing manages never to become tiresome and somehow becomes even better with subsequent viewings.
And now, in 2011, a new film called "The Thing" has been released. Its long time coming has made it my unquestionably most anticipated movie of the year.
Why? Don't "Bad Horror Remakes" generally make me sicker than a dog who just ate a dozen bad eggs cursed by evil sorcerers from the septic kitchens of anti-gastronomy land? The answer... is yes.
However, Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman (who were reportedly given virtual carte blanche to pillage Universal's back catalogue for remakes) apparently had the reverence for the '82 film that it deserves (in spite of their lack thereof when they produced "Dawn of the Remake") and they refused to remake, reboot or rehash the Carpenter Classic.
Instead they aimed for a Prequel, filling in the back-story that Carpenter (and writer Bill Lancaster) had hinted at in their engrossing story. Reportedly great pains were taken to match the sets, story points and character elements that made up the saga of "The Norwegian Camp" to formulate and calculate a film seamless enough to facilitate watching both subsequently... almost as if they were one film.
Such promise made waiting until the April release date almost unbearable... and I was driven to near insanity when that April release date was postponed until October to facilitate reshoots!
What do I mean? Well, here's an example of how I passed the time and pumped those proverbial creative juices: "As we get closer to the prequel to John Carpenter's THE THING (or, as the original '50s version was called, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), my idea is to do a totally serious tie-in with that incredible saga that can run concurrently, but not step on the continuing arc thereof. See, in my idea, another Alien arrives as well, but this time he's not found in an arctic research station but in a LADIES' LOCKER ROOM! And instead of disguising himself as different characters, he can only disguise himself as items found in the Ladies' Locker Room!!!
And that was one of my more sane ideas! Sadly, this went over just about as well as when I pitched that new show to NPR called "All Thongs Considered". Man sometimes I wonder if I can do anythong right.
But I digress... Now that the promised prequel has, at last, been delivered to Theatres and brings with it that Arctic Chill, how do the makers pay off our great and fascinating anticipation?
Well, I'll go on record right now that great pains were indeed taken to link the 2011 flick with its inspiration. The sets here match the ruins we saw in the '82 film terrifically and the visual homages to that film as well as the '51 offering are treats for the eyes and bragging points for the geek-minded. While not without its flaws, I can honestly tell you that this imagining of The Thing is a really fantastic companion piece to the earlier film of the same name and that I have, quite literally, watched the earlier film immediately after the prequel (twice so far) and have found only a few inconsistencies.
On the other hand, "fantastic" is the key word here and quite often this film's creative team opt for the fantastic and frightening over the practical and the suspenseful.
In short... this may well be a lovely and intriguing companion piece to a John Carpenter film... but it is not, in itself, a John Carpenter film.
How did they do it? Well, while writer Eric Heisserer (whose previous credits include corn-cheese logs like that lame-ass A Nightmare on Elm Street remake and the mediocre-at-best Final Destination 5) is credited here as the sole screenwriter, in truth, he actually performed the rewrite of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica veteran Ronald D. Moore's script, so there was more than a little bit of Promise there.
Check this out... that Norwegian Research Station that we've known and been uneasy with for almost thirty years now, has detected a creepy, chilling (and impossible) electronic signal from a part of the harshest climate on Earth... and, unfortunately for them, they find just where its coming from! In that they not only find this 100,000 year old Flying Saucer buried deep in the ice, but also a very, very, very Alien survivor, equally frozen, buried and presumed ever-so-dead, they get brilliant and call in an equally brazen, harried and presently ever-so-pretentious professor Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to come take charge of the situation and, hopefully, take all the credit. Lucky for us English-Speaking viewers, he also brings along his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) and, because this project requires an expert in ancient ice-frozen creatures (not to mention a beautiful woman), the pill dry science-guys invite along Adam's friend, Palentologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom I tend to adore).
Okay, so that's how they get Americans onto the Norwegian Base (previously implied to be run by only Norwegian speakers) and if that feels like just the tiniest bit of a stretch, the fact that the Arctic supply run Chopper Pilots are also represented in the forms of yanks Carter (Joel Edgerton), Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Griggs (Paul Braunstein) may or may not help that lunch settle for you, depending on how much more you're willing to swallow!
