CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE THING (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: Army barracks in Antarctica. Wind is howling and snow covers everything outside. MICHAEL ARRUDA comes in from the cold, covered in layers of clothes and a ski mask)
MA: LL, are you here?
(LL SOARES is lying on a hammock in a darkened storage room. MA enters the room and turns on the light)
MA: What are you sleeping for? You said you were going to meet me when I arrived on this base.
LS: What, and interrupt my nap? I don’t think so.
MA: Nap? What happened to the guy who was all excited and eager to see the new movie THE THING?
LS: Well, I finally saw it……
MA: Your tone smacks of disappointment. Do tell.
LS: If I have to. (Rubs sleep from his eyes)
THE THING (2011) has the same name of John Carpenter’s 1982 film THE THING, and yet it is a prequel to Carpenter’s film. If it’s a prequel, how about giving it a different name? That just seems stupid to me.
MA: Well, you’re right that it is a prequel, since the events in this movie do occur before the events in Carpenter’s film. However, it’s a rather lame prequel. It’s shot as if audiences weren’t supposed to know it was a prequel, because it’s doesn’t make a direct connection to the 1982 movie until the very end, which comes off as if it were supposed to be a surprise, and honestly—had it been a surprise—it would have been really cool. The problem is, it’s not a surprise, because everyone and their grandmother knew beforehand it was supposed to be a prequel!
The other problem is, since audiences are going in already knowing it’s a prequel, they’re looking forward to some direct connection to the Carpenter film, and it’s just not there until the very end, and so it comes off, or at least it did to me, as a major disappointment.
Eric Heisserer could have done so many creative things with this concept, but he doesn’t. I found THE THING devoid of creativity and imagination, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since Heisserer also wrote the screenplay for the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) and FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011), two other sub-par movies.
Here’s one example: how about some footage from the original film? Wouldn’t it have been cool to see Kurt Russell step out of the helicopter at the end? This movie just didn’t take advantage of its connection to the Carpenter THING and its fans.
LS: In Carpenter’s film, about an expedition in Antarctica, they find a spaceship stuck in the ice, and its strange passenger – an alien creature that can replicate whatever it comes into contact with. At first it starts with sleigh dogs and eventually starts imitating the people on the base, to the point where no one can tell if anyone else is really the alien. It was a brilliant study in claustrophobia, paranoia, and just plain scary monsters. In Carpenter’s film, it was mentioned that there was a Norwegian expedition before them, but they were wiped out. The American team, led by Kurt Russell, was there to investigate what happened.
Which brings us to the new movie called THE THING. This one is about that missing Norwegian expedition, and what happened to them.
The movie begins with some guys in a snow tractor thingie, traveling over the ice and trying to locate a signal coming from beneath the surface. When they find the location of the signal, they stop, and suddenly crash through the ice below. Which is how they discover a gigantic space craft under the ice and snow.
They also discover a frozen life form, presumably the occupant of the space ship and they are eager to study their finds. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) is called in to check it out. He brings along his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen, who sometimes looks like a second-rate Brad Pitt) and paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the girlfriend from SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD). They arrive just in time to help the Norwegian scientists figure out what the creature in the ice is. A tissue sample is extracted from the block, and of course, some idiot lets the thing defrost (isn’t anyone concerned it might rot and be useless to them?). It turns out, the thing is not dead. It was only sleeping.
Like Carpenter’s film, the monster then goes about imitating other people in the research party, killing and replicating them one by one, like a distant cousin to the pods from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. In Carpenter’s film, you could determine who was the Thing by taking a blood sample. In this version, the Thing is unable to replicate metal, which means if you have fillings or any other metal accoutrements, they will fall out when you become “replaced.” So Dr. Lloyd is able to determine who is the bad guy by making everyone “open their mouths” and show her their fillings.
MA: A crude, very unscientific method, and cinematically speaking, nowhere near as exciting as the blood sample scene in the Carpenter film.
LS: I dunno. I thought it made sense, given the urgency of their situation. They didn’t really have time to take blood tests.
In this movie, they catch on to the alien’s tricks pretty quickly and there’s no gradual understanding of what it can do, like in Carpenter’s film. Also, there seemed to be several times where the monster revealed itself when it didn’t have to. In Carpenter’s film, the replicated people revealed their true alien form when discovered. In this version, they seem to reveal themselves at the drop of a hat.
