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[Movie Review] The Thing prequel… remake… whatever this is October 16, 2011

Posted by Colin in Humor, Opinion, Review.
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Here it is: the thing we’ve all been waiting for. They’re finally getting the band back together. That’s right, it’s… The Thing we’ve all… The Prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing!

Coming next year: The Squeakuel

Now, I thought it was a little odd when they announced that not only would they be telling the story of the Norwegian outpost that dug up the alien specimen, but they would be hiring back the entire cast of the first movie.

You see, through the miracle of digital reverse aging (ala Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy) the original actors from John Carpenter’s The Thing have reprised their roles as grizzled Antarctic scientists engaged in a deadly ‘whodunit’ with an alien-murder-beast.

Suddenly, 'The Thing' isn't so cool anymore...

“But Colin,” you say, “they can’t bring back the WHOLE cast. Isn’t Wilford Brimley dead? And also, weren’t you supposed to do something with Sid Meier’s Civ World like two months ag-” “WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT,” I scream, eyes wild and mouth frothy, quickly changing the subject back to dead celebrities.

Pictured: crack cocaine for civilization fans

While no, Wilford Brimley may not be technically dead, but for the purposes of this review, let’s pretend he is (besides, when has Hollywood ever let a little thing like an actor’s death stop them from making a movie?) For this production, Brimley’s character has been re-imagined as a kind-of-cute twenty-something scientist modeled after Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

The designers on this project clearly cared for her the most: she has, by far, the most expressive face of the motley crew, showing a diverse range of emotion from ‘mild fright’ to ‘terror,’ and all the confusing feelings between.

However, her uncannily human features only serve as a reminder that this film’s special effects budget was slashed mid-production, forcing the designers and editors to frantically  cut anything they could. Their answer, as you can already guess, was to give each character increasingly grandiose beards. Yes, I know, eyebrows and eyes can be the most expressive parts of the human body, but covering for your lack of lip-syncing with man-fur is an animation trick students use to finish projects in a crunch. Most of the time these digitized Norwegians don’t even open their mouths when they speak.

Actually, keep your mouth closed. I'm sure it smells like pancakes and Zach Galifianakis.

The film opens as a Norwegian researcher goes to recruit the Wilford Brimley stand-in (honestly, I can’t remember her name so we’ll just call her Wilma Brimley) to come to an Antarctic research base and help get the alien specimen out of the ice. Thirty seconds later, Wilma and her awkward-yet-undeveloped-love-interest are on their way, escorted by a helicopter pilot and his black friend, who we’ll name Kurt Russell Jr. and Keith David II.

Wait, which movie came first?

Pretty soon all hell soon breaks loose. People die, The Thing replicates, and parts of the base catch fire. Wilma quickly discovers the alien can’t recreate inorganic material (fillings, etc.) which recreates the blood-test scene from Carpenter’s film, but minus the tension and dramatic payoff. But Five minutes later, this fact is neatly forgotten in favor of a pop-out-and-yell-BOO type scare. Yes, this movie uses the same scare-tactics as Scary Maze.

There is never any dramatic tension. It might be because I knew everyone on the base was just a computerized semi-human, or because the monster itself is also completely digital so it looks less like a creepy insect-puppet and more like the boss monsters in Resident Evil 4, but I just didn’t get a sense that these people were in danger.

Or rather, I knew they were in danger, but I didn’t care – that is the biggest flaw with this movie and it isn’t one that anyone could avoid. This movie is trapped in the series canon. It’s a prequel to a remakebased on a short story, and even though it’s four degrees away from the source material, it is stuck a circle of continuity that doesn’t let the filmmakers expand their universe in any significant way.  If you watched John Carpenter’s The Thing, you already know how this story ends: everyone dies. Everyone. There is no ambiguous ending; the monster wins this round. It’s just a matter of piecing together who died in what way.

And speaking of John Carpenter, a number of scenes from that movie are recreated shot-for-shot in this one. It’s a nice homage, but it fails to recreate the sense of isolation and danger that Carpenter’s film had. Couple this with the utter failure of the computerized actors to distinguish themselves with anything resembling personality, and you have a movie that’s literally forgettable. When it was over, I walked out of the theater and couldn’t remember a single character’s name, or even how many people died on the base. And what happened to Wilma Brimley? She just kind of disappears towards the end. Is that supposed to be ambiguous?

As far as I can tell, this movie is about a group of computerized Norwegian Troll-Hunters who dig up the parasites from Resident Evil and receive a visit from a digitally-remastered and gender-swapped Wilford Brimley and… actually, yes, I would see that movie, even if it sounds like obscene fan-fiction.

Pictured: everything I know about Norway

Even taking into account the potential geek-sci-fi appeal, I can’t get over how indistinguishable the characters are in this movie. It’s like the writers put the traits of the original cast up on a wall and threw darts at it to develop their personalities, but all they could hit was the word “Beard.”

It just goes to show that a computer still can’t display true emotion the way humans can. Or maybe they weren’t computers. Maybe they were some creature trying to trick us into believing it’s human, studying its prey, waiting for the perfect moment to… wait a second.

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