JUNE 13, 2008
OK I could have sworn that I wrote a “Non Canon” review for The Thing back when I last saw it, on a double bill with Invasion of the Body Snatchers last year, but I guess not. What a jerk I am.
Then again, it’s hard to review a film as close to perfect as this, especially for someone as cynical and sarcastic as me. I dunno about you guys, but the reviews for films I downright love tend to be boring as hell, and reek of cocksuckery. But, I’ll try.
The reason the film works as well as it does is that we get to know the guys in the middle of a panic. The "Thing" invades their base pretty much in the first scene, and it’s not too long after that that we have our first big effects scene. It would be more traditional to have a half hour or so of “getting to know you” type shit, but that would just be dull (indeed, some TV broadcasts have a sort of intro to each character, and it throws the pace of the film way off). We don’t need to know too much about their backstory, because it’s not relevant to the film’s story. We just need to know how they act in times of stress/danger, and that is revealed as the film goes. The Poseidon remake attempted this very same thing (with the same star!), and failed for the most part – because it was used to cover plot holes. Sure, it was great to have the wave hit 10 minutes into the film, but it got downright laughable to see Kurt Russell or Josh Lucas endlessly reveal old jobs that they had that would allow them to know how to do whatever the plot required. “I used to be a fireman.” “I used to be a plumber.” “I was the mayor of New York.” “I was a professional swimmer.” Etc.
And, as everyone already knows, Rob Bottin’s effects are fucking brilliant, and STILL look good, even better than the stuff we see today. There is literally only one effect in the entire film that looks a bit fake (a stop motion tentacle near the very end), and I am still downright flabbergasted as to how some of them were achieved. Whatever won the Oscar instead in 1982 (ET?) did not deserve it – they shouldn’t have even had nominees, and just given it to Rob right off the bat.
One thing I never noticed before was that Carpenter clearly did a few bits of the score himself. I’m sure I picked up on it on a subconscious level, but there are at least two scenes where the music is clearly not Ennio Morricone’s. Carpenter even admitted it, sort of, in the post film Q&A.
Watching it alongside Carpenter’s other films from the period just makes something stick out all the more, though – the cast. Other than Russell, who was making his third film with Carpenter, none of the usual character actors such as Tom Atkins or Charles Cyphers are in the film (Donald Pleasence was supposed to play Blair, but there was a scheduling conflict). I am not sure why he didn’t use his regular guys – if the film has one flaw, it’s that a few of the lesser known actors are clearly fodder. Populating the entire cast with faces (if not necessarily “names”) would have made the “Who is the thing?” sequences even more suspenseful. It’s also worth noting that Escape From New York, Carpenter’s previous film, was cast almost entirely with his regulars, and after that, none of them (Atkins, Cyphers, Jamie Lee, Nancy Loomis, Adrienne Barbeau, John Strobel, Nancy Stephens) worked with him again*. Weird.
As for the remake business, I'm happy to use it as an example when I explain that a remake is a valid idea for a film. But in all honesty, since the original was based on a story, and not very faithful to it, and this film is an adaptation of that same story with no real connection to The Thing From Another World (the title logo is about the only thing carried over), I would argue that it's not a remake at all. What do you guys think?
Remake or not, it’s simply an effective movie. I’ve seen it probably 8 or 9 times now, and I still jump at two points, and often forget which ones are “things” during certain sequences. It’s Carpenter and Cundey’s finest LOOKING film, for sure, even better than Halloween (those snowy landscapes and pitch black backgrounds sell the isolation effortlessly). The fact that it tanked (and was trashed mercilessly by the critics) upon its initial release still boggles the mind; even though I understand the whole “After ET people wanted to LIKE aliens” idea, it’s still just amazing that critics didn’t appreciate it, especially now when its often considered his best film (2nd best IMO – Halloween is and will always remain my personal favorite).
On a side note, the fact that I never finished the PC game is really gnawing at me lately, even though I didn’t really love it all that much (due to the strangely inconsistent manner in which the game presented itself as a sequel – they were supposed to be isolated, but now there’s like 200 buildings in the area and about 500 corpses lying around?). Anyone know if the Xbox version is compatible with the 360? I hate playing on my PC nowadays.
What say you?
*Unless you count Atkins and Loomis in Halloween III, which Carpenter produced.