It's hardly a spoiler to tell you (especially since the original, now sequel already has) that "The Thing" itself sure as hell is "Only Mostly Dead" at best and makes its lifelike presence known super-soon after it finds itself under the care and protection of the Norwegian Arctic Research Station's crew!
Speaking of which...
Man, oh, man, that's a lot of Norway! That's a bit more than a Spattering of Scandinavia! That's an OODLE of Oslo! That's a plethora of the Nordic! That's a ton of O's with slashes through them, man! While it may feel like one of those square-peg-in-round-hole type things to have so much English spoken at the Norwegian Site, let it never be said that there isn't enough Norwegian here. While not always 100% consistent, there are enough subtitles here to write a few wills with... which should come in handy soon enough.
On the super-bright side I can confirm that great pains were indeed taken to match this new prequel to the film that debuted almost 30 years ago! It's hard to go into a whole hell of a lot of detail about how well these things match without shipping in a whole Copter-load of spoilers, but suffice it to say, if you saw it in the Norwegian Camp in the 1982 Thing, you see it in the 2011 Thing!
The list of matches here goes on and on. However, the connecting points between these peaks and valleys range from the fitting to the contrived. On occasion we're met with a brilliant connection to and explanation for the events of the older flick. Other times we're met with a virtual repeat of those events.
To the credit of the screenwriter(s) and director, there is a tendency for The Thing to lead the audience to believe that a derivative repeat is coming, only to pull the snow-encrusted rug out from under us all and pull out a whole other THING out of their hats. Then again, there are those moments at which we see many of the same things happening again, but in a different order and for a different reason. There are ups and downs here, twisting and shifting like The Thing itself!
In addition, the special effects are varied and rely, heavily, on CGI. Often this works well for the plot, but more often the discerning viewer might at once miss the creative and original practical effects of Bottin and crew and see these CGI reliance as a crutch, especially during the Jump Scares that are prevalent here. Further, the mystery dies down quite a bit as our first time director focuses more furtively on shocks, scares and gross effects than on the suspenseful and mysterious proceedings of the original.
Then again... let's be real here about the unenviable task the cast and crew had here. Not every director or writer out there can be John Carpenter, whose career spanned decades before he had anything that didn't become a critical or commercial hit or both. Adapting his work, even as a companion piece instead of a remake is nothing less than a monstrous thing! If one matches the prior flick but takes enough leeway to make the film all their own, viewers and critics will say that this new film misses the point of the original and has almost nothing to do with it. If one matches the 1982 film as closely and carefully as possible and follows virtually the same plot, people will call it a remake and a completely unnecessary repeat that amounts to a complete and total time wasting joke.
To be fair, John Carpenter is (and was) a Genius and no sequel, prequel or remake is going to come close to his film. The makers of this prequel don't attempt to outdo Carpenter, but to pay tribute to him as best they can, whilst making a movie that is their own, but still matches the film they're honoring. It's telling that most people without a devout and thorough understanding of the 1982 film tend to really appreciate this one for its own merits, while those who find it to be an unassailable masterpiece (like I do) tend to be down on this prequel. In short, much like 2010, Tron Legacy, Aliens and just about any sequel or prequel out there, especially when brought to life by somebody besides the original gang of artists, someone is going to hate the later effort, fairly or not!
And, in all fairness, let's not forget that audiences (and some critics) rejected 1982's The Thing and accused it of being nowhere near as good as 1951's The Thing from Another World. Repeated viewings changed all of that for that film and it's now considered one of the best films of its kind. This version of The Thing is not as good as the former film, to be sure, but repeated viewings are already making this one come out as a better film... better than it had to be, better than the travesty it could have been and good enough to achieve Three and One Half Stars out of Five! Not everyone can do what John Carpenter did with his film, as the many imitators and followers have shown. The Thing of the present is not on par with his movie, but does work as a companion piece (much more than a mere curiosity) and fills in a great many blanks for the audience. Unnecessary? Sure! Not quite the way I might have made this film? Definitely! A travesty? Nope. So, until they try this again in another 29 years, but this time it goes straight to video, I'll Assimilate you in the next reel, Things! And bring a case of Diet Coke... Things go BETTER with Coke!
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to polish that THONG idea! Yes... yes...
The dog is racing to the American Camp...
Does he dare CLICK HERE
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Nah! Period Piece and All.
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|Hell Yeah! The American Arctic Research Station's hairy Crew! SOUND OFF!