I have watched a lot of movies that were recommended to me by my fellow redditors and personal friends so far, but I was sure to knock out some John Carpenter first because I knew I would dig it.
And I was right. I watched They Live (1988) which was fucking awesome and then I watched The Thing (1982) and it was probably the best horror film I’ve ever seen, though I will admit now I’m not a huge fan of the genre. Anyways, here’s a quick list of things I liked about it.
- The sense of isolation was strong and added a lot to the overall tone.
- The effects were amazing. It literally made me angry that CGI is the norm now instead of physical effects.
- Kurt Russel and Kieth David
- Paced really well. It was slow and deliberate, but not boring in any sense.
- Just the idea of a group of isolated men dealing with this premise was fascinating to me. It was a beautiful mix between cat and mouse, witch hunts, and a majority war. They were looking for The Thing, they couldn’t trust each other, and at any moment any number of them could have been it and if the majority had ever ruled that would have been it. What’s more is the fact that they were all men added a savage kind of survival of the fittest aspect. It was perfectly balanced.
- Blood test scene was incredible.
Okay, so I dug it. Then I remembered that they made a remake, or as I would later find out, a prequel. And I loved it so much I decided to watch it right away. Now, before I go further I want to explain that I don’t really go into movies with a negative mindset. Even remakes have an okay track record with me, but there was something about this remake in particular that bugged me. It seemed like everything I liked about the first one was changed.
First off, let’s talk about prequels and remakes. IMO, remakes happen. There is too much financial safety in familiar franchises to ignore it. And while people often argue that remakes and reboots can hurt the source material, the fact is most of those people are the same ones buying tickets to see the remakes so they can determine whether or not they like it. At that point it doesn’t matter if they like it, the ticket is sold and that’s honestly what Hollywood cares about. So, remakes happen. Kind of like unplanned pregnancies. But also like unplanned pregnancies, they don’t have to be the worst thing in the world. There is a way to do a remake respectfully.
There are a few ways you can do remakes right. One way is to take the source material in a new direction, put a new spin on things. Star Trek and 21 Jump Street did this really well. While Star Trek fans may argue that the 2011 reboot didn’t stay true to the themes of the show it was mimicking, they weren’t able to argue that it was a bad movie. Because it wasn’t, it was really good. 21 Jump Street also took a show and made it into a comedy. But it was a really good comedy. It was funny, self-aware, and referenced itself constantly.
Another way to do remakes is to highlight and accentuate what is good about the source material. Kind of like The A-Team did. I don’t think a lot of people saw that, but it was really good for a summer flick. It was pretty much The A-Team. The actors did a great job staying true to the source characters and just like the show it was bad ass. Explosions and fucking tanks falling through the sky shooting shit, it highlighted what was awesome about The A-Team, raised the stakes by black listing them, and paid respect to itself as a franchise. Kind of wish it got a sequel…
MEANWHILE, BACK ON TOPIC- Obviously The Thing would not have worked as a comedy, or a character study, or a rom com, or whatever to the obvious choice would be to go the second route. Highlight what’s good, bring it to the forefront. Unfortunately, I think they pretty much messed up what was good about the original. Let’s look at my list again.
- Sense of isolation. I was disappointed that there was a scene in the remake that took place away from Antarctica and in society. It wasn’t that apparent, because the scene took place in a lab so there were no unnecessary people in the scene, but one of the things that made the 1982 version so strong in this area was the fact that we never left the base. It wasn’t an option. The scene in the lab wasn’t even really that important. All information conveyed there could have been conveyed in a well written dialogue throughout the beginning. Also, if you compare the two movies during scenes where the characters are outside, the 1982 characters would have frozen hair and show little more than their mouths and eyes under their coats. The remake had characters sweating outside with no visible frost and the storm wasn’t nearly as strong. If you watch the end of both movies, the weather outside is unbearable, for the last half of the movie anything filmed outside is a wide shot of someone bundled up and running to a different building. In the 2011 version there are often expositions taking place outside in what is seemingly pretty cold weather. There is even a long scene at the end between the two main characters that takes place outside and you wouldn’t have guessed there was any major storm, just some light snowfall.
