OCTOBER 14, 2011
I really wish I liked The Thing more, because I have been hoping for a resurgence of monster movies, and thus I could wish this one box office success (would also be good for the genre as a whole, what with just about every horror movie this year tanking). But alas, if this was a hit, future monster movies would be more or less ripping this one off, and even on my daily diet I don’t think I could endure too many of these in my lifetime.
The most offensive thing about the movie is that it actually has no story of note. I guess it’s good that we are spared lengthy passages of exposition that explain where the monster came from and why it’s doing what it’s doing, as those things tend to be terrible. The problem is that there’s no way to discern what the monster wants from its actions in the film, as it changes its MO from scene to scene without rhyme or reason. At one point our heroine (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) points out that if the Thing managed to escape the base it would kill millions of people. OK, well if that’s its plan, why the hell did it “thing out” and cause the helicopter TAKING IT TO THE MAINLAND to crash? It literally had a free and clear ride out of the desolate Antarctic wasteland, and it chose to destroy it.
OK, so maybe it just wants to kill? If so, why does it then go into shapeshifting mode, hiding amongst the Norwegian/American mix of scientists? In its native form, it’s a giant monster that can’t be easily killed – it seems like it could wipe out everyone in the base in about 5 minutes if it wanted to. But instead it assimilates one of the humans, resulting in a brief period of paranoia with everyone accusing the other of being the Thing (the line “We can’t trust him!” or some variant thereof is repeated with alarming frequency). Why it would be subtle now after crashing a damn helicopter is beyond my ability to understand things, but whatever, paranoia stuff is always awes-
WAIT! Then it switches gears again, once again revealing itself and (spoiler) wiping out like half of the cast in a single sequence. Now we’re back in regular monster movie mode, so I guess the Thing just got bored or something. But now it doesn’t matter, because none of the movie really makes sense after this point, with the Thing (sigh) once again assimilating a human and driving to its alien ship, apparently with the intent to leave. So our heroes drive after it to stop it, even though for all they know it just wanted to fly home since the humans were all too stupid to bother with anyway. I won’t spoil how things turn out, but I assure you, every decision screenwriter Eric Heisserer (assuming he wrote it; I know better than to assume the only credited writer actually wrote what we’re seeing on-screen) makes from this point is the exact wrong one. It’s a film that just gets worse as it goes; I was actually enjoying it for the first half hour or so but once that chopper crash occurred it began an endless downward spiral, ending on a moment that literally made me yell "WHAT?".
Another major issue is that none of the characters stick out for reasons that involve the script. You can pick out Ms. Winstead for the obvious reason (there is another female but she's just as anonymous as the other guys), and a few others because you might recognize them from a TV show or something (Mr Eko!), but otherwise they all blended together; mostly just a bunch of bearded Norwegian dudes whose functions are interchangeable. Can’t even remember any of their names; I think there’s a Lars but I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup. The only minor exception is Eric Christian Olson as Winstead’s boyfriend (or ex? They have a history at any rate), who scores a few good lines that sound more like improv than scripted bits (if they were scripted I apologize).
One is in the “test” scene, which starts off great but falls apart. The Thing cannot assimilate inorganic matter (fanfic idea: The Thing vs T-1000 with his “knives, and stabbing weapons”), so Winstead figures out that all you have to do is look at someone’s mouth and check if they have fillings to know whether or not they are human. Which is fine, but as Olson points out, “You're going to kill me because I floss?”. And then like 3 others don’t have fillings either, leaving four question marks. But rather than come up with a new plan, someone who is an accused Thing breaks back into the base, all hell breaks loose, and we never know which of the four were Things to begin with and which got turned in the off-screen chaos. I’m pretty sure you could remove the shapeshifting element from the movie entirely and it would barely affect the narrative.
As for the FX, they’re not too bad in the first hour or so. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. wisely used practical FX (courtesy of Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis) for the most part, but they seemingly all have minor but still distracting CG enhancements. The little facehugger type things look great, as do the occasional “botched assimilation” visuals, but when the Thing goes full out at the end (with one character’s face) as it rampages around the ship, it looks like something out of the Mummy movies, and the compositing of the two heroes running from the creature rampaging under the floorboards of the spaceship (huh?) is Syfy level amateur hour stuff. This wasn’t a particularly huge budgeted film, but any big studio film should have better looking visuals than this – especially for the climax of the film. A lame movie can be somewhat saved with a rousing climax – having it the other way around is just inexcusable.
Don’t get me wrong – its otherwise a perfectly made film on a technical level, and again, the first act is quite solid (loved the opening scene in fact). But when I have to cease thinking about the already thin plot in order to remain entertained, I just get angry. Dumb spectacle can be fine every now and then, but they set up something a little more interesting early on, only to abandon it. If you want to make a big monster running around movie, fine - but stick to it, don't occasionally make it look like its smarter than its prey just to break up the monotony. And I never enjoy seeing a good cast wasted in interchangeable roles – I should walk out of this kind of movie wanting action figures of particular characters, not consulting the IMDb to try to remember who was who. Plus, said spectacle doesn’t even look that great when it matters most, so it doesn’t even really work on that level anyway.
What say you?
P.S. Forgot to mention, it’s also a tone-deaf remake of a perfect John Carpenter movie.