Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Thing, Again

Last month, I wrote about The Thing from Another World (1951), the first of three film adaptations to date of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. This time my subject is the most recent of these adaptations, the 2011 The Thing.

I hate to criticize The Thing, because it has the pretty and winsome Mary Elizabeth Winstead in it, and any film that includes her can't be all bad. I've been following her career since she was playing a super-powered teenager in Sky High, and I keep waiting to see her break out into something I think worthy of her talents, such as the Greer Garson part in a remake of Mrs. Miniver. Anyway, this movie is not what I had in mind.

The key word here is derivative. The Thing 2011 is supposed to be a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing 1982, but in all respects except continuity it is essentially a remake, and an inferior one. Once again a group of Antarctic scientists battle a shape-shifting alien that has been thawed out of ice. Once again the alien takes on the appearance of the scientists and a test has to be devised to find out who's who. Once again flamethrowers are the principal weapon against the thing. Everything good in it (aside from Winstead) is a copy of something that was done better in Carpenter's version.

Even the creature effects are not exactly better. They are more sophisticated, using CGI that was not available in 1982. But Rob Bottin did more with less in 1982, inventively using mechanical effects and puppetry to generate the deformed destructive being (DDB). The 1982 DDB was more innovative and more horrifying.

It is not that The Thing 2011 is terrible. It has some genuine jolts. Despite myself, when the creature first leapt out of the ice, I jumped sufficiently to spill beer on my basement sofa. (Beer is my favorite drink when watching a movie like The Thing, the basement my favorite location.) The Thing 2011 is a nice reminder of how good the previous versions of Who Goes There? were--and for that matter, how good a story Who Goes There? is. But it is, so far, the least of the line of cinematic incarnations.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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