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I am Salty The Beast. I am what you might call a Renaissance man, meaning I find interest in most every medium. I love watching movies, listening to music, writing music, playing video games, making videos, etc.

Friday, October 21, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Thing


“The Thing” is another remake of (or technically a prequel to) a brutal and disgusting alien film from the 1980s, and like any other remake or reboot of an established property, it has the unfortunate responsibility of living up to its esteemed predecessor (at least, that’s what die-hard fans try to tell me). Despite having arguably the single most generic title in horror movie history, the original “The Thing” (ooh, scary!) was directed by John Carpenter, who created one of the most iconic horror soundtracks of all time in his superb 1978 slasher flick “Halloween.” “The Thing” also benefited from impressive practical effects, animatronic technology and its remote setting. I was at least a little interested in seeing what nearly three decades of technological advancements would do to this classic, good or bad.

An American paleontologist named Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is chosen by scientist Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to examine and study a mysterious specimen that was discovered frozen in a thick layer of Antarctic ice. The rest of the people in this research group (played by Joel Edgerton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kim Bubbs, Eric Christian Olsen, Jørgen Langhelle, Jonathan Lloyd Walker and Trond Espen Seim, among others) mostly consist of a bunch of bearded Norwegian men who look like Mastodon concertgoers (oh wait, it’s only 1982). Once the team finds the alien’s body, they hack out a rectangular block of ice and they bring it back to base, which is a cabin-like experimentation facility.

But just when it looks like the research team has discovered a biological breakthrough with the curious creature (they had already cranked up the radio and got into the champagne bottles), it breaks free from the chunk of ice in which it was trapped. Within a matter of seconds, it makes a terrible screeching sound that can rupture eardrums as it forcefully breaks the ceiling and exits from the roof of their post. Now I know that everyone had gotten their lush on at the time of the monster’s escape, but shouldn’t somebody have heard the loud screech? Or maybe felt the tremor from the ceiling being broken through?

As is later discovered, this Thing can alter its body to flawlessly imitate its prey’s genetic makeup, even down to their exclusive knowledge and mannerisms. I still do not quite see the logic of how it is able to act exactly (or at least convincingly) like the person it devours, but I will let it slide because that just makes the alien more intimidating. The Thing’s true undisguised form is a hideous amalgamation of slimy appendages, claws, viscera, faces and tentacles (they kind of look like Twizzlers to me); a sight that might resemble all the creatures it consumed if they were suddenly puked out into a nasty blob of crap.

That is a plus that both versions of “The Thing” have going for them: the creature itself is appropriately gruesome to look at. Take that as you will, but if a movie sets out to stick unsightly images in your head, then I consider this a job well done. Though maybe one or two step below Alien or Predator, these shapeshifters have a penchant for making the spine tingle and the skin crawl. Like catching a glimpse of a carwreck in your peripheral range, Things are creatures so sickeningly disturbing that they make me want to avert my eyes, yet I couldn’t help but continue gazing upon them in sick fascination.

Another interesting thing to me: the location. Antarctica, in theory, is the ideal setting for any monster movie. There are so many conditions that are naturally against the human protagonists. All of the characters are quarantined in this harsh icy environment. Virtually nobody can hear the victims’ terrified screams. Because the Thing can copy any human (or animal for that matter), nobody is allowed to place their trust in anyone but themselves. This stirs up some major hostility. Tensions inevitably rise to a boil and people take desperate measures to ensure safety for themselves. The favorite means of protection: torching everything to high heaven with flamethrowers, which seem to be running on a endless supply of oxygen.

Unfortunately, the thing with “The Thing” (that’s a mouthful) is that it falters in the same exact area that the original stumbled in, and it is that the characters display about as much emotion and charisma as a melty block of ice. None of them have remarkable personalities, and very few even have distinguishable features so you can tell them apart from one another. The film includes scenes where it teases the audiences about who is a Thing and who isn’t, but it all seems kinda pointless once it is realized that you don’t know a single thing about these people. And it doesn’t help that this is another example of a horror film that thinks just because its characters walk around with wide-eyed blank expressions, they somehow convey a valid sense of panic and fear.

Without capable performers at its center, I was never able to buy into the threat. I was told again and again how dangerous things could get, but sometimes that alone isn’t persuasive enough. And perhaps it is for that reason that I could not get with it. Sure, it has a few Gotcha! moments and bloody attacks, which may be enough for most people who are interested. But the fatal flaw for me is that the insipid characterization does not allow any connection point. Without anybody to care about or project yourself upon, what does it matters when they get their bodily organs ripped out by the Thing?


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