The Thing Movie Review
I was mistaken on this movie. I thought it was a remake of the 1982 film that freaked me the hell out back in the day. It is, in fact, a prequel to that great Kurt Russel movie (one of his best. It is only superseded by Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. Pork Chop Express image from Big Trouble courtesy of the nerd t shirts). Not only that, but it is one of the best prequel’s I have seen. It is easily the best of the year, even better than X-Men First Class, and might be one of the best movies this year as well.
To say I was pleasantly surprised is a bit of an understatement. The director, Norwegian Matthijs van Heijningen, has not a single film credit prior to this and is a complete unknown. The main actress, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has a somewhat limited filmography, although she did play the hot girlfriend in Scott Pilgrim verses the World (most of my friends loved that movie, but I had mixed feelings). She was also in Live Free or Die Hard, Death Proof, and Final Destination 3. Nothing to imply something great. The main guy is a guy I have talked about a lot this year, Joel Edgerton. He was in Warrior and played young Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels, but other than that kind of a limited history. Overall nobody that makes you think you are about to see a great film.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have not seen the Thing 1982, it is basically the story of an American camp in Antarctica that comes across a dog being shot at by a Norwegian helicopter. The dog turns out to be an alien polymorph who kills people and then imitates them. It is as creepy and horrible as puppets in 1982 can be, and ends with a massive question mark in the air. They investigate the Norwegian camp and discover it in complete ruins, with dead bodies and burned aliens all over the place. There is an implied complete story here that we only get catch pieces of and have to fill in with our imagination.
This movie tells that story, and does it brilliantly. The thing I love is that Matthijs, unlike other, more established but in many ways lamer directors (J.J. Abrams), did not feel the need to re-imagine the whole story to suit his own ego. Instead, he makes things as close to the original as possible. The Norwegian camp is exactly as it was in the original, and all the wreckage and things they found in the later film are present and explained (even the burned two headed alien corpse).
In addition to being true to the 1982 film, this movie is great as a stand alone film. The story makes sense, the tension is built up over time, and there is a terrible sense of mystery and an inability to trust anyone. The original story was based on a 1951 film, the Thing from Another World, which was in turn inspired by a novella by Who Goes There? by John W. Campell, Jr. The underlying theme in the novella is massive paranoia (I have also read the novella) and both movies manage to carry that through.
The story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, a paleontology who is recruited by a Norwegian scientist to examine a mystery body they found encased in ice in Antarctica. They find the corpse is that of an alien, as well as a massive alien space ship buried in the ice. They pull the alien corpse up in a giant block of ice and bring it back to their base. Naturally it escapes (remember the giant hollowed out block of ice from the first movie too?) and starts killing and/or taking over humans. Flamethrower hijinks ensues. Paranoia runs rampant, most of the camp gets burned, and the movie more or less ends with another big question mark and ends where the first one picked up.
Honestly there isn’t a lot more than that in the story. However, I am not trying to imply it is not a full and eventful. It is super cool, especially the scenes where they are trying to figure out who the aliens are. One of the Norweigans, Lars (Jorgen Langhelle) is really cool and you get to like him a lot. He does not speak any English, but his tone and actions combined with subtitles really delivers a good performance.
The stars. A prequel that didn’t destroy the original. One star. Excellent story. One star. Shape changing, horrific alien. One star. Great acting. One star. None of the characters did any of the typical horror movie stupidity stuff. You don’t find yourself saying “Don’t go in there!” just before they go in there and get their face torn off. One star. The Norwegians did not hesitate to grab guns and get armed. One star. Good acting all around. One star. The story managed to tie in all the elements from the first movie and didn’t go off the rails more than a couple minor things. One star. CGI was decent, and managed to meld with the human actors really well. One star. The alien is horrible in all regards, and unlike other movies where you see too much of it and it loses it’s horror, this one gets more terrible as time goes on. One star. Great characters you find it easy to identify with. One star. Overall great movie experience. One star. Total: twelve big stars.
The black holes. Pacing seemed rushed. I strongly suspect a lot of good stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Feels like about 20-30 minutes might be missing (run time is only 103 minutes, so I am willing to bet this is true). Hopefully the extended DVD will reinsert them. One black hole. Logically, if I were to discover an alien corpse and a massive alien space craft I think I would probably let the alien chill (haw!) while I looted the spacecraft like Viking. One black hole. If you had never seen the 1982 the Thing the ending might have left you a little flat. One black hole. Total: three black holes.
Grand total of nine stars. If you are a fan of sci fi, horror, or paranoid whodunits see this film. Try to see it in the theater is my recommendation. Not a good date film, IMO.
Thanks for reading. If I get a chance I will try to see Ides of March this week. This upcoming weekend looks a little grim, with the Three Musketeers 3D and the Return of Johnny English topping the incoming suck-o-meter. Oh, well. I guess I have to pay the price of a great movie like the Thing at some point. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Talk to you soon.