Sunday, March 4, 2012

THE THING (2011) - Review

A prequel is no easy task. Not only do you have to craft an original story, but the new pieces need to fit in with the original ones. In a way, a prequel is made up of conflicting qualities, because you can't really make something entirely novel if you have to keep weaving in old elements for the fans to enjoy. And it's very important to create an appropriate tie-in to the follow-up. For this reason you can't expect a prequel like "The Thing" to be very imaginative. It's a far cry from John Carpenter's dark classic because, unfortunately, the filmmakers seem confused as to whether or not they want to precede the story or remake it. I think here they've done both.

The events of the 2011 prequel take place in the same year as John Carpenter's original, 1982, and focus on the initial discovery of the Thing in Antarctica and the terrifying events that led to the alien terror being unleashed on Kurt Russel and his friends. A Norwegian research team accidentaly discovers a crashed alien spacecraft underneath the ice and call upon paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help them dig out a frozen survivor of the crash. Long story short, they carry the creature trapped inside a block of ice back to their base, the Thing breaks out and starts killing off humans one by one. It's up to americans Kate Lloyd and helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) to destroy it (or not, considering we already know how it's supposed to end). If you're not familiar with how the Thing works, it assimilates and imitates organic creatures, creating fully functional replicas that hide the Thing on the inside. When one such clone is threatened, it morphs into its real self thanks to some of the most ghastly visual effects you can imagine and attacks left and right. This poses a big problem for the humans, particularly because it's very hard to tell the difference between the real humans and the infected clones, leading to paranoia and distrust that raise the tension to unbearable levels.

This scenario worked quite well in the original, despite accusations of insufficient character development and flaw in logic, but here it's just more of the same (mostly in the flaws department). The flow of suspense is greatly diminished by arduous attempts to recreate the original's atmosphere to the smallest details. The fact that they had to fit the story within a specific template greatly affected the filmmakers' freedom and focus. The only new element here is the CGI, which adds new visual effects to the creatures that were not possible in 1982. Unfortunately, they also look a lot less frightening as they run about chasing their victims. The original's practical effects designed by Rob Bottin gave the Thing a disgusting and scary look that generated the movie's surreal horror and contributed decisively to the success of "The Thing" as a cult classic. While promoting the 2011 prequel, the filmmakers deliberately insisted (for the fans I suppose) on the fact that they combind practical effects, including animatronics, with computer-generated visuals for added realism and that's all very nice, but the final result looks terribly unconvincing and unintentionally funny.

And here is one of the original's flaw that makes its way in the prequel and actually feels a lot worse : underdeveloped and sketchy characters. Caring for any of the people on-screen while they suffer horrible deaths is impossible. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton are wasted here. Their only requirement is to look scared, run around and deliver the writer's inane dialogue. As for the rest of the characters (except for a few key players), they are extremely easy to confuse with one another. They're not really important anyway, as their only function is to die. I also found it funny how quickly the characters arrive at certain conclusions about the creature, without any complete evidence, as if they had somehow caught a glimpse of John Carpenter's movie beforehand. I'm sure it was necessary to move the story along at a quicker pace for fans who already know everything about the creature, but it feels implausible at times how scientists take such huge leaps of faith with their science.

The movie suffers greatly from the need to play by the rules of the original. This is a prequel only in theory. It's actually a carbon copy of John Carpenter's classic that will probably only work for fans of "The Thing". The uninitiated, or those who don't much care for the 1982 movie, will not find anything worth their time here. As a horror movie it's pretty flimsy and provides very little entertainment. Seeing as it was written by Eric Heisserer, who also wrote "Final Destination 5", another bad example of horror filmmaking, I'm not really surprised at all.