Hardly the Real Thing
Oct. 27, 2011
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
“The Thing,” director Matthijs van Heijninjen, Jr.’s prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 “The Thing,” reminds of a rule of thumb I learned early on in my moviegoing career — when my mom would beg me to take a sandwich to the full day of cartoons and a double feature. The really bad stuff happens not in the Arctic, but in Antarctica. It’s much colder.
Maybe not. But it’s a longer name. And it’s south, where it’s supposed to be warm. Such an anomaly of nature surely bodes of daunting dangers. Yeah, must be colder. But, I’m still not taking a sandwich, mom — I’m after popcorn, Goobers and Jujyfruits. Even David, my partner in filmgoing, brought no sandwich. And he was a better kid than me.
Another rule when you are little and confronted not with comedy or a Western but the dreaded horror flick that must inevitably rear its head at the Bijou, is that it must be decided beforehand whether or not you are going to look at the scary parts. Real good friends don’t show each other up, but are cowards together. It’s OK if you peek…a little.
Had they been as well practiced, perhaps the crew of Norwegian and American scientists who sojourn here to investigate what they think is an alien spaceship would have fared much better. I, of course, approached this latest “The Thing” armed with a lifetime of mechanisms essential to fending off all that could frighten me to the cockles of my heart.
That isn’t to say I didn’t achieve liftoff on a few surprising occasions. But for the most part, Mr. Heijninjen’s addition to the cult and lore that has been accumulating ever since Christian Nyby’s 1951 original — now regularly referred to as “The Thing From Another World” — is much more gruesome than it is scary. That’s just in case you’re going to peek.
And, while humming the special effects of a mediocre effort is like informing that a blind date has a great personality, the CGI razzmatazz here is nonetheless stellar. Pity it’s for such a nauseating purpose. These are the nightmarish images of a very disturbed mind. If you’re planning to remake “The Blob (1958),” get a hold of these folks.
Plot wise, it’s rather simple, and plays like a drawing room whodunit, only with lots of blood and very little subtlety. Once “The Thing” is out of the box, it’s every man and woman for themselves — with alliances regularly formed and broken to supply tension in-between devastating blurts of conscienceless attack. Democrats can learn something here.
In fairness, it’s pretty well acted for what it is. Plus, that the spatial geography in the Polar complex attains an almost kaleidoscopic aura as the action chases from room to room is a credit to filmmaker and art director alike. Shot from both the monster and scientists’ points of view, it’s just a matter of time before there’s nowhere left to run.
If you’re still living in your parents’ attic and delivering pizza, then there’s no sense me telling you where this “Thing” slots in among its cinema species. But for the great unwashed who don’t care enough to consult Wikipedia, but would like to know just in case it comes up at the next Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, it’s a prequel and paean all rolled into one.
John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella, “Who Goes There?” published in 1938 is the root DNA for the franchise, and is credited as such by all three permutations. But if you’re hoping to experience the kitsch of the original — fuhgeddaboudit. Still, the survival instinct at the core of its black heart is unchanged. It’s from another world, and it’s trying to get us.
Worse yet, this horrible “Thing” can replicate the form of any living being. So, uh oh … what we are dealing with is the black magic of biology. Someone in the compound isn’t who we think they are, and wants to eat us, or rather, assume us. And it’s not pretty when they do…yecch! Here’s a clue, though: It can’t copy inorganic matter.
This explains the teeth fillings Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s paleontologist, Kate Lloyd, discovers in a shower where one of these ugly metamorphoses took place. Gee, it’ll be a shame if it’s her. She didn’t even want to come. But then it would be too obvious if it’s Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), the crazy zealot who would put us all in harm’s way.
When little and kicking through autumn leaves on the way home after seeing a horror movie, it’s proper to suddenly yell, ”I’m the Thing!” and attack your best friend, David. Then it’s his turn. You laugh. You are going to a warm supper where, happily, there is no “Thing.” Sadly, this “Thing” will not engender any of those emotions.
“The Thing,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Matthijs van Heijninjen Jr. and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ulrich Thomsen and Joel Edgerton. Running time: 103 minutes