Tuesday, 6 December 2011



Yet another desecration of an acknowledged and accepted classic, another heretical exhumation from the vaults in an ill-advised quest to recapture the magic that was fatally doomed from the start. Time after time they've blundered into the most familiar territory and completely missed the point. Whether it's Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or second-tier minor horrors like Friday the 13th, The Stepfather or My Bloody Valentine, they've failed repeatedly and spectacularly - and if you're setting the bar as low as Prom Night, why even bother? If they can't even raise more than a "whatever" response from mean-spirited exploitationers like I Spit On Your Grave or Last House On The Left, how can they ever hope to achieve anything with a film that people actually love? (Sole exception to this would be Zack Snyder's version of Dawn Of The Dead is fine, which is some achievement given that Romero's original is the greatest film ever made.

This all-new The Thing is, technically, a prequel in that it details the events at the Norwegian base (prior to the lone dog escaping to the American outpost at the start of Carpenter's film), although it's practically a remake as it attempts to restage many of its highlights. Tracing a mysterious signal, three of the Norwegians fall down a crevasse and discover a craft, and subsequently a creature frozen in the ice. Once they've flown in top paleontologist Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Columbia University, they set about thawing The Thing out - until it bursts loose and starts doing exactly what it would later do at the American base: masquerading as one (or possibly more) of the humans and then turning into a surreally squishy monster when it's found out. Gradually the cast are whittled down (mostly set on fire) until a climactic "face" off within the Alienesque confines of the alien craft....

John Carpenter's The Thing is a bleak, shocking, endlessly rewatchable and visually stunning SF/horror movie with eye-popping effects, a perfect Morricone soundtrack, a taut and suspenseful script and a terrific cast of character actors. Matthijs Van Heijninger Jr's The Thing differs in only nine respects. In making a prequel, they've stymied themselves by negating any suspense or excitement: we know pretty much how it will end and that most if not all the cast will die horribly. This doesn't just mean we don't care who's really The Thing, it means we don't - we can't - care who lives or dies. But even though several members of Carpenter's cast weren't immediately sympathetic or likable, you were still gripped throughout. Here, both the structure and the indistinguishable nature of the roster of characters mean it's impossible to get involved.

More damagingly, far too many of the Thing effects are computer generated and frankly they look it. Because they're just ones and zeros on a hard drive that have been cut and pasted into the shots, they don't scare and they don't revolt; despite some interesting imagery it's impossible to be scared of something that so clearly does not exist. More crucially, many of those CG effects simply aren't very good and to be honest they might as well be a hand-drawn cartoon for all the effect they have (at one point they were on the level of the incoherent Japanese zombie movies Junk and Wild Zero which were about ten years ago). Surely the whole point of The Thing is that it's indistinguishable from reality, but too often it's painfully obvious what's real and what isn't. Marco Beltrami's score occasionally has echoes of Ennio Morricone's doom-laden score for the 1982 version, but too often resorts to his standard crash-bang horror movie style he's been working in pretty much constantly since the first Scream. Which is okay, but unfortunately the contrast is highlighted by the inclusion of Morricone's end title music at the end.

It is clear that they've tried to make a movie that harks back to the 82 version. It's got a pleasantly old-fashioned grainy look, it's frequently lit and shot in a similar style, and they not only run the main credits in the same typeface  but they even kick off with the older version of Universal's logo (although for some reason they include the copyright date for the more recent one in the closing crawl). But the CGI kills it, the largely interchangeable and identically bearded cast mean you lose track of who's dead or alive (Mary Elizabeth Winstead excepted, because she's the only one who looks any different to everyone else) and none of it is a fraction as enjoyable, scary, surprising, funny, weird or interesting as Carpenter's film.

[Continual reference to the earlier film, rather than viewing it on its own terms, is entirely fair. If they didn't want the comparison with John Carpenter's film, they shouldn't have made a prequel to it.]


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