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John Carpenter’s The Thing(1982)/The Thing(2011)

John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of “The Thing”(called “The Thing from Another World” when the original was released in 1951)really is the perfect animal. I now recognize it as one of the finest horror/sci-fi films ever made. It is probably Carpenter’s masterpiece, though many would choose his 1978 “Halloween” for that honor. Both are fantastic…but “Halloween” received vast praise upon its initial opening. A scant four years later, “The Thing” was roundly vilified. The negative reception is now legendary because it is now nearly unanimously praised as a classic. Oddly enough, “The Thing” opened on the same day as Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”—equally despised, and now equally lauded. What were film critics smoking in 1982?               To be fair, I wasn’t sure what to make of it either when first experiencing it as a 16-year-old on a sunny, summer afternoon in Hackensack, NJ. I knew it was poorly received, but it didn’t matter. I was salivating for this release. Being a huge fan of the 1951 Christian Nyby original(insiders claim it was stealthily helmed by the legendary Howard Hawks), I was dying to see what the director of “Halloween” and “The Fog” could do with circa-1980’s special effects. This “thing” would be no “intellectual super carrot” like the creature from 1951(actually “Gunsmoke’s” James Arness in alien make-up). It was GROSS was what it was. The creature was an ever-changing, morphing monstrosity. It absorbed dogs, and then people, and pieces of it would break off when attacked and then change into something new. Heads sprouted legs and ran away like a spider, and chests burst open to become jaw-like and bite off arms. This one outdid them all. “The Exorcist”, “Jaws”, “Alien”…nothing rivaled “The Thing’s” level of gore and ooze. But it was so much more than that too. The “thing” could mimic a human perfectly, and in a base filled with exhausted men isolated in an Antarctic research station(Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, among others), no one could be completely trusted. The heralded “blood test” scene is one of the most intense sequences ever filmed in this genre. And the payoff is a knockout. And no “keep watching the skies” finales for this version. Mr. Carpenter had darker, colder things in mind. This director held onto his vision, but it would take years before full appreciation took hold.               So what to make of this 2011 prequel to the 1982 version. You may recall that Carpenter’s version opens with a helicopter chasing a dog that’s escaped from a Norwegian base in the Antarctic not far from the U.S. station. We later realize that the occupants of that helicopter were shooting at the dog because it’s actually the “thing” imitating a canine. The 2011 film starts us AT that Norwegian station, and what happened there before Kurt Russell and gang entered the scene. A nifty enough premise that brims with homage—there’s just one BIG problem. Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.(say that 3 times fast)ain’t no John Carpenter. Not even close. So, try as he might to wring that same kind of tension out of this “thing”, he never rises above the level of “spirited attempt”. Attempt he does, and I admire his passion. He obviously approaches the set design and the creature effects with the 1982 movie firmly in mind. It’s not seamless, but it’s pretty good. No, those sensational Rob Bottin ’82 creations aren’t quite as spectacular when enhanced via computer. But hey, again, a noble experiment. There’s even a go given to the infamous “blood-test” with a mostly failed bit of business involving teeth. But this doesn’t fly mostly due to a weak script and a bland batch of actors that can’t possibly match up to Russell & company. First off, Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems like an Ellen Ripley “Alien”-clone. Then the darn thing botches the ending big-time. One ponders what the now mostly dormant Carpenter would’ve weaved with this material. Ridley Scott seems to be taking just that kind of stab with his upcoming “Prometheus”, which is rumored to be a sort-of “Alien”-prequel. One can hold out hope for that one, I guess. But you should also wish that the stink from this sub-par “Thing” entry, managed to reach Ridley’s nostrils in time to avoid franchise disaster.         John Carpenter’s The Thing     Grade:   A        2011’s The Thing     Grade:   C-

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2 comments on “John Carpenter’s The Thing(1982)/The Thing(2011)

  1. Ok, I’m not normally into gore and ooze, but man the way you write about the origninal has me actually wanting to see it! (perhaps with my hand over my eyes though)

  2. It’s pretty icky, Sandy—but it’s incredible! The 1951 film is also quite good, but the 1982 surpasses it. One of those rare circumstances. For newcomers, I suggest the 1982 first, then the ’51, and the 2011 can be skipped completely. You may not need the hands for the 50’s one! ML

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