The Thing (2011) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Same situation, same freak show

I am curious about the alien creature in “The Thing”(2011). I do not know whether it has intelligence or not, but its ability to imitate any organism it absorbs is marvelous enough to induce a serious discussion about its exceptional cellular mechanism. Considering how elaborate the structure and mechanism of cell is, I really want to know how many evolution steps it went through to acquire such an amazing ability or how it imitates organisms in such a short time as shown in the movie. Does it use assimilated DNAs and proteins for its imitations? Does it have consciousness even when it exists as a bunch of cells waiting for the chance to encroach upon us?

Never mind. The movie is not interested much in my thoughts, and neither is that alien creature. I suppose it traveled a lot around the space with its vehicle, and it had probably seen or learned or absorbed lots of things for many, many years, but it instead gives us lots of surprises with claws, teeth, tentacles, and other weird and sticky body parts. Maybe it just loves a surprise show like I do, I guess.

The movie is virtually the remake version of “The Thing”(1982) directed by John Carpenter. That movie was also the remake of “The Thing from Another Space”(1951), and it was more faithful than the 1951 version to the premise of John Campbell Jr.‘s classic short story “Who Goes There?”. The premise is simple and intriguing; the people at an Antarctic base are threatened by the alien creature which may already imitate some of them, and its high-level suspense comes from the paranoid surrounding the characters who cannot trust each other due to that possibility. Hey, dude, do I really look like your friend?

While the 1951 version, which cannot frighten the audiences a lot nowadays, has its own place among the other famous SF films made during the 1950s, John Carpenter’s darker version has been building its cult status despite its commercial failure at the box office and the mixed response from critics. I do not think it is a great film as some people argue, but its dark, uncomfortable, and sticky feeling was not easy to forget when I watched it for the first time during the cold winter days of 1996. I was not particularly scared, but the movie is considerably suspenseful while the paranoia among the characters reigns over their closed space, and Rob Bottin’s special effects still look terrific and disturbing with the various freakish moments to make us cringe. Like the special effects in “King Kong”(1933), Bottin’s special effects have a certain quality which never can be attained through CGI. They do not look as smooth as CGI, but they look more real and they really exist in front of the camera.

I said the 2011 film is like a remake version, but, in a strict sense, this is a prequel to the 1982 version. Before fully realizing what kind of the trouble they get themselves into, the characters in the 1982 version come to know that the alien’s spaceship was initially discovered by the people at the Norwegian base, and it is implied in the movie that they also went through a similar situation after they found the alien creature frozen in the ice.

The 2011 film tells us what happened at that place. The spaceship is accidentally found during their research on the vast glacial field of the Antarctic, and paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd(Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is quickly brought to the site by Dr. Sander Halvorson(Ulrich Thomsen). They and other people at the Norwegian base are all excited by their groundbreaking discovery at first, but, as we know, they soon realize that it was a big mistake to bring the frozen alien in the ice to their base for sampling. The ice starts to be melted, and then…

I do not have to describe what happens next if you watched the 1982 version, because it is a pretty much same plot. A scary incident happens. They come to know about what the alien creature can do. They begin to mistrust each other while good old flamethrowers are ready to be used by them. And, though there are better and smarter strategies to conquer the Earth, the alien creature keeps attacking them with the surprises coming from the inside of some characters. In short, the movie is basically the same situation and the same freak show.

But it is not as bad as you think. While respecting the 1982 version through several references including Ennio Morricone’s electronic score, the director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. does a nice job of maintaining the cold, isolated atmosphere in his film. While most of the actors in the film have to play the stock characters who can be turned into a monstrous jack-in-the-box at any moment, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is nice as a resourceful heroine fighting against the threat from the outer space, though I suspect that the main purpose of her character in the story is making her Scandinavian co-actors speak English rather than Norwegian.

In case of special effects, the movie is helped a lot by the advance of CGI during the last 30 years. It has more freedom than the 1982 version, so the alien in this version can do a lot more things with its grotesque body parts than before, and we get the horrific scenes like a hand turning into some sort of lobster or two bodies disgustingly melded together. However, while these special effects are effective, they lack that vividly sticky side of Rob Bottins’ special effects in the 1982 version, and they sometimes looks its pale imitation.

“The Thing”(2011) is not a bad remake at all, and you may enjoy the comparison between this movie and the 1982 version. But the more I compare it with John Carpenter’s film, the more it looks unnecessary. I must say the spaceship and the Antarctic looks more fabulous than before, but our spaceship owner remains same as before its usual back of disgusting tricks.

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One Response to The Thing (2011) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Same situation, same freak show

  1. S M Rana says:

    As “things” go, this one seems of the suave and subtle variety, which I personally prefer to the noisy ear drum threatening and slimily nauseating subspecies, respectively.

    SC: “The Thing” is a great barf-bag movie, all right, but is it any good? – Roger Ebert on the 1982 version.

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