- Effects. Were CGI. That’s really all I have to say here. I mean, according to some FAQs they used physical models and effects for the scenes, but edited CGI in when it didn’t look natural. Maybe I’m an asshole but I feel like if you’re remaking a movie that is remembered for its achievement in physical effects shouldn’t you also put some time into that area? There were some nice shots of physical effects but the fact that they mixed the two made the CGI stand out like a sore thumb, and it just seems disrespectful to the snob in me.
- Obviously you can’t have Kurt Russel and Kieth David. So why did they try? The lead role was a woman, and they said they chose a woman so as not to draw parallels between her and MacReady, but if that’s the case why did they have another character to draw the parallels? Joel Edgerton was a helicopter pilot, like MacReady, with a black friend, like Childs, who took a leading role once the shit went down, like MacReady, and there was even a scene where him and the other guy were accused of being a Thing and it pretty much exactly mirrored the scene where MacReady gets back from his hut and everything thinks he’s a Thing so he gets the flamethrower out. All I’m saying is, if you can’t get Kurt Russel and Kieth David, don’t write them roles anyways.
- Pacing was still pretty good, actually. Besides my complaints when compared to the original, this was still a pretty entertaining flick. I always knew what was going on, and it wasn’t boring. If this were a standalone movie it would have been pretty good.
- Okay, so I’m not trying to be sexist here, but I really don’t think adding women to the cast was a great idea. As mentioned before, I liked the almost savage idea of a bunch of men growing more hostile and less trustful. There’s almost a Lord of the Flies element to it. Now, I got nothing against Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She really knocked out the Ramona Flowers role and I’m sure she’s a wonderful lady, but when you add a woman to this equation all you’re going to do is create a weird dynamic in a movie like this. I mean, MacReady took control because he was the most bad ass and least hot headed. When she took control it was odd. I mean, at first they listened to her because she was the PMK (person most knowledgeable) about The Thing. But once it came time for the blood testing, I had trouble believing that all of these angry, afraid, hostile men were taking orders from a woman. There’s an implication that there is still social etiquette there when the point of the story is that all of that is broken down with the trust. I had a hard time believing no one tried to stab her like Clark (The beardie guy everyone thought was a Thing) tried to stab MacReady, and the reason wasn’t because no one wanted to stab her, it’s because if they tried she would have gotten stabbed.
- Blood Test scene. Oh, wait. There was no blood test scene. Now, obviously since this is technically a prequel they didn’t want to do the tests the same way, but for some reason they still framed it the same way, put it in the same section of the movie, and had the same outcome. Some people just died, let’s do this test, then they expose one and it attacks. But the test was so stupid. I mean, it wasn’t stupid in the way that it wouldn’t work, it was stupid in the way that the Blood Test from the original was a definitive way to find out. The fillings test only separated humans from possible humans. I also had trouble believing she couldn’t come up with a test like MacReady’s. I mean, let’s be fair. She was a paleontologist. He was a pilot. But for some reason he came up with the blood test, and she shined a flashlight in people’s mouths.
The last thing I want to talk about is prequels. Take a look at this list of prequels. You may notice that most were not very good, though there are exceptions. The problem with prequels is we know exactly what’s going to happen, and ultimately that’s why we watch movies. I didn’t know The Thing was a prequel until I started watching it, but once I did I lost almost all interest. I mean, already I know that two of them and the dog as The Thing survive. Movie over. If any humans would have escaped the 1982 version would have brought it up. Also, what was up with the ambiguous ending in the prequel? I mean, you are to assume she dies I guess, but why not just show it? She was perfectly fine when the movie ended and that was honestly the most baffling part of this whole thing. How are you gonna make a movie that explicitly leads directly into an older film and leave a giant loose end? Just seemed sloppy. She could have easily gotten away and while it can be argued that she couldn’t find help before the events of the original Thing film happened there was literally no reason to leave her alive. Just another example of a movie that is afraid to kill its protagonist even if the movie demands it, and I find that really sad.