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THE THING...BEFORE THE THING
The Thing (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Member Name: Mauri
The Thing (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Advantages: Fast pace
Disadvantages: Unimaginative script, over dependence on CGI
(FILM ONLY REVIEW)
First 'Things' first...pardon the pun.
The story that this latest film adaptation is based on has been around a long time. The original novella written by John W. Campbell, Jr and titled 'Who Goes There?' was published in 1938, then came the first film adaptation known as 'The Thing from Another World' released in 1951. In 1982 horror 'supremo' John Carpenter made a remake simply known as 'The Thing' and most recently this version was made which is a prequel or prelude to the Carpenter film. Out of all the adaptations this latest is most faithful to the original story but is it also the best?
Paleontologist Kate Lloyd Joins a Norwegian scientific team in a desolate scientific outpost in Antarctica to study an alien ship discovered buried deep in the ice. Close to the site she finds an alien organism that died in the crash millions of years ago. Bringing the frozen creature back to the base they unwittingly release a deadly force that could if it escaped the isolated location lead to an alien colonisation of the planet. The biggest problem the scientists face is that the alien is a shape-shifter able to mimic in appearance and thought any creature that it consumes. Soon the party begin to doubt each other, paranoia and fear takes over. Can anyone stop the 'Thing' before it is too late?
This latest film created by 'Dawn of the Dead' 2004 remake producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman started life when they trawled through the Universal Studios library looking for a suitable project to work on. When they found Carpenter's 1982 offering of this classic story they convinced the studio that rather than making a simple remake that they could do something a little more interesting and create a prequel to that film. Those of you who have seen the 80's film will know that at the start of the film a back-story is already hinted at and the prequel was in many ways waiting to be made. Setting the story before the Carpenter film also allowed them to incorporate into the story some of the original elements from the novella; the discovery of the ship and the alien buried in the ice that the Carpenter film missed out but that were included in the 1951 adaptation. In some ways this film is a hybrid of both previous films and as such is probably the most faithful version of the adapted novella made so far.
The clever aspect of the plot although not original is the idea of the unknown enemy within group, if you substitute the shape-shifting alien for an unknown murderer and the isolated Antarctic research base for a desolate country house you would have the makings of a classic Agatha Christie whodunit, the difference is that the metamorphic ability of the creature means that the identity of the 'murderer' keeps changing. Of course the nature of this film and the involvement of Marc Abraham and Eric Newman means this story is not going to be as subtle as all that, in fact after the initial tense start promising an intelligent science fiction thriller the film descends in to pure CGI special effects heavy horror. Rather than concentrating on the psychological horror and paranoia that such a location and shape shifting adversary would cause to the marooned scientists the films decides to focus on the more physical and visceral potential of the story. As soon as the alien creature is let loose the gore fest begins with little rest bite until the end of the movie.
Unfortunately the makers of this film including the first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. missed an opportunity to bring the real story to the screen. After a promising start the movie transforms in to the usual monster chase gore fest that horror films today are all too reliant on. Actually although this is supposed to be a prequel and the makers stated they didn't simply want to do a remake, this version pans out very similarly to the better 1981 version.
Apart from it many failings; predictable plot overuse of CGI and unimaginative script the biggest failing of this film is the lack of a charismatic lead. What made Carpenter's version good was the casting of Kurt Russell as the all action hero. Although Russell is not the greatest actor to grace the silver screen, he does have screen presence and charisma. It is to the credit of the makers of this later film that they decided to avoid the stereotypical all American hero in the lead and go for a 'Alien' type Ripley character to carry the movie unfortunately Mary Elizabeth Winstead (best known for her role in 'Death Proof' coincidentally with Kurt Russell and 'Final Destination 3') while pleasant enough is no Sigourney Weaver and she is not helped by some anonymous supporting acting by the rest of the cast. Only Joel Edgerton as the American helicopter pilot and Ulrich Thomsen as the chief Norwegian scientist are long enough on screen to have any impact, to describe their characters are cardboard cut outs would be a great understatement. We simply don't get involved enough or empathise enough with the characters to care about their fate.
The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the CGI and special effects. The original 1950's version had to change the nature of the Alien from a shape-shifting creature to a vegetable based human like monster, mainly due to the lack of budget and technological capability to bring a shape shifter to the screen. Carpenter's version, while not being able to draw upon the advances in CGI, did do a superb job with fantastic, make up and animatronics to include the shape shifting element in the story, in fact the 80's film is notable for being the last major Sci-fi film to use the older techniques as opposed to CGI. You would expect that the newest version with the advantages of state of the art CGI would be the best in representing the monster as it appeared in the original novella and yet the CGI was disappointing. We did get the metamorphosis from human to grotesque alien, the human like bodies splitting open to reveal masses of tentacles and gut wrenching innards. We also get fused bodies as two humans are devoured, assimilated and then form a hybrid construct of multiple humans and alien but after you've seen this happen once it lacked the same impact the next time and also the effect didn't look that realistic, at least no more so then the more basic effects of the Carpenter film.
Despite all it problems this film does manage to keep you mindlessly entertained for the majority of its length. The action takes up a frenetic pace after the initial twenty minutes and what it lacks in credible plot or character development it makes up for in cheap thrills and gore it that's your thing. The pity is that yet again a film version of very good science fiction story has failed to bring out the deeper nuances of the plot or to develop the interesting underlying themes within and really do justice to it. This is simply 'popcorn' entertainment for those with a strong stomach where it could have been so much more. A missed opportunity all round.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead ...Kate Lloyd
Joel Edgerton ...Sam Carter
Ulrich Thomsen...Dr. Sander Halvorson
Eric Christian Olsen ...Adam Finch
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ...Jameson
Trond Espen Seim...Edvard Wolner
Kim Bubbs ...Juliette
'The Thing' is available on Blu-ray + Digital Copy from Amazon UK for £14.99 including shipping at the time this review was written. The run time is 103mins and it carries a UK classification of 15 for for the violence and gore.
I suppose I'd grudgingly recommend it but the other two earlier adaptations are more interesting.
© Mauri 2012
Summary: A prequel to John Carpenter's 1981 version of 'The Thing'.
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