There are times where I have to wear different hats. I’m very definitely Harry Knowles, creator of AICN… but I’m also the co-creator/founder/programmer of FANTASTIC FEST, I wear a producer hat on several projects and I’m beginning to get writer gigs for Comics & other industries, but… Earlier this year, I sat for a screening of THE THING, the film opening today across the country. Now, I wasn’t seeing the film as Harry Knowles – AICN, I was seeing it as Harry Knowles – Fantastic Fest, which means I couldn’t react to what I had seen for the outside world… I couldn’t tweet. I didn’t give hints.
As everyone else reacted to trailers and posters, I’ve had to bite my tongue and watch. Watch and despise utterly that the trailers seemed to understand more about THE THING, than the movie it was advertising. THE THING prequel is a well-intended load of shit!
I hate the film. Hate it. Absolutely loathe it. It was my gut reaction the second it ended, but over the months I’ve had to consider the film – I’ve realized just how much I love John Carpenter’s original. I’ve rewatched it a few times since seeing the remake, and it really is a little bit of a miracle just how perfect that film is. Much the same way that BLUES BROTHERS and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON happen to be exquisitely perfect works of cinema.
When I think about those films and that particular period of falling in love with cinema – I realize just exactly how lucky I was to grow up with parents that let me see those films, that gave me a knowledge of how films were made. THE THING prequel now resides in my head right next to BLUES BROTHERS 2000 and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS as some of the most incompetent work I’ve seen in ages.
Why? How could this happen? What makes the film such an unmitigated loaf of wet stinky shit?
Well… Let me start at the beginning…
I was nervous about seeing THE THING prequel. Quint had been on set, loved the practical visual fx that he saw. I am really quite fond of both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. I’m even fon of Eric Christian Olsen… and the casting of a bunch of Norwegians… well that really thrilled me. What gave me the nerves was that the director was a first timer, but I loved that he was Dutch… and hoped he’d bring an authenticity to it all.
I was so excited to be seeing it early. It was being screened with the notion of there being a huge Universal sponsored party, the entire cast would be flown in. The mere fact that they were screening it for us so early – gave me an immense amount of confidence that perhaps it’d be great.
That’s THE THING. It has to be GREAT. Not alright. Not ok. Not passable. It has to be GREAT. Like the original THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Like John Carpenter’s THE THING.
For what seemed like the first 40 minutes of the film, I was pretty pleased actually. It was going pretty much exactly as I expected. Most of this is about how they get an American Female Paleontologist to the Norwegian camp. This is also where they discover the ship and the THING that was in the ice, some distance from the ship. All of this was being done by the numbers though. Nothing particularly surprising or revealing. It’s essentially what we would expect.
Then THE THING busts out of the ice. Next thing I know – the film is off and running as a slasher film that happens to follow, rather exactingly the beats of Carpenter’s THE THING. For the first 40 minutes – you have a prequel, then for the rest of the film, it’s a remake. A bad remake. One where they’re checking teeth for fillings to find THE THING. One where they give you incredible set-ups for action/suspense/horror… only to just leave that situation to return to a mundane one.
The biggest problem is that… You know how in Carpenter’s THE THING… you kind of love every single character in the film. How everybody is tired of this shit? How everybody just wants to go home – and they’ve all buddied up and have relationships that have formed because these people have been living together forever up here and all their media is months old? Throw all that out. Starting with the great character actors.
The fact is – we don’t really get to know any of the Norwegian actors, they’re pretty much all redshirts or menacing. Because they spend the lion’s share of the opening 40 minutes upon Winstead and Edgerton… They give us no real time to establish what is going on at the Norwegian Camp.
Once THE THING is out and loose, all suspense seems watered down to the bare minimum. Let me give you an example…
Joel Edgerton – who has been basically been cast to be the Kurt Russell character for us. There’s a moment where he and his buddy are going to fly an injured Norwegian back to the real world. Now, we all know this character is a THING. There’s never any real suspense or mystery about who the THING is for the film, because the actors all play it like they’re The THING. Anyway, so they’re going up in the helicopter – and THE THING, who is a man. And knows this helicopter is going to take it to a populated area… well he decides to attack on the helicopter. Nevermind that this pretty much makes the THING a really stupid creature that can’t help but attack any non-THING. Something that the original THING would never have done.
