October 17, 2011

The Thing

Who ya gonna call? E.T.-busters!

Grade: C -
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Considering it pits its heroine against a ravenous space alien whose man-eating orifice resembles a vagina dentata, you’d be forgiven for believing The Thing actually contains a thing or two to think about. Or at the very least, something substantive to differentiate itself from John Carpenter’s 1982 identically titled film (which itself was a remake of the 1951 horror classic, The Thing from Another World).

This Thing is a prequel in name only, with just a time stamp at the beginning and a closing credits kicker to let you know it precedes by three days the events in Carpenter’s picture. Otherwise, the film, directed by Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is pointless for the polar opposite reasons the Carpenter remake was so frightening and successful. The 1982 movie was made during the height of Carpenter’s heyday and benefited from the director’s once-deft suspenseful touch, a terrific cast, Ennio Morricone’s haunting score and Rob Bottin’s truly cringe-inducing makeup effects.

The “prequel” features direction that’s as cold as its Antarctic setting, unremarkable actors, and a forgettable soundtrack except whenever it incorporates Morricone’s pulsating bass chords. Moreover, gooey prosthetics are replaced by computer effects that, while competent, lack any requisite ickiness.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (well-played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by snarky scientist Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to drop everything on a day’s notice and fly to Antarctica to rendezvous with a Norwegian scientific team. Given Kate’s thin resume and Sander’s clear contempt for her, it’s never clear why she is invited. Nevertheless, the expedition’s purpose is to inspect a major discovery: a buried spaceship that crashed to Earth thousands of years ago and, more importantly, the corpse of its alien pilot encased in ice.

Once the team, joined Carter (Joel Edgerton), their American pilot, exhumes the frozen E.T. and transports its glacial sarcophagus back to base, you know bad things are bound to happen. Once awoken, it turns out the carnivorous creature has an appetite for ingesting its prey and then replicating itself to look like any life form it assimilates.

Like the shape-shifting alien, The Thing absorbs its predecessor and spits out a pale carbon copy. The plot remains the same creature feature version of And Then There Were None. Sequences are conspicuously lifted wholesale from Carpenter’s film, survivors still wield flamethrowers that fizzle at the most inopportune times and the friend-or-foe conceit lacks much emotional punch when the humans aren’t particularly interesting to begin with.

What’s especially discouraging is that the film flounders even more the few times it fancies a notion to break away from its predecessor’s moorings, such as a meaningless late-film foray to the alien mother ship. That said, kudos to the filmmakers for making Kate the smartest person in the room and not turning her into a sniveling scream queen. As The Thing demonstrates, if you’re going to make a copycat sci-fi movie, there are far worse ideas than including an imitation Ellen Ripley.

Neil Morris

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