The Thing-a-Thon: The Thing (2011)
Earlier today, I posted my review of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), a film that rose phoenix-like from the ashes of box office and critical failure to discover a second life as a horror film masterpiece.
Icicles and razor blades...
The film's second and considerable mistake is to visualize the recruitment of Kate Lloyd at Columbia University, in America. Another reason for the Carpenter film's pervasive sense of isolation and alienation was the setting. It was impossible to escape.
Now, many of the other Thing-outs in the film -- also CGI -- look significantly better than this initial one.
Generally, the effects look pretty good. At the very least, they are effective. But by introducing the Thing with a woefully bad effects sequence, the horrific nature of the alien is not conveyed as promptly or as effectively as it should be.
Why? Movie-goers, and especially fans of the original, were waiting to see if CGI could deliver as effectively what Rob Bottin's practical effects delivered in 1982. The effects in the new Thing, as they stand in this first scene, fail to reach that benchmark, and so disappointment ensues. Not all the special effects in the film are this bad, but for the first "thing-out" to be a disaster bodes poorly for the remainder of the film.
I don't know that such a moment can be topped, frankly, so perhaps this is an unfair criticism. By the same token, we've all waited almost thirty years to see the inside of the Thing's saucer, and the depiction of it here, while undeniably competent, lacks any kind of inspiration or distinction. Two days later, I don't remember much unique or interesting about it. I contrast this with a film like Fire in the Sky (1993), where the interior of an alien ship was weird and unforgettable.
I find all of this disappointing, because The Thing (2011) is not some quick, cheap, or stupid knock-off. There are actually quite a few things about the film I actually liked and appreciated. I have returned to it and watched it several times since 2011.
In other words, Kate determines that the Thing cannot reproduce inorganic matter, like tooth fillings or earrings. A quick scan of each person's mouth can reveal whether they have fillings or not, and this particular scene -- though an obvious homage to Carpenter's classic blood-test scene -- works like gangbusters in developing tension. In particular, you have to be very, very close to look inside someone's mouth, and the film makes the most out of that potentially dangerous proximity.
For instance, Kate's final disposition is left ambiguous (perhaps in some kind of tribute to the ending of the Carpenter film), but her continued survival doesn't seem possible given what we saw in the 1982 film. Therefore, the film's refusal to pin down her fate feels more like an opening for a sequel than an organic narrative moment.
It is intriguing, however, to note that this version of The Thing does refer, at least tangentially to the Hawks/Nyby version. Here, the scientist Halvorsen is as wrong-headed and irritating as Carrington was. So far, every iteration of the story has featured a scientist who was wrong-headed, or flat out crazy.