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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chris finally watches THE THING (2011)

There is a tradition I never fail to keep: whenever I get snowed in and can't go anywhere, I turn down the lights and crank up the sound and watch the 1982 movie The Thing.  Maybe that says something about my baseline state of mind.

John Carpenter's now-classic film of horror and paranoia at an Antarctica research base might not be appropriate viewing for when one is tempting real-life cabin fever.  But if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then The Thing is the perfect wintertime follow-up.  And it's a darn nearly perfect movie in every other possible way: the story.  The casting.  The pacing.  The practical effects (which still hold their own against any CGI today).  The cinematography.  That score by Ennio Morricone.  And that building-up of tension as the men of Outpost 31 grow increasingly mistrustful of each other...

So yeah, I'm a huge fan of The Thing.  And I've read the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  As well as watched 1951's The Thing from Another World.

And then there is the 2002 video game The Thing, which followed the events of the John Carpenter film and received both commercial and critical acclaim.  Partly because of the innovative "trust" element.  I'm going to always have fond memories of playing that game, and unfortunately it seems the physical release is the only one out there.  Maybe GOG.com will have it for sale sooner than later.  Anyway...

I've seen and read and played just about everything Thing-ish.  But one item had been out of my zone of interest: 2011's The Thing.  Meant to be a prequel to the 1982 film, the 2011 entry was intended to reveal the story of the Norwegians who first discovered the alien vessel and its malevolent cargo.

Helmed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.and with a cast led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing '11 was an idea that I just didn't care about once the initial details started coming out.  And it wasn't just the notion of depicting the events of the Norwegian camp: something that was perhaps better left to the imagination (the "less is more" school of thought).  When MacReady and Copper begin exploring the burning ruins of the base, and then they come upon the radio operator who had slit his wrists, well... it's just like Copper said: "My God, what the hell happened here??"

"What?", indeed.  I first saw 1982's The Thing when I was ten years old, and every time I've watched it since my imagination gets sent reeling in wonder about how it went down among those poor scientists before they unleashed extraterrestrial death upon the most desolate wilderness on the planet.  What led up to the final survivors shooting at that dog from a helicopter laden with kerosene and grenades?

Did I really want or need to see that portrayed?

And then there was the casting.  It screamed "modern American film gore" with an emphasis on "American".  Look, we've had a Thing movie from an American perspective: it was The Thing of 1982.  A prequel about the Norwegian camp should have a cast of entirely Norwegians.  Having it headlined by an American actress with fellow English speakers: it just didn't seem right.

Then there were the effects.  Doubtless it was going to be largely accomplished by some CGI rendering engine pushing pixels.  I didn't doubt that the transition from the brilliant work in the 1982 film would be a jarring one.

Maybe it's the weather lately.  At this time of winter in this location, it should be at least one major snowstorm already this season.  Here in mid-February that's looking less likely.  So without a proper occasion upon which to watch 1982's The Thing, I thought that maybe... just maybe... I could give the 2011 film a fighting chance.  So that's what I did last night.

What did I think?

The Thing (2011) is a gruesome waste of a premise that had strong potential. There is so much that went wrong with this film.  In some ways it is admirably accurate to the 1982 film (the coda where we see the Norwegian helicopter flying off to track down the dog is especially good).  But other details are unforgivably ignored (didn't the boffins from Norway already use their explosive charges to blast away the ice from the alien ship?).  That's a bigger lingering plot problem than anything from The Rise of Skywalker... and that's sayin' something.

As I'd feared, The Thing 2011 edition tried too much to be a modern "American" horror.  Maybe the boys in marketing thought that a pretty young American female among all those Scandinavians would increase the commercial appeal.  Instead it distracts from the spirit of the 1982 "original".  There would have been nothing wrong with a cast completely comprised of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danish.  In fact, I would have preferred it that way.  And have the dialogue composed entirely of Norwegian (maybe with English subtitles... or not).  As it is the cast of Norwegian characters is woefully under-employed in this movie.  A tragedy because they seemed to be taking this project especially to heart.  One of the Norwegians is well played by Kristofer Hivju, who went on to portray Tormund Giantsbane in HBO's Game of Thrones.  Had I been the one in charge of the project, that's the approach I would have taken.

And it must be said: no modern CGI can outdo Rob Bottin's practical effects work in scaring the hell out of the viewer.  Even when the staff of Outpost 31 was looking at the remains of the creature, with it just laying there on the table, not moving at all: that static horror said it all.  That kind of slow appreciation of the monstrous isn't there in The Thing 2011.  There isn't a single creature in this movie that is as memorable as the Norris-thing.  It's all moving too fast and furious.  It all looks too shiny.  And going back to "if it was me making this movie" I would have tried to replicate the lighting and film grain of the 1982 film.  Yeah, film grain is important.  It needs to be consistent across a series.  It's one of my major complaints about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and it's a major complaint here.

 But most of all, I found myself incredibly disappointed with the failure to adequately arouse the kind of paranoia that made John Carpenter's 1982 movie such an enduring classic.  The sense of growing mistrust among the Norwegian base staff is so lacking that it seems almost tacked on.  There isn't a single scene that comes anywhere close to Blair (Wilford Brimley) going berzerk with that fire axe:

There is so much else that could be said.  This is definitely a prequel that became something we never needed.  Which I hate to say, because in other hands The Thing (2011) really could have been a very terrific movie.  Instead the film ended and I was just very, very disappointed.  It's going into the pile of other movies that were made but I'm going to pretend were never produced (Alien 3, anything past the final scene of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the inevitable sequel to Joker).

And so it is that whatever happened at that Norwegian camp will remain open to speculation.  Which is probably just as it should always be.  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Today's Google Doodle is one I can respect

Some of Google’s ”doodles” either fly over my head or make me cringe in disbelief.  A lot of them are about historical events and people that at best are extremely obscure or else make me wonder "What the hell are they smoking over there?"

But the one they have for today is as good as it gets and I recognized it immediately.  Give credit where credit is due: Google was really thoughtful about this one and how to convey it:

A depiction of the four North Carolina A&T students who sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro (the big city near where I’m from). That was sixty years ago today.

 This is how to SERIOUSLY protest a wrong. Peacefully and respectfully. Nobody was hurt, nobody was insulted, nobody was arrested because of violent behavior. These young men simply went in, sat at a whites-only lunch counter, and politely asked for service. They were denied.  So they just went back the next day and asked for lunch again.  And again.  And again.

The word spread, there were other such protests and it wasn't long before Woolworth’s ended its segregation policies. Other businesses soon followed.

We could learn a lot from the Greensboro Four, even still today.  Come to think of it, especially today.

\Well done Google, well done.