“The Thing” Is Not Worth AnyTHING

Note: Before we get to the film review, I invite all readers to check out my new blog titled “This & That From Bill Hanna” at sloopy12.wordpress.com. This blog has nothing to do with films, but it is a place where I hope we can share random thoughts on just about any topic. I may even include a book review from time to time. When you have a chance, give it a look and let me know what you think. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Thanks. Bill

I wonder who first decided that slimy, slobbering, slithering creatures with multiple mouths and reptilian appendages bursting from the chests and mouths of human beings were supposed to be frightening. My first experience with this kind of “horror” was when I saw “Alien,” and my initial reaction was to laugh. And I still find such things riotously funny. Be forewarned, therefore, that I am not a fan of movies like “The Thing,” but I did my best to approach the latest film version of this story as objectively as possible. And I still thought the movie was a complete waste of time.

The genesis of “The Thing” was a 1938 novella titled “Who Goes There?” written by John W. Campbell, Jr., and it tells the story of some scientists stationed in Antarctica who discover an alien spacecraft. The first film version of the story hit the big screen in 1951 with Howard Hawks’ production of “The Thing from Another World,” starring James Arness as the hulking space invader. Then in 1982 James Carpenter’s “The Thing” presented horror fans with an updated version complete with slime and slobber. Although I thought Carpenter’s film was interesting because of its special effects, I never regarded it as a great classic the way many do.

But when you juxtapose it next to “The Thing” of 2011, you can see why it is the better of the two. And if the truth be told, I like the 1951 film better than either of the modern versions.

The makers of the newest film are quick to point out that it is not a remake. Instead it is a prequel to the Carpenter film, and its events occur three days prior to the beginning of that movie. A team of Norwegian scientists has discovered an alien spacecraft embedded in the ice in Antarctica, and when Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) is dispatched to look into the matter, he takes a paleontologist named Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) with him to examine a strange body that also was found.

Anyone familiar with “The Thing” saga knows what happens next. The body thaws, and it has the power to send creepy crawlers into the bodies of human beings, and these disgusting critters are capable of replicating the appearance of the human beings hosting them. As the infestation spreads throughout the camp, those who are still human struggle with finding a way to determine who among them is still safe or who should be wasted with a flamethrower.

The story is pretty much the same as it was in Carpenter’s version, and the “monsters” look a good bit like their predecessors too. Actually, I’m not even sure it was worth the trouble to make this movie at all because it’s nothing more than the same story with different people in it.

I would be very interested take a survey of the people who watch this movie and really consider it frightening. I mean take a look at this artist’s rendering of the  “monster” and tell me that it’s not more humorous than it is scary.

Hell, I’ve seen more frightening things than this lying alongside the road. Thus, if you walk into “The Thing” expecting a fright fest, forget it. You’d be better off turning all the lights out in your bedroom and screaming boo at yourself because this film a hardly nudges the fright meter.

I suppose the acting is adequate throughout the film, but because so much screen time is devoted to the slobbering squiggly squiggles, the actors don’t do much but run around screaming.

One of the major differences between this film and Carpenter’s is that latter had not one woman in the cast. In this one, however, a woman plays a major part, and Winstead commented on that in the film’s production notes.

“Having a female lead immediately differentiates us. Kate has to be a really intelligent girl of strong will and strength of character. It’s rare to get the chance to do something where the woman gets to have that kind of power in a very realistic way.

“Everyone would have a different feeling about a woman coming into the situation. And she would have certain feelings about being one of two women with all these men around. So it creates a unique dynamic between all the characters.”

Now in addition to an unoriginal plot and clichéd alien figures, the makers of this film did something that absolutely infuriates me. They shot most of it in the dark. In fact, at times it is absolutely impossible to tell what is happening. The execution of the monster took place in broad daylight in the 1951 version, whereas Carpenter opted for more darkness. But this movie made me loathe it because I couldn’t see what was going on most of the time.

I suppose advocates of slime jams will get something out of “The Thing,” but it did absolutely nothing for me. Therefore, I’ll give it a final score of four simply because the special effects were somewhat impressive. If it hadn’t been for that aspect of the film, I really wouldn’t have had one good thing to say about “The Thing.”

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