Not My Thing!
I remember when I first saw, John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was younger than I am now but not really a child. It was a defining moment in my life as far as creature features go. Now, I know it isn’t a flawless movie but I really liked it. I remember thinking, “Those effects are amazing. It’s as if that “thing” is actually real. It’s so ambiguous yet it embodies real space in the physical world. It is dangerous. It is disgusting. It is remarkable. It must be destroyed. BUT I don’t want to see it go. I don’t want these moments to end. It is too beautiful.” I was of course thinking about Kurt Russell’s Hat. The Hat did not make an appearance in the prequel/remake/reboot tHat is The Thing (2011) therefore I had none of those feelings.
The Thing 2011 is a strange bird. It doesn’t really have any reason to exist. Just like the title character, The Thing 2011 aims to absorb key characteristics of the original then parade around as a less good copy. It’s too much of a coincidence to not be intentional on the creative teams part but a clever idea doesn’t make a good one and The Thing 2011 can’t stand on its own CG jelly legs. Just like the human copies in the movies, The Thing 2011 eventually breaks down into a sloppy, withering, computer generated mess mess. Yes yes, a mess mess.
Kill the Original
TheThing2011 takes place prior to the events in John Carpenter’s The Thing and leads right up to the beginning of the original. The original has several “wHat the hell happened here” scenes. When Kurt Russell’s Hat arrives at the Norwegian camp, it finds the place is in ruins, a charred grossly disfigured body, a man frozen post suicide, and a giant hollowed out block of ice. These scenes in the original are incredibly important. Just as the Space Jockey does in Alien, these scenes give the movie a “larger than earth” feel, they allude to the thrills to come, and they are as equally ambiguous as the creature itself.
This ambiguity is wHat makes the creature so terrifying; an ambiguous background doubly so. We humans fear wHat we can’t classify. When Kurt Russell’s Hat leaves tHat camp it can only be thinking one thing,” wHat the hell happened here.” Here is the thing. The original movie answer tHat question thoroughly albeit not literally.
TheThing2011 labored intensively to address those ambiguities and remove any mystery involved. THat grossly disfigured body? It’s really just two annoying dudes in the middle of body osmosis. The frozen suicide? THat was another annoying dude tHat killed himself pretty much after the threat was gone. Unfortunately, we are simply given a shot of him frozen post suicide. It’s a shame. That might have been an excellent source of tension. I can imagine him with the blade at his wrists, afraid to do the deed, but after hearing the sound of another human being coming around the corner and believing it to be the monster, he starts hacking away only to realize tHat it was a friend.
Original's Ice Block - What Could it Mean?
Then there is the giant block of ice. When watching John Carpenter’s The Thing, we know the monster was frozen in tHat ice. We guess at its size. At the way it looks. WHat kind of creepy and unique features would it have and how would those features logically work. Our imaginations run wild. THat is a question tHat not even the original answered. I admit I wanted to know wHat the thing looked like. Now I have an idea. It kind of looked like a crab or some type of crustacean thingy, I guess. A big roach? I don’t know. You don’t really get a good look at it. It was just enough to ruin the imagined design but without actually giving you a solid view.
A question left unanswered by the original is of the creatures origins. Simple, it’s an alien. It landed on earth with its impressively large yet unoriginal spaceship. It’s hard to imagine the Thing walking around its space ship before it landed in Antarctica, wiping off the table in its mess hall, attending to the air ducts and wHatnot. The writers allude the ship actually belonging to a different race. They allude to the landing as an emergency to get away from the body copying thing. I like tHat but it’s so barely mentioned tHat I am not even sure if I made tHat up or if it was actually hinted. Regardless, we’re really just ripping off Alien at tHat point.
Absorb Key Characteristics
In all seriousness, John Carpenter’s The Thing has two great things going for it: The creature effects and the trust-no-one storyline. Thing2011 does indeed try to absorb those two attributes. Some might argue tHat it couldn’t be a “Thing” movie without those characteristics. I disagree and those people can call me if they want to talk about it.
Thing2011 does absorb a couple other things as well. You have the Kurt Russell character. Don’t get excited, he doesn’t have the Hat. In the Hats place is a tiny gold earring; similarly weird but it’s just not the same. Actually, it feels like most of the cast has its double in the prequel.
Obviously the setting is similar. Antarctica is a must but the camp feels like a carbon copy of the originals. My guess is tHat there is simply one manufacturer of Antarctica bunkers and, therefore, they should all look similar. I buy tHat. My problem is tHat a lot of the action in this movie takes place in the hallways as it did in the original. In fact, if someone didn’t know better, they may walk in while you are watching Thing2011 and think you are watching John Carpenter’s The Thing. WHat I’m getting at is it feels like the same movie (see section heading.)
The similarities don’t stop there. In both movies a storm is coming. In both, the protagonist develops a test to decipher who is masquerading as the thing. Flamethrowers are abundant. They both end out in the snow in a blaze of fire. There are enough characteristics of the original absorbed into the prequel to have me wondering if it was supposed to be some sort of reboot/ remake. I am still not totally sure.
