The Thing

A prequel to a remake of an adaptation. What kind of thing is that?

 

2 stars

 

The Thing - in the laboratory

 

Director: Matthijs van Heijningen

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead & a Husky Dog

 

The Thing - Ooh, I wonder what's lurking in this snow filled cave? I do believe I'll wander through it to see. Ooops!

John Carpenter considered The Thing to be the best film he ever made, and producers David Foster and Lawrence Turman seem to agree.

 

Their proclaimed prequel plays like an overly-reverential retread of the 1982 classic, and brings little that is new to the table.

 

The film is set in the Norwegian outpost seen briefly at the beginning of Carpenter's film. Sweeping shots of frozen landscape and hints of Morricone's soundtrack lead to a tiny Snowcat vehicle as it falls upon a buried spaceship.

 

This pre-credit sequence - an epic vision of Antarctica that then plunges beneath the ice towards the waiting unknown - is a beautiful example of CGI's progression, that should improve our involvement with a familiar story. But it's the creature effects which are the main digital draw.

 

The Thing - our heroine and sidekick take a stroll with some guns

You can understand the lure of using CGI to create a shape-changing monster, defrosted from an era of animatronics, to smooth and speed its transformations. The trouble is that the CGI here is often pretty dodgy, and that, coupled with a cast as monumentally unengaging as this, is a fatal mix.

 

This should be a clash between paranoid humans, trapped with a hidden enemy that can Xerox anyone it gets its tentacles on. But if all the characters are simply identical beards in puffy parkers, then any dramatic conflict gets frozen out.

 

The beardless community here is represented by Dr Kate Lloyd, a palaeontologist invited to the Thule Research Station to examine the original discovery.

 

While there is some mileage in the scenario of a professional woman being undermined by a predominantly male environment, its not used actively enough in the script to bring definition to any of the main players. The lead's gender is not enough to hang a character on, though Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings sufficient presence to fill the void she was written.

 

The Thing - our heroine gets a little scared

And the men weren't given anything better; we're expected to engage with them knowing only what job they've got – dog trainer, driver, pilot, rude Englishman. The last one isn't usually paid employment, but then neither is it a rounded personality, so it's difficult to give a shit when limbs start twisting unnaturally and faces contort into tentacles.

 

A touch of humour might have given shape to the proceedings, but it's all played gravely seriously, to the story's detriment. The pace of the cat and mouse hunt in the previous film was balanced by witty expletives, but here the dialogue is dry and functional.

 

Once the main thrust of the film is underway we're treated to nameless Norwegians enacting the same action sequences seen in the 80's film but with the added tedium of knowing how things turn out – that axe ends up there, that bit gets burned, this crab-clawed corpse will be found here.

 

To add to the disappointment they've dropped the iconic heartbeat music by this time and the creature effects are not strikingly better than the Ganger creature seen in this year's Doctor Who.

 

The Thing - The Thing in The Thing

Towards the end one small attempt is made to move beyond the previous film, but only by stepping into Alien territory. That one copied shot only serves to emphasise that, while our lead is likable, she isn't Ellen Ripley.

 

If Universal wants to make movies about ancient aliens hidden in Antarctica then they should have coughed up the cash for Guillermo Del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness. Quite why that was canned while this was greenlit is one of the great mysteries of the modern film age...

 

Martin Oakley

 

 

Click here for the trailer, beatch!

 

 

The Thing
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FACT YOU!

Franco Zeffirelli in Withnail & I

Uncle Monty in Withnail & I is based on director Franco Zeffirelli who tried constantly to seduce Withnail writer Bruce Robinson when they were filming Romeo and Juliet together in 1968. Robinson incorporated many of Zeffirelli's chat-up lines into Uncle Monty's dialogue as he pursues Marwood.

 

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