The Halloween season is one of my favorite times of the year. When the pumpkins & decorations come out (and it’s still 100 degrees in Arizona) I always look forward to getting into the spirit and seeing what fun scary-movie-ridiculousness Hollywood can come up with each October. Sadly, this year’s selection seems to be somewhat lackluster. Dream House punished audience and critics alike with its 7% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Paranormal Activity 3 opens next week, taking over the annual spot vacated by the Saw franchise, but the series is really starting to stretch for ideas in what was already a franchise thin on plot. In my eyes this week saw the most potential with the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing.
The night before our screening, Nerd-in-Chief Brent and I sat down and watched the original film (starring a very young Kurt Russell) in order to be properly prepared going into the 2011 installment. I have to say the original holds up better than expected and the two films work remarkably well together. The 2011 screenplay by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore meticulously sets up every detail seen in the Norwegian camp in the opening of the 1982 film. The bloody hatchet in the wall, the hollowed chunk of ice that held the specimen, the charred alien remains outside: It all gets explained. But the most impressive thing about the film is, despite all the lovingly-crafted continuity, both films completely stand on their own. It adds to your enjoyment if you have seen both, but you can watch either film and not have the feeling you needed to know something from the other one. This is exactly what prequels should do. The 2011 version also benefits from some beautiful cinematography of the arctic that adds to the sense of isolation the movie strives to attain.
Dr. Kate Lloyd (Scott Pilgrim‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an American paleontologist that is recruited to join a Norwegian (gulp!) scientific team that has discovered a crashed ancient extraterrestrial ship and its alien specimen in the middle-of-nowhere in Antarctica. Winstead does a serviceable job in her obviously Ellen Ripley-inspired role. Adam Goodman (Dumb & Dumberer and Community‘s Eric Christian Olsen) is the wormy scientist/friend of Kate who gets her involved in the mix. Sorry Eric, you’re a fine actor but I just can’t take you in serious roles. Sam Carter (Warrior‘s Joel Edgerton) rounds out the American cast in the stoic Kurt Russell-esque role of the team’s helicopter pilot. Shortly after they arrive, the alien gets loose (you don’t say?!) and starts to replicate the base-members it “absorbs” in order to hide amongst its prey. Anyone could be The Thing! Hey that’s not bad…sorry Universal…my tagline might be better…
So as a prequel, The Thing (2011) works pretty darn well. As a horror/sci-fi flick? I give it a resounding “meh”. The original film was brilliant with its use of paranoia and suspense that crept into every intense scene as the danger increased. This film tries to emulate that formula, but only manages to achieve it in a few segments. From mid-movie the film just decides to resort to cheap scares and cliched alien-monster movie chase scenes. There’s a particularly nerve-wrecking sequence where Dr. Kate has to check each member of the camp for silver dental fillings (the alien can’t replicate inorganic material…yeah…but clothes? no problem!) to narrow down the potential “thing” incubators. This is where the movie is at its best and felt the most faithful to the uncomfortable tone of the original. Unfortunately they never return to that vibe, instead opting for attempted spectacle and gore.
Another thing that is sure to bug pickier audiences, especially the geek crowd, are the creature effects. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from modern horror/sci-fi: “We can do it bigger with CG!” For some reason, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. thought that because we have the technology now, the alien should have much more visual screen time. He obviously missed that day in Spielberg 101, teaching the less you see of a movie’s creature the more terrifying it is when it actually appears. The original film definitely didn’t overuse its creature effects. I’d almost prefer the rubber animatronics from the 1982 film (that were really no better than what they have at your local area haunted house) in place of the over-used and sometimes cheap-looking CG shots here.
The Thing 2011 doesn’t redefine the horror/sci-fi genre, but it does manage to outdo most of the bland attempts of recent years through some genuinely tense suspenseful scenes. And fans of the original will certainly enjoy all the Easter eggs and tie-ins with Carpenter’s 1982 film. You could do far worse this Halloween if you choose to venture to the theater for some scares and check out this movie. You’ll most likely have some fun but unfortunately won’t find anything all that new or original.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10