Friday, May 25, 2012

The Thing (1982) A Classic From A Classic

And here's yet another in my unofficial "Why Haven't I Reviewed This Yet?" series.

I mean, seriously:  John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors of all time, and probably my favorite director during the 80's along with Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner.  I've already reviewed Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness here, as well as Big Trouble In Little China as a guest on another blog.  It should be a foregone conclusion that I'd review Carpenter's first entry in his "Apocalypse Trilogy" from 1982, The Thing.  Hell, I should've reviewed this one before reviewing the not-so-bad 2011 Thing.  Yeah, I know, that's a lot of linkage there.

Carpenter's The Thing was a juggernaut in the VHS era.  I can't begin to tell you how often I rented/borrowed it.  It had that "oh, man, you gotta SEE it" vibe years after it came out.  Its reputation preceded it when I first settled in to watch it in 1984 (the turnaround for movies was a little slower back then, plus I'd spent a year in Sweden as an exchange student, limiting my renting abilities).  Plate of beefy nachos in hand, I was enthralled and filled with adrenaline.  This movie was going to GROSS (according to my friends) and filled with groundbreaking practical effects by the legendary Rob Bottin (with significant input by another legend, Stan Winston), it definitely filled that quota.

Now imagine this friendly fellow hanging from your ceiling as you fall asleep.  You're welcome.

U.S. Outpost #31 is a research facility in the sunny locale of Antartica.  A lone dog, chased by a pair of frantic Norwegian men, seeks refuge and as a result of crazy desperation and a language barrier, its pursuers are killed.  You just know the dog is hiding something, and if you translate what one of the Norwegian men shouts, you get much of the plot right there.  Strange things begin happening when the the dog reveals its true nature, assimilating several dogs before apparently being stopped.  R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) leads an expedition to the Norwegian outpost, finding evidence that something had ravaged the researchers there.  And hey, if you watch the 2011 prequel, you get to see how it all happened.

Back at the camp, Blair (Wilford Brimley) deduces that the creature can assimilate other living beings.  That's when the paranoia really kicks in.  Who can trust whom?  Things (slight pun intended) get really crazy from here on out, and if you haven't seen the film, what are you waiting for?  You've got a creature that is comprised of individual creatures in a conglomerate building possessing a modified hive mind.  It can be separate creatures, but with one purpose and drive.  MacReady and his colleagues go from guys who work together to guys who don't know who's going to assimilate them at a moment's notice.

You get to see a guy suddenly grow a mouth on his belly while trying to be revived.  You see a blood test like no other - hey, even the blood is a freakin' "Thing."  You see guys who you think are just fine change into bloodthirsty alien demons while tied to a couch.  You just don't know who is who, right down to the final frames.  One of the biggest mysteries of Carpenter's film is the ending.  Are we seeing who we think we're seeing?  The answer is given somewhat in the prequel, if you know where to look, but even that is up to interpretation.

Carpenter used a classic novella ("Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr.) and the classic 1951 sci-fi film (The Thing From Another World from directors Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks) as inspiration and stirred them up with the earmarks of a closed-room mystery to create what has become a true cult classic.  The Antarctic itself stands as the "closed room," with escape not an easy option.  Hell, it's practically impossible with the weather and terrain.  Then add to that the fact that if anyone actually leaves, he may be carrying the Thing with him.  The creature can appear as anyone, so there's your "it can be anyone" trait that the classic whodunnits and closed-room mysteries have.

Kurt Russell is a standout among intense performances, adding another to his list of great tough-guy heroes that he portrayed during the 80's like Snake Plissken and Jack Burton.  He's steady and reliable, but still paranoid enough that he isn't superhuman.  He makes mistakes just like anyone else, as Clark (Richard Masur) finds out.

The Thing is a classic, with tight direction from Carpenter and a moody soundtrack from Ennio Morricone.  It is, as my subtitle suggests, a classic from a classic - similar but different enough to stand well on its own.  If you've never seen it, take it in the way I did when I first saw it:  full of anticipation with a plate full of beef nachos.  And hey, if you can fully recreate my experience by seeing it on VHS, I tip my Phillies cap to you.

Now here, please enjoy the trailer:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Thing (2011) Not Too Bad Of A Setup

I'm just glad it wasn't a remake...of a retelling.

As horror classics go, it would be considered sacrilege to remake John Carptener's The Thing from 1982, which in itself, was a retelling of The Thing From Outer Space from 1951 which was film version of John W. Campbell's 1938 story "Who Goes There?"  Yeah, it's got a long pedigree, but Carpenter's version is considered hands-off.  But when a prequel was rumored, then confirmed, to be in the works, I have to say I was intrigued.  As anyone who has seen Carpenter's film knows, there's a whole story to be told about the Norwegian guy trying to kill an "innocent" dog and the Norwegian outpost that the characters visit in the early parts of the movie.

Well, that's what 2011's The Thing is all about.

In Carpenter's 1982 classic, a frantic man shouting in Norwegian pursues a dog into the American camp and is killed as he begins firing his rifle wildly.  Later in the movie, the Americans, led by Kurt Russell's McReady, discover the leftovers of carnage at the Norwegian outpost.  2011's version aims to tell the story of what led up to the opening moments of the 1982 movie.  Got it?

Written by Eric Heisserer (based on Campbell's story) and directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., The Thing finds paleontologist Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) being drafted for her expertise as something has been discovered - quite by accident - in the Antartican snowfields:  a bona fide spaceship.  Not only that, one of its occupants has been found nearby, encased in ice.  They bring the extraterrestrial popsicle back to camp where it eventually thaws and that's when the fun starts.

This creature doesn't just rampage through the camp, cutting down humans left and right.  Well, it does do that, but this is a crafty little bugger.  It gets into a person, assimilating them cell by cell, until you can't tell the human from the alien.  Or can you?  There is a way, and right when I thought they might completely copy how it was done in the 1982 film, they go in a different, actually quite interesting direction.  Paranoia still reigns as poor Kate is numbered among the dwindling survivors.

The creature has plans of its own, heading back to the spaceship from whence it came.  Its intentions aren't quite clear, but anyone can guess what could happen if this little cell-changing puppy gets out into the world.  It wouldn't be a street party, I can tell you that much.  There's a showdown on the ship as it nearly takes off, explaining how it's just below the surface when the American team finds it later.  There's a sigh of relief as it all over.  Ahhh.  Oh, wait, this isn't an uplifting type of movie.  Kate and Carter (Joel Edgerton) still have a few issues to work out.

It isn't really a spoiler to say that the film ends by blending nearly seamlessly with the beginning of Carpenter's movie.  One could watch this film, then pop in 1982's classic and the story just keeps on going.  Although I expected much less from this movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't dislike it.  It's not the same nail-biter as the other, and the aura of paranoia isn't quite as palpable.  However, as a setup to Carpenter's movie, it's enjoyable and quite respectful to its source material.

Events that happen in this movie show up in the one we all know and love.  The ice axe in the door...the guy with the slashed throat...the specimens in the snow.  It's all there, and this is the story that explains how it all came to be.  A lot of it is very much the same as the other film, but one could argue that the choices of actions that a group could resort to would be limited.  If it was a standalone movie, I'd be much more lukewarm about it.  As a companion piece, it's not all that bad.  It provides some subtle answers to long-asked questions about the 1982 version, and still leaves things open for interpretation.

And now if you'll excuse me, it's time to pop in that 1982 movie I keep telling you about.  In the meantime, here, watch the trailer for this one...