So one by one, people reveal that they are really the monster, and then their bodies start changing and twisting and they turn into creatures that look rather Lovecraftian with big teeth and tentacles, and I have to admit, the effects here are really good, and the creatures look just as good as in Carpenter’s movie, and, in a couple of scenes, even better.
MA: Definitely have to agree with you here. If there’s anything I really liked about this movie, it was the special effects and the look of THE THING. I would agree that at times, it looks better than the one in Carpenter’s movie.
LS: As many people know, the story of THE THING has a long history. It began as a story by John W. Campbell way back in 1938 called “Who Goes There?” For you literary history buffs, Campbell is best known as the editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was prominent from the 1930s to 1950s. Campbell had an incredible eye for talent and he single-handedly discovered most of the writers who are considered the masters of old school science fiction, from Isaac Asimov to Theodore Sturgeon to Fritz Leiber. But he wrote fiction as well, and this particular story has had some incredible staying power.
In 1951, the director Howard Hawks made a movie version of Campbell’s story called THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Hawks was probably best known for westerns (like 1948’s RED RIVER and 1959’s RIO BRAVO) and screwball comedies, like the classic, BRINGING UP BABY(1938). But I think THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was his only science fiction film. It’s good film, and above-average for the science fiction films of the time, due to a solid script and good acting, but nothing mind-blowing. In that version, James Arness (Marshall Dillon from the classic series GUNSMOKE) was the monster, made up to look kind an outer space version of Frankenstein’s monster.
MA: I always loved THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, and I consider it one of the best science fiction/horror movies from the 1950s, up there with THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) and THEM! (1954). There’s a sense of creepiness in the film that really makes it a lot of fun to watch, and it’s also notable for its rapid fire dialogue, a pace that made it more realistic than the dialogue in other science fiction films of the period.
LS: Yeah, it was good. But then it was remade in 1982 by John Carpenter as simply THE THING, and as fans of the Carpenter version can tell you, this is one of the rare instances where a remake actually improved on and surpassed the original. And the monster is 100 times more interesting and visually exciting this time around.
MA: I’m not going to disagree with you because I like the 1982 film so much, and it certainly holds up better today than the 1951 version, but that old creepy black and white flick is still pretty darned good!
LS: Which brings us to the present, and the new version of THE THING.
(THE THING from THE FANTASTIC FOUR shows up.)
THE THING: What about me, you jokers? It’s CLOBBERIN’ TIME!
LS: You’re not part of this movie’s history, Mr Grimm.
MA: Come back to us the next time we review a new Marvel movie.
THE THING: But it’s called “The Thing.” How can it not be about me?
LS: I’m sorry Ben, but it’s not.
THE THING: Can I at least break some heads?
LS (points to MA): You can break his head, but wait till after the review.
MA: Uh..I hear the Hulk is hanging out with the Norwegians down the road. Why don’t you tangle with him?
THE THING: Really? Thanks for the tip. He owes me some money. (THE THING exits— making a giant hole in the wall.)
LS: The new remake—I mean, prequel— is not a completely awful movie, but it does have several problems.
MA: Yes, it does.
LS: To begin with, because the Norwegians are not very fleshed out, the language barrier is even more pronounced (most of them talk in Norwegian with subtitles, but a lot of them also speak English, so they alternate). Unlike Carpenter’s version with real, distinctive characters, nobody in the new version stands out except for Winstead. So problem number one right off the bat is that you don’t really care about these characters much.
MA: Yep, I would have to agree. That was one of the best parts of Carpenter’s THE THING, that it was filled with quirky, memorable characters, and this movie just doesn’t give us that.
MA: I also agree that Winstead’s character, paleontologist Kate Lloyd, is the best character in the movie, and Winstead delivers the best performance. I like Winstead a lot, and I want to see her in more movies.
On the other hand, as good as Winstead is, and she is good, she’s no Kurt Russell, and so this new version of THE THING also lacks a strong main character.
The rest of the characters are just OK, and the acting simply serviceable. Joel Edgerton is likable as helicopter pilot Braxton Carter, but ultimately he’s not that effective a hero.
I did like Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Sandor Halvorson, and I liked his cold professor character, the guy who’s all about the discovery and not so much about the value of human life. He reminded me a lot of the professor character in the 1951 version, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), both in the way he looked and acted. We saw Thomsen earlier this year in SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011).
I also liked Jorgen Langhelle as Lars. Lars was one of the Norwegians who didn’t speak English, but this doesn’t stop him from being a memorable character, and he plays a key role in the story.
