The Thing (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
These days, Hollywood will remake almost anything. But even though John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing is, in fact, a remake itself, the new version isn't actually a remake at all. No, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s new film is actually a prequel to Carpenter's movie, set just a couple of days before Kurt Russell and his compatriots on a remote Antarctica outpost battle a shape-shifting alien and their own paranoia, trying to determine who is human, who isn't, and whether any of them will, or should survive.
In the new movie, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by her old friend Adam (Community's Eric Christian Olsen), the research assistant to the haughty Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), to trek to Antarctica, where a Norwegian research team has made quite a find.
Just in case you're totally unfamiliar with the original(s), that'd be a spaceship and an alien frozen in the ice, which quickly thaws out and the alien starts picking off the humans, whose numbers include American helicopter pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) and his crew, the aforementioned scientists, and a slew of Norwegian red shirts. The trick is that the alien, despite its fragility when it comes to flame throwers, is able to replicate any organic matter it touches, so in theory, it could be anyone on base.
Sure, that's how Carpenter's '82 film went. But that movie broke ground with its special effects, deftly melding them with the intense paranoia that was originally bred during the Cold War. Carpenter's movie is horrifying, because you really never know whom to trust.
But that analogy doesn't hold true these days. See, we're not scared of the Communists anymore, and we don't, for the most part, suspect our neighbors of being terrorists. The dread and paranoia we face on a daily basis doesn't come from the same source that engineered the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, that inspired Carpenter's monster masterpiece. When Kate likens the creature to a virus, we begin to understand, because as a culture, we're currently most terrified of disease, of epidemics and pandemics and of people who carry them. That's a sense of terror we understand, but this new movie touches on that and then moves on, far more interested in trying to scare than in trying to make a point.
Winstead is an interesting actress, and does the best she can with what she's given, but her role in The Thing is to serve as both the hero and the exposition. She's smart, attractive and brave, but she spends much of the film explaining to the audience and her screen cohorts just what the hell is going on. The problem with that, of course, is that even if her fellow cast members are clueless, the audience is not.
Her final reveal, too, is irritating and egregious, because it assumes the audience has spent the past few minutes texting, rather than catching one of the key plot points. Not everything needs to be explained — we're talking about frozen aliens in Antarctica, after all — but it is anyway.
The end result is that there's no mystery in The Thing. Even the guessing game of who is and isn't human is lackluster, because it all comes down to people dying, and the question isn't who, it's when.