Monday, July 02, 2012

Arctic Air Conditioning: 7 Reasons THE THING (2011)

 Shanna: Do guys like THE THING?
Arlene: They like it better than NO thing. -- Death Proof (2007)

I don't use that quote to be a punny wise-ass, but to illustrate the how and why that I like the new Thing and shall defend its freedom to be you and me. Why? Eight reasons. And all it takes to realize the world sucks and deserves to be taken over by mutating monsters is to peak at rottentomatoes, where this Thing (2011) gets a mere 36% approval. Cosi Absurdum!

What is it about genius that they don't understand?

A big issue with the film is the confusion of this being called The Thing when it's clearly a prequel to Carpenter's 1982 film, so why not call it "The First Thing"? or "Pre-Thing" or something?

Don't give it crap for being a remake either. Remakes are a long and noble tradition dating back to the silent era, there were even silent remakes of silent films! And so what if they're aimed at teenagers? They always have been. We who revere John Carpenter do so because we saw his films as teenagers and recognized a true compatriot. My friends and I in high school watched Carpenter's Thing over and over, like we did Repo Man, Escape From New York, Rude Boy, and Gimme Shelter. We didn't like that Thing that much at first either. It improved with repeat viewings. Still does.

Here's eight reasons:

 1. Strong female lead: We've come a long way since the 1951 version, which had only two (albeit very capable) women in the cast, and the 1980 Carpenter (which had none) to this, which has a woman in the lead role, ordering around men twice her size! Mary Elizabeth Winstead (the elusive girlfriend in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) is respected and not treated with condescension for being a woman either by the characters or the writer. And even though there's some cultural friction between her and her few Americana buddies and the rest of the camp which is all Norwegian men, she rises above it and as the shitstorm hits assumes a Kali stance almost like Sarah in The Descent (2002). Expert in thawing out mammoths (which is why she's called up to the Arctic), I almost wonder if some of the flak this movie received comes from the fact that she's so unlike nearly every usual final girl: both iron and in charge and yet a hipster to the core --she's deadpan to near Daria levels and yet she believably orders around a bunch South pole Svens. Winstead, you are fast becoming my new favorite!

2. Subtle Variations on action and science fiction cliches: When a helicopter explodes it does so behind a mountain and all we see is a far off wisp of smoke and all we hear is a distant thud -- this is a movie that dares value artsy surprise over explosions, though there are plenty of both, sure as hell more than 36% worth. And once the characters realize they're dealing with a creature from another world there's a real sense of wonder and excitement tempered with some reserve fitting the occasion rather than the usual Spielbergian 'awe'-expressing foreground close-ups. But this underplaying makes their realization the world of science as they know it has forever changed conversely palpable, as does the nervousness that the secret will leak out and their camp will swarm with newsmen, gladhanders and people trying to horn in on the glory.

3) Faithfulness:  Unlike so many tossed off remakes of Carpenter films--The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, this one clearly is made by people who revere the Carpenter original and can probably quote it as well as you, me, or Eli Roth. You'll be pleased to find everything left right where Kurt Russel finds it when he and Doc fly over to the Norwegian base camp.  The situating of burnt-out corpses are exact! 

4)  Make-up and CGI: The alien is clearly modeled after the Rob Bottin makeup work of the original but thanks to CGI it can go a lot farther, more fluid, in its mutations, including a hilarious and disturbing melding of two dudes hairy faces... and the photography is crisp. Unlike the 1980 film's prosthetic make-up (which was awesome, don't get me wrong) the biomorphing of the creature here generates and evolves and sprouts new mouths with every intake of breath, which is how I'm sure Bottin would have loved to duplicate but the tech just didn't exist in the pre-internet 80s.

5) Badass Score: Marco Beltrami, gently nodding towards the Ennio Morricone original.
6) Arctic locale: Lots of great icy reflection that looks perfect on Blu-ray.
7) Norwegians: There's even language barriers, though of course all Nordic scientists can some speak English, and have great shaggy haircuts and blonde beards. It's all very well handled.
8) The name of the Antarctica dig is Thule Station, a slick reference to the Thule Society, a group of Nazi psychics and mystics studying the Vrill, which was an energy harnessed in their secret bell dimension traveler, and recovered alien technology... (for a full socio-paranoiac examination of all these interconnections, see my Uma Thurman is from Venus and The Tibetan-Nordic-Fashion-Huldra-LSD Aliens Connection (Uma Thurman is from Venus - Part 2)

A few minor quibbles: It becomes annoying that Winstead has to pause and stare blankly at every major realization, but maybe that's her thing, she tunes out to tune in, and keeps a level head instead of crying and shrieking. Also, the film speeds along way too fast once the bodies start piling up, at times on the verge of becoming disjointed trashy B-movie nonsense, like a Predator sequel; characters we don't even know go flying to their deaths and everyone's running hither and yon, and shouting. It never gets as incomprehensible as the big climatic battle of Alien 3, though, if that's what you're thinking. That movie sucks.

Carpenter's film has its problems too, but it grows on one with repeat viewings, and I am sore that I held off on seeing this prequel in the theater due to the bad reviews. I'd say give it a chance. Either way, it's way better than no thing, especially when it's too hot to move off the couch and you're anchored by a frosty beverage, air conditioning, and an erratically behaving cat. Dude what's the matter with the cat? Stand back!

Speaking of which, here's a hilarious video from Johnny Neill's son, Arlox!


  1. I had never seen "The Thing" until a couple months ago.

    They had shown the original black and white movie - "The Thing from Another World" - on television that weekend, and I figured, "Okay! Why not?"

    It was right as the prequel thing came out, and watching it, I realized that the prequel must involve the group of Swedes whose burned out base they check out in carpenter's version.

    I'm skeptical. I like the early Eighties special effects of Carpenter's movie. CGI just doesn't do it for me...

  2. Thanks Katy- CGI doesn't really do it for me either, it's ruined all those cheap Syfy movies that rely on lazy CGI, but when it's done with a lot of $$, care and effort--as in films of Cameron, Spielberg, etc.--it's pretty great, even if in a totally different way than the old school SFX.

    The FX here in the 2011 Thing are somewhere between the A-list CGI of Cameron/Spielberg and the B-list of, say, the first versions of Spiderman and Hulk. They're not as bad as Syfy, and the apparent reverence it all has with every incarnation of the 80 Thing is touching.

  3. Anonymous04 July, 2012

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