Monday Morning Review: 'The Thing' Is an Unoriginal Guilty Pleasure

Monday Morning Review: 'The Thing' Is an Unoriginal Guilty Pleasure

Oct 17, 2011

Welcome to Monday Morning Review, a new feature here at where we provide a review of a film the Monday morning after it arrives in theaters. As such, this review is written for people who have seen the film, and will discuss plot points, spoilers, etc, so read it only if you've seen it or if you don't mind knowing everything that happens.  

I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt guilty enjoying a movie, but here comes The Thing “2011” to make me feel like a dumb sap. I totally understand why I should hate it -- it’s a rip-off of an untouchable classic, right?  It brings nothing new to the table, and it does so in an uninspired way. I can totally agree with that sentiment; it’s a noisy, unnecessary film. And while I’m nodding my head, I’ll secretly be thinking, “yeah, but it was also kinda cool.”

Let’s be realistic about the critical reception to John Carpenter’s first stab at adapting ‘Who Goes There?’ Roger Ebert dismissed it as “just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare each other to watch the screen.” Variety noted it was completely lacking in “a sense of intense dread.” Vincent Canby of the New York Times referred to it as “instant junk.” In Newsweek, David Ansen ripped it apart, stating, “Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it. There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama.”

The Thing wasn’t a well-received film, and it stalled out upon release in the summer of 1982 with a box office take of only $19 million.  Time has certainly been kind to Carpenter’s film, in part because the generation most affected by the chills of The Thing have now grown into the current crop of film bloggers and critics, and also because it’s really that damned good.

Will anyone be saying the same thing about 2011’s The Thing? I doubt it, for a number of reasons.

One, the film has no clarity of purpose. It walks a line between remake and prequel that offers no particular pay-off in either direction. As a remake, it’s rote, and as a prequel, it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know from seeing the original (a bunch of Norwegians uncovered a UFO in the ice and some bad alien stuff went down, killing them all in the process). Its most apparent purpose is a coldly cynical one -- as a name-recognition ticket to box office success, regardless of creativity.

Two, it’s inauthentic. Note the scene where Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits paleontologist Kate Lloyd (star Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In reality, one would expect a team of experts to be assembled to research something as big as a football field-sized spacecraft. In the universe of this movie, all it takes is one young doctor, straight out of grad school, and maybe Halvorson's ineffectual assistant (Eric Christian Olsen). Oh, and by the way, we need her decision right now; there’s no time to waste. It’s a sloppy “Hollywood” way to get Kate right to the heart of the action, but it’s also an early warning sign of how the film will more often choose dumb over smart.

But, didn’t I say I liked it? It would probably be easier for me to blow off the movie entirely, but, in truth, I was mostly entertained. There may have been some outside factors at work here. It was obvious that the audience I saw it with had never seen 1982’s The Thing, so, for them, all of the wild creature effects and suspense just plain worked. You could hear the gasps and the screams and the little laughs at how outlandish the monster looks. All of that vibe just reminded me of how long it had been since I’d seen a proper, gory monster movie with a crowd, and it was easy for me to forgive a lot of The Thing 2011’s been-there, done-that ride.

I think critics typically feel like they can’t be swayed by an audience reaction, and while that’s mostly true, movie-going is still a communal experience. When I separate my objective opinions on The Thing 2011 with my experience watching it, I know it’s not a great movie. For someone familiar with The Thing 1982, you spend a lot of the time watching the new one waiting for something new to happen, and when it does, it totally whiffs it (the climax in the UFO is unforgiveably sloppy, with special effects that reminded me of 1997’s Lost In Space, not Rob Bottin). That said, I had a good time at the movies, and The Thing 2011 has to take some of the credit for it.

It does nothing better than John Carpenter’s version, but it borrows and steals enough of the stuff that works from his film to carry it to some level of lowest-common-denominator entertainment. It’s like Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP compared to Ridley Scott’s Alien. One is art; one is for the mallrats. In this case, I’ll take an unoriginal movie with a familiar (beloved?) space-monster over no space-monster movie at all.

Categories: Horror, Reviews
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