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Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 03:32 pm

A derivative, misguided Thing

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I came to Matthijs van Heijningen’s The Thing with a bit of trepidation. This is the third go-around for this shape-shifting alien tale and both of the previous versions are considered classics of their time. The 1951 Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks adaptation of John W. Campbell’s pulp classic, Who Goes There?, was a taut exercise in Cold War paranoia. The 1982 John Carpenter take on the tale was a groundbreaking horror classic that was just as long on tension as it was on gore. With two successful versions already in the can, I couldn’t help but think that nothing new could be mined to make this second remake distinctive or necessary.

My fears were proven correct during the film’s third act when van Heijningen opts for a plethora of ridiculous computer-generated effects, undercutting an effective degree of tension and leaving at least this viewer muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” These incredulous moments occur on the alien’s flying saucer as he’s trying to get off our cozy rock after realizing he’s none too welcome, what with being bombarded with flamethrowers again and again.

However, before all of this CGI nonsense, we get to know the many Norwegian scientists and workmen, as well as a sprinkling of Americans, who are stationed in Antarctica and stumble upon a frozen alien who, once defrosted, regards them as a rather tasty smorgasbord and begins munching with impunity. Actually, that’s not quite right. The baddie from the stars ingests any form of life it comes in contact with and then produces a soulless duplicate. Pretty soon, once the humans figure out what’s going on, they realize that their friends and cohorts might not be who they seem to be. Paranoia sets in.

While the film proclaims itself to be a prequel to Carpenter’s film, this is a remake plain and simple. Set pieces from the 1982 version are recreated here, as are the narrative beats of that film. Sure, there are a couple of tweaks here and there, and I did like the method the intrepid paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes up with to separate the humans from the things. But there’s nothing new to warrant going through all of this bloody trouble again. While this might have been meant as homage to the Carpenter film, it simply feels derivative and slight.

Speaking of slight, I would be remiss if I did not mention Winstead’s performance. I’ve liked the actress every time I’ve seen her before, but her turn here is underwhelming. Reacting with more stoicism than horror to the thing’s shenanigans, she’s hardly handy with a flamethrower. While I wasn’t expecting her to fill Kurt Russell’s boots, a bit of Sigourney Weaver-style butt kicking would have been welcome. With the lack of a true hero and a story that loses its center, this film ends up being no big thing.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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