Monday, June 17, 2013

Things That Go Bump!

I finally got hold of a copy of The Thing, the 2011 movie prequel to The Thing by John Carpenter. Carpenter's 1982 movie starring Kurt Russell tells the horrifying tale of a gang of isolated scientists confronting the shape-changing menace of an alien invader which has escaped from a neighboring Norwegian science station. The 2011 movie tells us the story of that Norwegian station and how the creature came to escape to raise such a ruckus all those years ago.

It's a pretty reasonable effort all things considered. Among those elements is the fact that the movie strives diligently to be true to the Carpenter effort, so much so that I think that really retards the way in which this movie can develop. We know how it ends to no small extent, like any prequel and so it becomes for much of the movie an exercise in how the film dovetails into its proper place alongside the earlier effort. It does that job wonderfully, but as a scary flick it falls just a tad short, because most of the scares are pretty predictable. That's fine by me, because as a fan of any "Thing" movie, I'm watching it as part of a larger piece, and not as a fresh moviegoer, hence the relative failure of the movie financially because frankly there aren't that many of us John Carpenter fans left I suspect, at least not enough to constitute a mass audience.

Like the Carpenter effort to some extent this movie is a revision and updating of the film The Thing From Another World from 1951, one of the seminal sci-fi movies of that decade, of any decade. If I'm shoved to name a favorite movie, this one usually gets the nod. I find its economical storytelling breathtaking and the character development is concise and powerfully effective. I consider the movie to an ode to the American Dream, the ideal of different kinds of folks mingling to successfully work together for the greater good. This movie like all the subsequent flicks, has the core dilemma of people isolated and forced to deal with dangerous circumstances on their own. It's a surefire scenario.  The alien/monster is a hoot in classic thorn-fingered 50's fashion, and overall effect of the movie is exquisite.

That said, this latest effort is really more like the classic Howard Hawks effort in plot structure than it is the Carpenter movie. In this one we get to see the discovery of the alien in the ice, we get to see the space ship that brought it, and we get to see it escape the ice and terrorize a group of scientists, mostly male but having a tiny contingent of two women. The pacing is remarkably similar to the 1951 classic though the effects are an echo of the 1982 flick. 

All "Thing" movies of course are adaptations of "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, a haunting tale, his most famous by a large margin. I need to fish out my copy of the story and give it another reading, it's been quite a while.

Overall I have to give a thumbs up to this latest "Thing" movie. It was entertaining and while the filmmakers seem overwhelming deferential to John Carpenter, they actual end up making a movie that is a decent adaptation of Campbell's story and a lively update of the Hawks movie.

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