The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Thing(s) pt. 3

with one comment

The bad news about this new The Thing is that certain things had to happen because the reality established in the 1982 film mandated that they happen.  It all had to lead up to the Norwegians chasing a sled dog into the American camp since that was how the 1982 film began.  Along the way, we needed to know that they had grenades.  We had to see that the UFO had been uncovered from 100,000 years of ice.  We had to see that the monster was killed mid-permutation as it melded with a victim, because the Americans find such an abomination in the 1982 film.  There were even tiny details, like at some point a fire ax had to be buried in a wall inside a building.  Given all this, the producers of this new The Thing didn’t do too bad, but the task ultimately resulted in a decent, but not great, horror film.

But they also had to go beyond, and I can’t imagine how hard it was to do that (or try to do that) given the benchmarks they had to reach along the way.  The only analogy I could come up with is that the producers of the new film had to put together a puzzle with certain required pieces, and the puzzle had to look similar to a pre-existing puzzle but still be its own puzzle.  Got all this?

The good news is that certain things had to happen in this new The Thing because they happened in the 1982 film, and it was interesting to see how it would all come together.  We knew that the lead, Kate, somehow dies because she’s not in the 1982 film.  She’s the least of our concerns, though, because they all die except for the two chasing the dog at the end.  How they die, and the inventiveness of the writers and producers, helped make the film worth watching and didn’t impair the suspense (which was a point I made last time, that people still flock to films regardless of knowing beyond a doubt what is going to happen by the end).  They also manage to break some new ground, best represented by a way in which the researchers discover the alien without resorting to the blood test–since the creature can only imitate organic materials, things like metal cavity fillings are a give-away that someone is not a Thing.

Much like the head-separation scene in Carpenter’s film, there is a scene in this new one that comes across as being almost self-aware; in the least it is tongue-in-cheek homoerotic.  As I was brushing up on my knowledge of the source material and the 1951 film, I came across a reference somebody made in which he noted that there was no mistaking The Thing From Another World as a Howard Hawks film because it was so male-positive and male-centric, like a lot of other Hawks films (which tended to be Westerns or at least featured testosterone-fueled leads…  John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Humphrey Bogart, Montgomery Clift…).  Riffing on that idea, the scene in which The Thing is killed while absorbing another person screams homoeroticism (I almost laughed out loud in the theatre).  The beast crab-walks around on a set of arms and legs, pounces on a hapless scientist, straddles him, bonds and restrains him with tentacles, and even rubs faces (and other parts, no doubt) with him as they become one.  While it is a relatively cool scene effects-wise (and it ends up being the pinnacle of gore and terror in the film), the subtext indicates that the producers were having some naughty, insinuative fun and maybe winking at the audience.

Like any horror film (and the reason why so many horror films suck), the whole schtick is hard to maintain.  Whereas Carpenter does this masterfully throughout his film, this new one falls down late.  The humans actually chase the alien to its craft; the alien has already boarded and fired up the engines to take off…  the heat from the engines, then, is enough to melt 100,000 years of ice on top of the craft in a matter of minutes?  I wasn’t buying it, even while I watched a film in a genre which only exists because of the voluntary suspension of disbelief.  The interiors of the alien ship only muddy the understandings of the film, too, and that especially includes a vague, digitized image that may have been the ship’s power source.

My final complaint, and I am aware that this is almost splitting hairs, is something I picked up on from the opening minutes of the film.  I wished there had been a way for the new film to be shot on the same equipment and using the same grade of film that Carpenter used in 1982.  That would have minimized the “digital fakeness” of some of the special effects, making the whole thing come a lot closer visually to the original (Carpenter used the whole bag of tricks; I read a list that included hand puppets, marionettes, radio controls, wires and pulleys…  pretty much everything but Computer Generated Images).

Finally, a special shout-out to Robert Meakin.  I found his book All About The Thing online (you can read it in PDF format by clicking here).  Dude laid out so much about the 1982 film and had so many insights into it that I was left stunned.  I am a huge devotee to Saving Private Ryan, but All About The Thing made my love of and addiction to that film look like a schoolgirl crush.  I admire anybody who can take a film and analyze it almost shot-by-shot from a fan’s point of view and still craft an interesting read.

Written by seeker70

October 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I was a big fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Mostly, because it was true to the source material and the whole body snatching riff. The ’51 film to me was a unremarkable because it had lacked that crucial element. I’ve been back and forth as to whether I wanted to see this prequel Thing. You’ve made me think I might.

    Unpublished Guy

    November 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm

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