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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Thing | Ulrich Thomsen, Joel Edgerton and Mary Elizabeth Winstead | Review

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  3_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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The Thing

The third thing to be discovered in ice-covered Antarctica is actually supposed to be a prequel to the 1982 (second, and best) iteration of the three.  It’s been hell on ice since John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? appeared in Astounding Stories, forming the basis for three cinematic variations on the cold war – the one where man battles space alien in a harsh climate that’s deadly in itself.

This latest version takes place in 1982 before the events that comprise the actual 1982 John Carpenter story.  That makes it a prequel and the message is driven home with the first shot of paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) listening to Men at Work’s Who Can it Be Now? with dated earphones.

Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits Kate to help with an icy retrieval of an alien life form found alongside its massive spacecraft in an underground ice cavern.  He speculates that the thing could have been there for 100,000 years.  Kate drops everything to fly 10,000 miles to the Norwegian camp in Antarctica. Halvorson is the lead scientist and his eyes fairly sparkle with the promise of fame and wealth that his discovery could mean.  Helicopter pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) is one of the few Americans on the mostly Norwegian research team.

The creature is extracted in a giant ice block and brought back to the camp, where attempts to obtain a tissue sample bring about cracks and thaws and the inevitable escape that renders it nowhere and everywhere at once.

As would be the case after any long incubation, the thing is hungry and irked and literally ‘in your face’ with its mushy tentacles and retractable limbs.  Imagine a grey, oozing Stretch Armstrong-like slug that possesses the gruesome ability to burst forth into shapes imitating human anatomy; other protrusions whip around like a hungry frog’s tongue, looking for something to touch, absorb, and become.

Suspicion makes this icy world go ‘round.  Human nature rears its head, splitting the camp into factions of team members that eye each other with furtive, ominous expressions.  A flame thrower becomes the weapon of choice, but you can never really kill something that needs only a living cell of its entity to invade and survive.

Halvorson is the requisite pompous scientist obsessed with getting credit for the new discovery, an arrogance that carries with it a disregard for his fellow man (and woman).  The rest of the unit with names like Sven, Lars, Olav, and Henrik spout Norwegian/English epithets and arterial fountains in their quest for survival.

There is a clever scene that has to do with dental fillings, but for the most part the film is simply a thing-and-mouse hunt; there are no cats in Antarctica, although there are some, apparently, in space - remember Alien?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate is allowed to have the best ideas and the most level-headed approach to survival but we get to know her only slightly more than any other interchangeable character.  Joel Edgerton is capable of much more meaningful portrayals than is asked of him here.  Ulrich Thomsen only manages to hit one note as the greedy researcher, cold and unforgiving as his surroundings.

Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. first feature-length effort simply goes through the required motions, setting up a scenario, supplying a group of people and an alien and letting the unnatural nature of events take its course.

The film relies on CGI to carry it while eschewing character development.  With most of the gang essentially an assortment of warm-blooded hors d’oeuvres for the thing, why bother getting to know them? They seem to exist for the sole purpose of allowing the heroine to plan an assault while the creature has a good supply of soft tissue to occupy itself.

It’s always amusing to find a space creature that resembles a slimy mudskipper, able to pilot sophisticated spacecraft while maintaining a gooey, tentacled, excretion-heavy existence.  Imagine what the construction process must have been like.  The 1982 film used prosthetics, puppets and mechanical animation to portray a genuinely creepy organism.  Computer generation is not always better, and this version’s effects rarely match, let alone surpass Carpenter’s original creation.

Marco Beltrami’s score does incorporate a familiar riff from Ennio Morricone’s 1982 score: the two-beat bass strum that mimics a heartbeat.  Mimic is a good word for what the 2011 Thing accomplishes, missing the visceral impact of its predecessor.

Sometimes a Thing can be adequate and that is just not enough.

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