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TAC Reviews...The Thing

Date Posted: 14/06/15

 

In 1982 seven men are assigned to the United States Antarctic research station. The isolation and risk of going stir crazy on the lonely continent are soon the least of their problems as they come to grips with the fact that a shape-shifting alien capable of absorbing any one of them is in their midst. The men struggle to fight their own paranoia as the terrifying Thing lurks within the flesh of those around them. The Thing is a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World and is a truer version of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which served as the inspiration to the 1951 film.

 

The Thing Poster

 

I have mentioned this film in a few other of my reviews and specifically in the review I did of Whiteout, because this is what that film was trying to be. It was trying to be a murder mystery set in the frozen wasteland in which anyone could have been the killer, but in The Thing, this concept has been done better and to absolute perfection.

 

Join me then as we take a look at one of the best sci-fi horrors ever made.

 

The Thing opens with a dog running through the snow, the camera pans back to show that the dog is being chased by a helicopter. Two armed Norwegian men are attempting to kill it. The animal runs to a U.S. research station as the men in the helicopter land and shout something to the American researchers (that of course the Americans don’t understand) before the Norwegians abruptly open fire trying to shoot the dog again, they miss it and end up wounding Bennings (Peter Maloney). Garry (Donald Moffat) returns fire and kills one of the armed men, whilst the other is trapped in their helicopter as he attempts to light a grenade and accidently destroys the helicopter and kills himself.

 

The Americans are left stunned and they take the dog inside. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr Copper (Richard Dysart) head to the base the Norwegian men came from to investigate what they were doing shooting at a dog. They find a burnt base and something inhuman smouldering in the snow. Taking the remains back to their base for examination they are unaware that the stray dog is in fact an alien life form that can absorb and imitate anything it wants to, and it has already assimilated one of their number taking on his form...

 

Later the dog attempts to assimilate the other dogs and is discovered to be something other than a simple dog. Childs (Keith David) promptly uses a flame-thrower to incinerate the creature. Blair (Wilford Brimley), the team’s biologist, realises that the animal is as impossible as it seems actually an alien capable of absorbing and perfectly imitating other life forms, and comes to the conclusion that one or more of the people on the base has already been taken by the alien.  Blair destroys their vehicles and communications to prevent anyone else from joining the researchers and to prevent any of them from escaping.

 

The researchers struggle with growing paranoia as they face the prospect that one of them is not who they appear to be, and the alien works to assimilate them all.

 

Imagine the concept, looking around a room knowing that an alien life form is staring back at you from behind the eyes of someone who looks human, and you have absolutely no idea who is who. As an alien that spends time in a human skin sack it is immensely satisfying to be in plain sight and know that not one of them, knows who and what you really are on the inside. Unfortunately for the alien in The Thing the humans know that it is amongst them, however, when it wants to hide, it hides, and spends its time using the group’s paranoia against them whilst working to consume them all.

 

John Carpenter directs the story of alien infestation and the growing paranoia brilliantly. The tension comes from never knowing if anyone is who they seem to be. The alien also works to take the focus away from itself by leaving evidence which points to someone else. It takes only moments for the alien to absorb one of them, so each time a character disappears, the audience doesn’t know if they are still human when they return. The men in the research facility are cut off from the outside world, there is no one that can come to their rescue, and they begin to realise that no matter what they cannot let the alien make it to civilisation.

 

Trust is so important and when someone doesn’t know if they can trust those around them, then the tension is set at breaking point. Carpenter shows the growing suspicions on each one of the men as the full extent of the alien’s shape-shifting abilities are realised. Being trapped in the middle of Antarctica is probably the most isolated place in the world, and being there with people that may or may not be human is a living nightmare.

 

Whenever the alien is revealed it looks like anything other than a person. It distorts itself with tentacles and approximations of human features. What makes the creature so chilling is because as an alien it looks so inhuman that it makes it even more terrifying to think that it can perfectly imitate a person when it absorbs them.

 

Admittedly by today’s standards the special effects are a little dated, but they do not rely on bad CGI and do not take anything away from this sci-fi horror. CGI wasn’t used when this film was made so it relies on props, puppets and other techniques to make the alien look as inhuman as possible. We even see the alien-dog going into a room with a human’s shadow cast on the wall before the scene fades to black, I read in the trivia that this shadow was cast by someone who wasn’t one of the cast in order to keep the audience guessing. That is a stroke of genius, it is not a cop out, it is not a cheap tactic, it is brilliant and such a clever way of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

 

This film has inspired countless others, and so many horror monsters can trace their origins back here. The necromorphs in Dead Space, especially the Divider, could have been lifted directly from the artwork used when designing the Thing. That fact that it doesn’t even have a name, it is just called the “Thing” because none of them can truly comprehend what it actually is, adds to the fear factor. Antarctica is like space, it is isolating, and like the crew of the Nostromo, there is no where these men can go to escape this creature.

 

This a sci-fi chiller in the truest sense, it is set on a frozen continent, the alien could be anyone and I have watched this film numerous times so whilst I know who is the alien in the scene where the alien is revealed I still have no idea at what point in the film the characters are consumed and replaced.