LS: Then, there’s not much to the story. There is really nothing here that wasn’t already covered in Carpenter’s classic.
MA: Exactly. If THE THING were a TV show, this movie would have been just an average episode, which you can get away with in a TV series, since you’ve got more than one episode to work with. But it’s not a TV show. It’s a movie, a one-shot deal, and all I kept thinking was, this is your one shot, and this is all you come up with? To me, the story was a definite disappointment.
LS: The plot is pretty much a retread of Carpenter’s film, but with a different team, and there really isn’t much that this film adds to the concept. As I sat through this movie, I kept thinking this was a chance to maybe try out some new ideas, take things in a different direction, but no, it’s the same old stuff we already saw.
MA: I’ll say! There were so many different directions this tale could have taken, yet it settles for the retread.
LS: Winstead takes charge of things pretty quickly and is calling the shots, making everyone show her their mouths and stuff. But once she takes charge, for the rest of the movie, nobody once questions her and asks her to open her mouth. Everyone just does what she says. I guess you could say this happens because she’s the only person in the movie with a distinct personality, but that’s really not a good enough reason.
Also, the movie is rated R, and yet there is absolutely no reason for it to be rated this way. There is no swearing, no nudity, no extreme gore. There are human bodies twisting and cracking open and turning into weird monsters, but I really didn’t think it was shocking enough to warrant an R rating. I think the MPAA is being just a little too sensitive these days. If something is rated R, then I want it to earn it. As is, a typical episode of any TV show on HBO or Showtime has more “adult content” than anything we see in this movie.
MA: I disagree with you here. I thought the THING scenes were sufficiently disturbing, more so than the THING scenes in the Carpenter version. I thought the effects here were the best part of the movie, so much so, that those scenes you mentioned, of bodies twisting and cracking open and turning into bizarre monsters, were very disturbing.
The most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen? No. But I wasn’t sitting there thinking “These effects suck, and these creatures look cheesy.” No, I was thinking this is some pretty horrific stuff, and what I liked about it, is it took stuff we saw in the Carpenter version, and made it even more graphic, in terms of how clearly we saw things. So, I liked these scenes, and I think because of them, the movie earned its R rating.
LS: I thought the monsters looked pretty cool, but “very disturbing?” I don’t know.
There is also a certain monotony to the whole thing. Winstead and the others determine who the monster is. They blast it with flame throwers. It turns up as someone else. They burn that person, and then someone else is the monster. How does the creature keep moving around if they keep burning it? They just can’t seem to kill this critter. Also, there are scenes where there appear to be three or four different monsters. Someone’s arm turns into a centipede type thing, another one combines with another body to create a two-headed freak, etc. I thought there was just one monster, but there appears to be a bunch. No wonder the team never seems to be able to get a handle on things.
MA: Well, the creature replicates, and so yeah, there’s more than one THING because it keeps making more of itself. It was like this in the Carpenter movie as well.
The problem I had was with some of the logic behind it, and I seem to remember having similar questions with the Carpenter movie as well. If this thing can replicate and hide in a human’s body, why doesn’t it just stay hidden? That way it can escape to somewhere else.
But this thing replicates left and right, and it’s like you said, as soon it does, they see it and burn it, and so it keeps getting destroyed. It doesn’t seem all that smart, which begs the question, is this THING an intelligent alien, or just a mindless murderous monster? In this movie, where it replicates without seeming to know it’s about to be killed, the THING comes off as a mindless brute, whereas my memory of the Carpenter film, it came off as a smart intelligent alien. Doesn’t it build a ship in the Carpenter film?
As much as I liked the look of the THING in this movie, I didn’t really like the interpretation of the THING.
Does it have an agenda? In the Carpenter movie, the characters were worried that if it reached civilization, it would wipe it out. Is this THING interested in invading earth? It doesn’t seem to be in this movie. It only seems interested in survival.
LS: And if that’s the case, then why reveal itself in scenes when it doesn’t have to? When it has everyone fooled already?
MA: It’s also hinted at early on that perhaps the THING isn’t the original occupant of the crashed ship, and I thought this was a neat idea. One of the characters questions why a ship’s occupant would land his ship in the ice and then flee the ship only to freeze to death? Why not stay in the ship? The implication being that the occupant may have been trying to escape, or perhaps even kill the THING by killing himself, but this concept in never revisited or explored.
LS: I agree. They never explore this enough. One scene that really bugged me took place inside the space ship. The ship is gigantic—too big, I thought, it looks like the size of a small town—and yet it only has one occupant? Why the hell is it so big? It certainly doesn’t have to be. There’s no logic to it.