I once read tHat Steven Spielberg joked about going back to practical effects for the new Indiana Jones but then decided it would be stupid to throw away years of technological advancement in effects. We all know how tHat turned out. The outcome is largely the same in Thing11. The creature effects are some of the worst I have seen in a while. The monsters often look like they are missing a few shaders or lighting details. They just look incomplete. This pulls the viewer out of the movie like a barrel of monkey’s swinging on vines…with Shia Labeouf.
For the time, the effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing were remarkable but they may not hold up today, however, they might! The creature design was logical and interesting and the stop motion was serviceable all culminating into an epic climax. Thing11′sspecial effects were behind the times before the movie was released and the character design is largely uninteresting or logical, which is a problem when the story is about a creature that adapts to survive. This is a huge problem when the idea of a shiny cartoon monster pulls you straight out of the film you are watching and tHat monster is the source of ALL tension. I found myself bored. I wasn’t engaged. I simply didn’t believe the characters were in any real danger.
Creature design for Thing 2011
Creature design from John Carpenter's The Thing
The “Trust No One” storyline was maintained from the original as well. Ever wonder why James Cameron went a different route with Aliens? Probably because doing the same thing Ridley Scott did would force comparisons and as the second movie, he would have simply been second to the party, less original, and less engaging. The tension between the characters feels like a poor imitation of the original. It has a sort of “me-to” quality but without adding to or even really successfully portraying the said tension from the original. I’m not totally sure why it seems this way; be it the language barrier blocking subtle emotion just a lack of compelling characters.
Thing11’s status as a sad imitation becomes the most apparent when the main character devises a test to figure out who is not human. The original did this with a cinematic draw of blood from each of the characters. Then, Kurt Russell’s Hat would stick a hot piece of metal into the blood and, if infected, it would react wildly spurring the infected man into defensive action. A dramatic battle would ensue, everyone would reel at the sight of their newly disfigured friend. When it was over they would go back to the test. It was an interesting and visual way to flush out the alien and the audience got to participate in guessing. Thing11′s test? The characters open their mouth to display their metal fillings – or not. No real tension. No dramatic conclusion when someone is found out to….have clean teeth. They just go stand over in the corner until something better happens. I’m not even going to get into how dumb this test scene is, but it seems the creators knew it when they had the main character say, “this is all I’ve got.”
The facade doesn’t stop there. The storm I mentioned earlier is an excellent source of tension in the first film. It’s used to explain closed communication and limited visibility and mobility outside. Not only are they locked up with the thing inside, but no one could survive outside for more than a few minutes. Thing11′s storm just never seems to arrive. People are popping in and out like it’s no big deal. The only sign of it actually being cold outside is the cold frost on beards. Thank you Thing11 for reminding me I can’t grow a beard. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
Decompose in a Fiery Blaze
Copying wHat made the original special isn’t inherently bad. I believe taking some of the originals qualities and expanding on them could be interesting. THat didn’t happen. And there are enough semi-stupid things about the movie to bring it down a few notches regardless of its state as a prequel/ sequel/ reboot.
To be perfectly honest, I was onboard for the first quarter of T11. The tone was right. The ambiguity was there. It was all so mysterious and my imagination ran. When they finally find the frozen thing in the ice, I was eating it up! You could see pieces of it but the view was disfigured by refraction through the ice. It was…perfect.
Microscope User and Thing Expert
The fateful moment in the film, where I lost most of my interest, was in the lab. The protagonist (who she is isn’t really important) has captured a tissue sample from the first casualty. In the span of a minute, she goes from knowing nothing about wHat they are dealing with to being an expert on the Thing. How could this happen? Easy! She simply looks in the eyepiece of a microscope and watches a poorly animated sequence in which one circle with spikes jumps on top of a circle without spikes, than loses it’s spikes and resembles the rest of the circles…without spikes. It’s a lazy plot device equivalent to someone looking at a monitor from the 80′s, shouting nonsense about simulations, and then having the answer.
To make matters worse, she has a fellow research assistant there watch the same CG animation. He reels at the thought and states, “I’m not sure what I saw.” Perhaps he should stay an assistant or maybe the idea of something that can mimic others is so terrifying to him that he can’t digest that idea. Yet for some reason, the main protagonist is able to put the pieces together because earlier she saw some blood in a shower and some tooth fillings on the bathroom floor. If the filmmakers don’t want to take the logic of their story seriously than why should I invest myself in something tHat, at the drop of Kurt Russell’s Hat, could change with the laziest explanation. From that moment on, the protagonist is resolved and strong-willed; almost a different character completely. Too bad the poor CG didn’t do the same for the rest of T11.
How Did They Do it!
If you stand back and look at T11 from afar, it’s not a bad film. It ticks all the boxes required. It does the bare minimum. But we don’t watch movies from afar. We watch them to be pulled in, invested in the world of the characters, and experience something tHat we will not experience in our day-to-day life. If I have any gripe with T11, it’s tHat it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t take any risks. It exists purely to fill in gaps from the original. Gaps designed to be there. Gaps that did not need to be filled. It treats the original like a blueprint instead of an inspiration and all without Kurt Russell’s Hat. So really… wHat’s the point. Just watch the original.
What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? Should I have touched on something else? Let me know what you think in the comments below and I will do it…maybe.