 

The cast are all superb and feature spectacular performances from Kurt Russell and Keith Childs but the truth is whilst I think those two are the highlights as they bounce off one another really well, there is no one here that is out of place or drops the ball.

 

Admittedly I have to say that if it had been me, I’d have consumed this lot easily, so I don’t think the alien in this film was the sharpest knife in the drawer…because if he was he wouldn’t have crashed in the Antarctic in the first place without sending out a distress call…that aside this is still a truly epic sci-fi horror and is up there with Alien for the razor sharp tension, and managing to keep the audience on the edge of their seat even when they have seen it a million times.

 

A film like Whiteout that has a killer in a cold climate wishes that it was like The Thing, but Whiteout is not worthy to lick the shit off The Thing’s boots.

 

The truth is that The Thing is as good now as it was when it was first released. I haven’t bothered with the prequel made in 2011 (also called The Thing…yeah, really creative guys) which deals with the Norwegians finding the craft, and thawing out the alien because it seemed to just be a rehashing of the story here, plus we know they all die. In my opinion the fact that we are only seeing the aftermath of the Norwegian’s discovery of the alien is so much more frightening because like the stunned Americans the audience are also trying to figure out what is happening and what could have caused such destruction and the Norwegians to turn on one another.

 

Do I even need to say which direction my Thumb is pointing??

 

Well for the slower members of my audience, The Thing gets a well deserved Thumbs Up

 

 

9/10 - The Thing is a great sci-fi chillier and cult classic.  Yes the effects have dated but this film has inspired countless other horror films and games over the years. It is still a truly magnificent example of how the confirmation of an enemy within an isolated group that wants to kill them will cause intense paranoia and indescribable tension. Any self-respecting sci-fi and/or horror fan needs to track down a copy of this film because until you do you are not a true fan of sci-fi horror.

 

TAC Reviews...The Thing 

Date Posted 20/12/19

 

Okay first off let me point out that I have not taken leave of my senses or forgotten which films I have already talked about due to an excessive intake of festive eggnog. I am fully aware that I have already done a review of The Thing, however, that review was of the 1982 masterpiece starring Kurt Russell and Keith David with John Carpenter directing. The Thing that I am going to be talking about today is a 2011 prequel to the events of the original film which shows what happened at the Norwegian Camp before MacReady and Co from the original travelled there hoping to find some answers.

 

The Thing Poster

 

Now if I am being honest the last few weeks my reviews have been of things that I like, and it is generally difficult to write a lot about something you like. Something that you hate on the other hand, something that makes your blood boil, something that takes a film you love and systematically destroys everything that made it great...THAT is something worth talking about. If truth be told I did sit down to watch The Thing with the intention of hating it because I wanted something to really get angry about so I could share my rage with you, my loyal readers, but before we get to that let me give you the low down.

So we open in the Antarctic Winter of 1982 with a research team discovering something under the ice. American palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Wanstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), the Danish Leader of the Camp, and his assistant Adam Finch to travel to the sight to help with the excavation of the object they have discovered. She heads to the site and is informed that the team (made up of people from multiple countries) have located a crashed alien spaceship and a life-from has been found perfectly frozen in the ice nearby. 

The life form is dug up from the ice and transported back to the camp. Against Kate's advice, Halvorson drills into the ice to take a sample of its tissues. As the team celebrates the history they have made with the discovery the alien breaks out of the ice and everyone gathers to track it down.

Outside it is discovered when it attacks and kills Henrik, splattering blood on Olav. Grabbing a flame-thrower they incinerate the creature, apparently killing it. During the autopsy of the remains they discover a piece of metal that used to in Henrik's arm outside of his partially digested remains. Later Kate finds metal fragments and blood in one of the showers. She quickly deduces that the alien is capable of infecting and imitating its victims down to the cellular level. But it is unable to replicate in-organic objects. The metal fragments she found were fillings, and as it couldn't assimilate them, it spat them out.

With at least one member of the team infected and with few leads to help root out the alien in their midst, the team struggle to hold things together as the Thing seeks to assimilate them all...

Right, now if the plot sounds familiar that is probably because it is exactly the same as the 1982 original. However, this time around there are some massive differences. The first and most obvious being that in this film everyone knows that they are dealing with some kind of alien life form so the slow discovery that something alien is on the base is immediately lost. The scientists here have no doubt regarding what they are dealing with. Part of the horror of the first film came from not knowing what the hell was going on and the audience learns as the characters learn. Plus we, the audience, already know what the alien life form is capable of doing so the reveal that it can perfectly imitate its prey/victims is again lost breaking the tension the first film had with a loud crack.

In the original the Thing was created using puppets, animatronics and clever camera tricks, here it is a CGI creation. There were a couple of moments after it revealed itself when I actually laughed out loud at how bad the CGI effects truly were. A puppet or animatronics might look fake but it is physically there, light bounces off it in a natural way, and the fact that it looked so inhuman made its perfect imitation of people and animals so much scarier. A bad CGI effect is just a bad CGI effect which causes any fear to drain away instantly because you know you are not looking at something that is actually there in the room with your characters.