SO the Helicopter is taking off… it’s up above the camp. THING starts THINGing out. And I’m thinking… how the fuck is Joel Edgerton gonna survive this? Then all of a sudden they show the Helicopter jetting way away from the camp, and an explosion on the otherside of some peaks. And we stay with the CAMP – which feels like the last place in the world I as an audience member wanted to fucking be. If anything, watching how Edgerton and his friend survived the THING attack in a flying vehicle… shit. That sounds exciting. Right? I wanted to see how they managed to get back to camp – and then they being VERY MILITANTLY SUSPICIOUS of everyone. But no.
We stay with the camp. We stay with Mary Elizabeth’s character – who slowly but surely gets turned into an Ellen Ripley-esque kind of character. Which absolutely isn’t what I wanted to see.
They drop, early on, that there’s a Russian Research Facility somewhere nearby – and I was thinking how genius that is – but then they never really allow any thing to be done with that. Instead, by the end of the film it’s a dog running to the American Facility and a helicopter headed there… but of course the details are all fucked. The guy isn’t wearing the whiteout polar glasses that he was wearing at the start of Carpenter’s original. He doesn’t at all look anything like that character – even in an age range or facial hair way. It kind of drives me nuts.
Now I get it. I’m predisposed to love the original – because well… it is seriously one of the greatest horror science fiction film ever made.
There’s not a worthwhile written part in the entire film. Edgerton and Winstead are watchable because they have inherent charisma that is not to be denied. But they have shit to do in the film. The parts are written to be paper thin.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Harry you saw the film months ago. Isn’t there a chance that a lot has changed since then? No. There was only a single unfinished effects shot in the whole film. I couldn’t tell you which shot it was, because all the CG for the whole of the film was fucking SHIT! In fact it actually reminded me of the work from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS. There’s one Autopsy scene that is ok… but because we’d been there with the other film – where the sculpture by Rob Bottin was just simply masterful. This piece is an imitation of that.
If you go into this film expecting a piece of shit, you’ll probably come out thinking… “Well, shit, it wasn’t THAT bad.” Well… rewatch Carpenter’s original – and think about all the things that Carpenter’s eye caught that they didn’t here.
The comradery, little things – like how ice built up on their facial hair. How COLD it was? Remember that tagline, “Man is the warmest place to hide” ? Here, what we have is a stupid boo-scare flick that never makes your skin crawl, never ever gets in your head, never gives you anyone to root for.
The original film made me feel cold and scared. Even if I saw it on a small screen tv by a fireplace.
Director – Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. comes out of the gate with a film that absolutely does not work for me at all. I’m sure I should give him a break since he’s a first time feature filmmaker… and I would had it not been THE THING. THE THING isn’t for half-assed first timers and a scared studio. THE THING is for a bold studio and a bold filmmaker. Neither of which was involved here.
I don’t want to beat up Heijninegen too much, as there were a lot of reshoots, complete changing of visual fx themes… reshooting for CG, but then not really giving the CG people the time necessary to really do the best possible job… OR the person that was overseeing the visual effects – just happened to have missed every eyeglass appointment for the last decade and couldn’t actually see the shitty fx. More likely, UNIVERSAL got tired of throwing money at this money pit of a film.
THE THING is the exact kind of soulless bullshit that is meant to capitalize on our nostalgia – while really having no notion of how to really deliver on that. I know personally about a dozen horror filmmakers that would’ve given their last tooth to make a great THING prequel. THE THING is a marquee HORROR film to play with – and you went with a first timer that was grotesquely out of his league.
There’s nothing original or refreshing. By the time they’re running around on a fully working THING ship… I just wanted to yell at the screen. Instead, I saved that for now.
If you’re going to see it to support R-rated horror, I can’t blame you. I admire your dedication and I feel for the wasted time you have in your future. I wanted this to be a triumph too. For horror. For all of us fans. And mostly because it would have meant we had a new young filmmaker to look forward to seeing evolve. That still might happen, but I can’t imagine it at this stage. But then after THE CELL, I never would’ve foreseen a time when I was drooling for a Tarsem flick, yet here I am.
I recommend staying home and watching the original with friends. Use your theater money wisely.