MA: Which reinforces what I was just talking about. The ship was gigantic because it might have held an entire crew, a crew that was wiped out by the THING, but I’m only speculating here because the movie dropped the ball and didn’t follow this up with any degree of satisfaction. They throw out that brief hint in one bit of dialogue, and then never go back there.
LS: Yeah, they dropped the ball on that.
And a showdown with a monster inside the ship reminded me an awful lot of the end of SUPER 8, which came out earlier this year and had a better story than this movie, even if THE THING has a cooler-looking monster.
I saw the trailer for THE THING something like ten times over the past few months. They kept hyping this one, and frankly it looked good to me. But I was mostly let down by the actual movie itself. It takes its time in the beginning, moving at a slow pace as it sets up the storyline. Once the action begins, it seems kind of repetitious, as I mentioned, and then the ending is kind of dumb.
The monsters look great, but it wasn’t enough to save this movie. I was disappointed. It was better than last week’s REAL STEEL, but not as good as some movies we gave three knives to. So I have to give this one at least two and a half knives out of five. But man, it could have been so much better than this.
MA: It could have been a helluva lot better than this!
To me, the fault lies with the director of this movie, Matthis van Heijningen Jr., and the screenwriter, Eric Heisser, because the biggest problem with THE THING is it lacks creativity and imagination…
LS: Starting with the completely poorly thought out title.
MA: …and oh yeah, scares. Guess what, folks, your movie looks pretty good, but guess what you forgot to include? Scares!!! How about making this one scary, huh? Not happening.
I was really excited to see THE THING—really into it! I kept thinking, I can’t wait to see how this will be tied into the John Carpenter movie. And I even enjoyed the beginning of this movie, as I was into its storyline, and I was enjoying its characters, and later, once the THING makes its appearance, I enjoyed that too.
LS: Since Carpenter’s movie, the THING itself has become kind of a cult monster. It definitely has its fan base, and I think there was bound to be another movie about it eventually —and here we have it. If nothing else, I hope this movie does well, just so that they expand on THE THING franchise, and maybe hire better talented directors and screenwriters if they make more movies, to take this concept into more interesting directions. Because it has a lot of untapped potential.
MA: As the movie plodded along, from one unimaginative non-creative scene to the next, I realized, this really isn’t going anywhere, and this really isn’t all that creative. I’ve seen this all before, and better, in the John Carpenter movie, and so, slowly, things began to go downhill, and they continued to go downhill, tumbling all the way down to its conclusion, which you so correctly described as dumb!
If this had been released a couple of years after the original, it would have been easily dismissed as an inferior sequel, or “prequel.” Right now, the best thing it has going for it is its connection to the 1982 movie, and the excitement surrounding it, but the problem is there’s barely a connection, and so it’s one more reason not to like this movie.
The other thing really missing from this film that worked so well in the Carpenter version is the sense of paranoia the characters go through— who’s the THING? Who’s human? These questions, and the fear that went with them, dominated Carpenter’s movie. The characters— grown men— were scared shitless about this.
In this movie, we hardly get that sense of paranoia at all. Towards the end, it gets a little better in the paranoia department, but not much, and the characters never seem as terrified here as they were in the Carpenter movie.
At the end of this movie, someone in the audience shouted, “That sucked!” which is never a good sign, and at the very end when we finally hear Ennio Morricone’s music from the Carpenter version, someone else shouted, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”, and that about says it all. We wanted a connection to the 1982 film and didn’t get one until it was way too late.
LS: One more thing. After the end credits start, stick around for a bit, because there’s an “extra” scene during the credits.
MA: I give this new version of THE THING two knives, and I give it that much because I liked the special effects and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead role, but the story and all-around creativity behind this one aren’t very good.
Well, that’s that.
LS: Yes it is.
MA: Can we go someplace warmer now?
LS: Yep, but first— (LS’s body suddenly explodes, as a tentacle, toothy monster breaks out of his body.)
MA: Oh my God, you were really THE THING all along!
(THE THING’s tentacled head and body suddenly explode, and after some strange contortions, becomes LS again.)
MA: I think THE THING just met its match. Are you okay?
LS: Never felt better! Let’s go get some snow cones.
MA: Okay, folks, we’ll see you again next week, and hopefully we’ll be in a warmer climate. See you then!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives THE THING (2011) ~ two knives
L.L. Soares gives THE THING (2011) ~ two and a half knives