The film is also burdened by the fact that we know everyone in it is going to die, you are effectively watching dead-men and women-walking for an hour and forty minutes, it is just a question of when and how.

The ending of the original is great because we don't know if Childs had become the Thing whilst he was separated from MacReady, if he is then there is nothing MacReady can do about it as the camp has been destroyed. It is a great cliffhanger which worked brilliantly because if both freeze and Childs is the Thing when the rescue team find his body the whole thing (no pun intended) could begin again with the alien thawing out and continuing to imitate and assimilate its unaware victims. Here we are left to assume that our survivor did not make it as there is no mention of them ever again, but as the original took place only hours after this one, it is possible.

Amongst the cast we have the usual clichés, the arrogant scientists who doesn't listen to the advice of his expert, and refuses ti call for help to protect their discovery. Plus the rest of the people are there to die.

It reminded me heavily of Dead Space 3 which had a lot of it set on an ice planet, some of the monsters even looked like the necromorphs from the Dead Space games. Which I supposed could be kind-of fitting as the Divider was said to have been inspired by one of the Thing's forms in the original film, so the prequel taking inspiration from the Dead Space franchise is bringing things full circle. I like the Dead Space games as you know and this film could almost be a prototype for how the necromorphs might look in live action if a film was ever green-lit (unlikely now that Dead Space has been killed by EA).

However, do you want to know the biggest problem with the film??

The massive problem that really, REALLY annoys me??

Its the fact that the film isn't THAT bad...

Disappointing really because I was set for a really bad film, one that shits all over the original, and one that I can get good and angry about. But it didn't happen. Yes I laughed at the CGI effects and the camp exists to get messed up so it looks the way it did in the original film, but in truth the film is alright.

A lot of the tension from the original film came from not knowing exactly what MacReady and Co are dealing with, here it is already known, so the film cannot function in the same way. Kate realised that the Thing cannot replicate inorganic material so the team check each other's fillings as a means of trying to determine who is human. This serves as a problem for those who have good oral hygiene or have porcelain fillings which are white. They do not realise that the Thing is capable of separating into different components that act independently so they do not do the same blood test that MacReady does. It is interesting to see different people coming up with different ideas on how to deal with this formidable threat, and yes there is a revelation that does spoil the ending of the original a bit but bizarrely it didn't bother me too much.

Whilst this film straight-up does not need to exist it doesn't take anything away from the original. I read in the trivia that as the original plans for the destroyed Norwegian base haven't survived, the filmmakers used Kurt Russell’s height to recreate the dimensions of the set as much as possible to make it feel more authentic. Yes not knowing exactly what happened on the base made things more frightening in the original but this version of the Thing has only just broken free of its ice prison.

Whilst it annoyed me at the time it kind-of makes sense that this Thing is more aggressive because it doesn't know anything about the humans its has been confronted with, by the time it reaches the American base it has learned about the humans it is going to be confronting so knows to be more subtle.

I am not really sure regarding the intelligence of the Thing because both films establish that each component of the creature is capable of acting independently. So once it separates does the new creature gain the knowledge of the entity it assimilates?? Presumably so, as it knows how to imitate a human and speak their language, but presumably that knowledge isn't shared with other versions of it. There are examples of one Human-Thing killing another Human-Thing in order to make it look as though the original Human-Thing is just a human (if you're still with me). Therefore I don't know how intelligent the Thing actually is and whilst I did not really think about it in the original this film made me wonder about such things.

In the climax of the film one of the Human-Things returns to the ship and attempts to power it up, presumably in order to travel to a population centre. The human survivors board the ship to stop it, when the Thing once again takes on a large tentacle-form that runs around the ship trying to kill them, it doesn't strike me that it is really capable of powering up the ship to fly it elsewhere.

Apparently in the original draft, Kate was going to board the ship and see the crew dead through suicide, and would learn that the vessel was a science ship of sort which travelled to different worlds gathering specimens for analysis. The Thing being a life form it picked up which broke out of its containment, attacked, and assimilated the crew with the pilot crashing the ship in an attempt to kill it before walking out into the ice to freeze to prevent the Thing from escaping  onto the planet. Whilst that would have been interesting it takes the mystery away from the creature, mysteries are more interesting when you don't know the answer, the more explanation that is given the more the mystery is lost. You humans like magicians because you like to be fooled, when you know the levitating guy is flying using wires, it takes away the idea that maybe, just maybe, a human could fly.

All in all, whilst The Thing 2011 is a completely unnecessary film, it doesn't damage or take anything away from the master-class in film making that was the original. The cast are all-decent enough, and the recreation of the Norwegian base before it is ruined is pretty good. However, the CGI of the monster is laughable plus the film lacks both the tension and the scares of the original. It is not especially bad nor is it particularly good, therefore the only thing I can do is leave my Thumb Horizontal.

 

 

6/10 - If this had been a stand-alone film then it might have rated higher but it has the burden on following after the spectacular original which was always going to be an uphill struggle. If you are new to the films then maybe watch this one first and then the original as it might work better if you have no foreknowledge of the story. If you do then you would be forgiven for kicking this one to the curb and pretending that it does not exist 

 

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