Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Thing (2011)

[minor spoilers]

Watched The Thing – the remake of the remake – no! the prequel to the remake – a few days ago and have been wondering how to word this review. Yes, word it. I know what I want to say, sort of, but I’m a might bit puzzled over how to put it.

Why don’t we try to work this out together, okay?

I guess the first thing to consider is: why? Some movies don’t need a why; this one does. Why do this movie? What does it bring to the table? Anything new? Improved? A different take, a different angle, a different viewpoint, a different character, a different plot line? Does it explore unfamiliar cinematic paths? Do we travel new roads, that proverbial road-less-traveled? Does it make up for the mistakes of its predecessor(s) or pick up where forerunners feared to tread?

In a word, no.

Minutes into the flick the Alien / Aliens phenomenon burst into my mind and would not let go, mentally facehugging me like that critter on Kane’s face. When you bring the aforementioned questions to the James Cameron sequel, you receive unabashed, proud, explicit yeses to each and every one, each yes in bold print, capitalized, and trailed by scores of groupie exclamation points. It’s a no-brainer. It set the standed for sequel-prequel-remakes, an almost impossibly high one, but we as moviegoers and SF aficiondoes generally are better off with such cinematic high-water marks.

What disappointed me was that not only did The Thing 2011 fail to approach the Cameron Limit, it didn’t even try. Didn’t even attempt to show any interest of attempt.

CGI. There, I said it. I suppose the only reason this film was greenlit was because some suits somewhere said, “Hey, what would it be like to remake Kurt Russell’s Thing now that we have CGI?”

A couple of points.

There are degrees of CGI. For instance, there is bad CGI, and then there is blatantly fake CGI, and then there is terribly awfully phoney CGI, and then there’s Syfy channel CGI. While the CGI – that’s Computer Generated Imagery, for the uninitiated, a.k.a., those who haven’t seen a science fiction movie in the last three decades – while the CGI in The Thing 2011 isn’t really blatantly fake, it ain’t Jurassic Park quality-circa-1993 either. CGI alone isn’t a reason to remake the classic remake of the classic.

What would be a good reason?

How about what happens a month – or a year – after the Kurt Russell flick? I’m talking The Thing among us. Would it assimilate the whole planet in 27,000 hours (a little over three years) or whatever Commodore Vic 20 simulation Blake ran in the 1982 remake?

How about another ship crashes with another Thing in … oh, I don’t know … how about New York? Or Los Angeles? Or even Mayberry, R.F.D.?

Or how about – at the very least – a rip-off of James Cameron: send in the marines! Right down to Antarctica, to investigate what happened at the US National Institute of Science Station 4. Clone Hicks, Hudson, Bishop, throw in a token-testosterone chick, and send ’em all in to clean-up the spiralling-outta-control mess. And save MacReady for a cameo at the end, maybe to save all their butts (more likely to show us he went Thingish, as nihilistic Hollywood has a tendency to do).

Any of those, even the third, would be better than The Thing 2011.

The plot of the prequel is exactly the same as the John Carpenter 1982 version. Exactly. There’s nothing new, except the action occurs in the “Norweigian” camp days before the action moves to the American camp in the better remake. Thing discovered, Thing escapes, Thing attacks, Thing assimilates, paranoia ensues, everything goes to hell-in-a-hand-basket with remarkable speed. The movie ends with end credits pointing to the beginning of Carpenter’s magnum opus.

Other than this whole meta-complaint, there were other, smaller items that bugged me during the film, stuff I might have forgiven in the hands of a better script or better director.

Small stuff, like no puffs of air visible when characters are tromping outside in zero-degree weather. This is Antarctica, right, and not some film stage somewhere nice n warm and beachie?

Bigger stuff, like how a creature frozen solid for 100,000 years in a block of ice can, after sitting in a warm room for a couple of hours, can smash said block of ice, leap fifteen feet straight up in the air, and smash its way through the no-doubt well-insulated roof? I mean, I’ve been warm and functioning for over forty years, and I can’t even crush an ice cube in my hand.

Generic stuff, stuff that’s been plaguing audiences since the dawn of time, like why does everybody keep splitting up! When the Thing attacks, why do we all run in separate directions!! Why is the arrogant lead scientist so arrogant and so blinded by Science he bullies everyone past simple safety procedures!!! Must everything be dumbed-down black-and-white? Where is the nuance of real, intelligent people confronting life-and-death problems?

But, in all fairness, there were a few nice touches here and there. I liked best the fact brought out that the Thing can’t replicate metal. So if you go in a room and there’s a pile of bloody fillings on the floor, it’s a good bet that the dude that was there immediately before you is no longer human.

Still, though, the movie stinks. If you’re a die-hard fan of The Thing and even SF in general, yes, you must see it, but see it once and try not to spend any money seeing it. This sort of thing (pun intended) needs not to be subsidized or monetarily encouraged.

And the testosterone chick, once edgy a la James Cameron’s Ripley, is no longer unique or barrier-breaking. It’s a trope. It’s boring. And this Thing’s chick simply can’t compare to Russell’s MacReady in all-out coolery and badassery.

Grade: D.

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