Friday, October 14, 2011

Not everyone has the luxury of watching a film with an expert on all things “The Thing” related. So Cinema Siren will forgive the ignorance of the multitudes of critics who chalk this film up as just some lukewarm retread, or a pale copy of the 1982 John Carpenter scifi/horror classic.
Cinema Siren even heard one of the critics in the theatre say they’d never heard of the original 1951 movie The Thing From Another World. Research, people, research! How can you call a movie a retread if you don’t even remember or haven’t seen what’s come before?

The fact of the matter, as any obsessive, well-informed, scifi geek will tell you, is this is a lovingly constructed, no-details-spared prequel that relates the heretofore untold story of the days just before the events that occur in Carpenter’s The Thing.

Both Carpenter’s movie from 1982 and the Christian Nyby directed 1951 film are based on the original story Who Goes There, by author John W. Campbell Jr., written under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart. It was first published in August of 1938 in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, for which Campbell was the editor. Some aspects of the original story were omitted or altered in Nyby’s version, thus inspiring uberfan John Carpenter to create a film closer to Who Goes There. This new 2011 film once again adds bits omitted in the 1982 version. It shows us everything that happened the three days before that part of the story begins.

In Carpenter’s movie, an American outpost in Antarctica finds out something disastrous has happened to a nearby Norwegian Research Team, and they go investigate. When they get there, what do they find? Backtrack from the scenes of their gruesome discovery and you’ll have the plot of this Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. helmed 2011 prequel.

It is the Norwegian team in this new film that finds a spaceship buried in the tundra, as well as some kind of creature frozen in the ice while trying to escape. On hand are paleontologist Kate Lloyd (a new character invention not in the story or previous movies), a team of scientists, a pilot, and various other American and Norwegian military men. They bring the specimen back to the base and conduct an experiment, over Kate’s objections, that frees the alien. It begins killing them and utterly mimicking them, making it impossible to tell who’s alien and who’s human. Tension, paranoia, icky mayhem and flame throwing ensue.

The Thing 2011 certainly has its faults. It’s based on the oft used “trapped in a haunted house” construct, used in many classics. If not offering something completely new, any movie based in that construct will feel uninventive and suffer by comparison. The last third of the film slows down and feels overlong.

A section involving the alien ship is eye popping, but might have been better left on the cutting room floor. The ending is similar in tone to the ’82 film and the first Alien film. Also similar to Alien is its pacing, which is an interplay between slowly building tension and shocking payoffs. Sometimes this pacing works, sometimes it doesn’t. Even given those flaws, I think it is entertaining enough and interesting enough a prequel to enjoy anyway.

As to 1979’s Alien, the character of Kate is definitely modeled after its heroine Ripley, a character that changed for the better the way action and scifi films used women as protagonists. Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a powerhouse and bears the pressure of comparison to Sigourney Weaver well, playing Kate as similarly smart, brave and tough. They even share a flame thrower as a weapon of choice.

On advice of my expert film companion, I put the 1982 classic on when I got home. The first scenes of the 1982 movie show the aftermath of what happened at the Norwegian outpost in this 2011 prequel. I was shocked when I realized the level of specificity and attention to detail that had been required in every scene to keep continuity between the two movies. I can’t remember ever seeing a movie that used its predecessor in that way, with such affectionate precision. It was fascinating. Kudos to director Matthijs van Heijningen.


Let me strongly suggest that for your further appreciation and enjoyment you get your hands on 1982’s The Thing, so you can watch what happens in order and truly see for yourself how much work went into expanding and completing the storyline, starting with the 2011 prequel and following through to the end offered in Carpenter’s film.

The 1951 The Thing From Another World is a study in the filming style of famed auteur Howard Hawks and was the first to scare the pants off many a baby boomer, and is often voted in the top 10 scifi movies ever made. You could always make it a triple feature.

I predict many scifi and horror film fans will see The Thing 2011 as a respectable companion to the previous films, and an engaging diversion with high quality acting and special effects of impressive believability.

Look no further than the obsessed The Thing aficionado by my side who believes 2011’s The Thing would pass muster with both James Arness and Kurt Russell. If stars of this film’s predecessors would like it, why wouldn’t you?
Pick up your parka, mush your sled dog (not the alien possessed one), rev up your snowmobile and head for your nearest multiplex. This paranoid frozen frightfest is the best chance to you’ll get this Halloween to feel a real chill.