Tuesday, October 18, 2011

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) vs. The Thing (2011)

Okay, so how many people out there still haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)? Well, if you are one of those unlucky few, trust me when I say that you’re missing out on one of the finest examples of a good horror/science fiction film in cinematic history and arguably, John Carpenter’s best film ever. Period. Carpenter’s film is great for many reasons, all of which I will get into in the coming paragraphs. My question is: why mess around with perfection? Was this new film necessary? Was an effort made to make a film worthy of its legendary predecessor?

Poster for John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

 When Universal announced that they’d be making a new film that would connect with Carpenter’s The Thing, I was screaming “sacrilege!” Yup, I'm one of those guys. You see, to me the first film is so damn perfect that I just couldn’t even fathom the idea of a remake or a prequel or anything. I mean unless these guys were really serious about making a worthy film, more likely than not we would end up with another bad remake on our hands. But the question remained: would this new film be good enough to stand proudly next to John Carpenter’s film and say “I am just as good!”? My doubts were always there. In my mind, nothing could come close to what Carpenter and crew achieved with their film.

Rob Bottin (left) One of the many creatures in The Thing (middle) John Carpenter (Right)

 It is my opinion (and this is something that all sci-fi/horror fans and film buffs agree with) that Rob Bottin’s and Stan Winston’s make up effect work on Carpenter’s film remains undefeated to this very day. I mean, have you ever seen anything as remotely outlandish and monstrous as the creatures on Carpenter’s film? Nothing! The make up effects work on that film is indisputable! So my first fear with this new film popped up: would they put as much of an effort in making the make up effects work on this new film truly special? I mean, it’s been almost 30 years since Carpenter’s film, surely make up effects have improved by leaps and bounds? Surely they were aiming at making something that would surpass Carpenters film? I mean knowing how much everyone reveres the work done on that film?

Make up effects master: Rob Bottin!

 Here’s where we reach this new films first stumbling block. The make up effects work was nowhere to be seen. I don’t believe one single creature was practical. Nothing was tangible or real, everything, and I mean everything was done on a computer. It didn’t have that tangibility that Rob Bottin’s creations had. That glimmer, that sweat, the shine, that squishy looking yellow stuff pouring out of the creatures pulsating veins. I mean, there was nothing remotely like that on this new film. And that was my first real disappointment with this new film. But I will say this: the computer generated images where not bad, not bad at all. What the filmmakers attempted to do (and curiously enough it fits the theme of the film) was imitate Winston and Bottin’s make effects work and creations, but with computer effects. Damn knuckleheads!

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is this films 'Ripley' in The Thing (2011)

 I mean seriously, how hard could it have been to get a make up effects genius to come up with the creatures for this film? I mean what about the KNB guys? Surely they are still around? My point is they could have gotten someone to do something real, tangible and ultimately more convincing. It’s not that the computer effects were bad (they weren’t) it’s just that while watching the film we know they are computer images; we know that this image wasn’t even on the set with the actors, therefore, a lot of credibility simply goes out the window.

 But, to this new films credit I will say that they did manage to pull off a lot of gory looking images. And the stuff they did with the computers was fun to watch. There is one scene in which this guy rips open, we see his face and whole body splitting in half, I thought that was a pretty cool sequence. I mean, for things like that, sure, computer effects work wonders. But they didn’t have to go and do everything with CGI. They could have done what Guillermo del Toro does in his films, mix practical with CGI. Use CGI to enhance or fix certain things, but not do every single creature in the computer. But enough bitchin’ about the effects, when it all comes down to it, I didn’t think the computer effects were bad at all. It’s just that when compared to the work put into the original, and the legendary results, well, this new Thing pales in comparison.

 So what else? Was the suspense as nail biting as in Carpenter’s?  That’s one of the things that distinguished the original; you can cut the suspense with a knife. Carpenter set his film in such a dreadful place; you could literally feel the isolation and paranoia taking over these guys. The characters in Carpenter’s film felt like they were angry, on the edge. The actors conveyed that angst ridden feeling you get when you’ve been locked up in a place for so long.  You could tell that the harsh environment they were living in, the loneliness and xenophobia was really starting to get to them. Did this new film achieve that same level of intensity? Hell no it didn’t! And why not? I think it had something to do with the pacing of the movie which was pretty fast, and the choice to fill the film with an orchestral score. In Carpenter’s film, you never got the feeling that the music is telling you how to feel. The score on Carpenter’s film was very subtle and used sparingly. Some of the most dramatic moments in Carpenter’s film had no music whatsoever. What we did hear was the storm blowing outside making all sorts of spooky sounds. What we heard was the alarm blaring away; we heard these men screaming and fighting. We heard  the creatures alien screams. These were the sounds that inhabited Carpenter’s film. There was no place in it for a musical score because the setting and situations were spooky enough. And I think that this absence of music in Carpenter’s original was a key element that enhanced the isolation/fear factor. On this new film we have this music all the time reminding us we are watching a movie. It took away from the dread.

Kurt Russell wannabe

 Question remains: did this new film get anything right? At all? To tell you the truth, I didn’t think this new film was a bad one, I found myself walking out a satisfied fan. This new film isn’t a remake, but at the same time it is? Let me make myself clear here: this new film takes place before the events on Carpenter’s film, so we get to see what happened to those crazy Norwegians who first found the alien space craft. And to be honest, I enjoyed that whole aspect of the film, seeing what happened before. If you are a huge fan of the original and know it by heart, then you will get all the connections to Carpenter’s film. It feels as if these characters are once again walking in the world that Carpenter and crew created, so kudos to these new filmmakers for achieving that. It also goes places that Carpenter’s film never went, and that was awesome as well, trust me, there are a few surprises in store for fans of Carpenter’s film. Also, the creatures are pretty cool looking. Even though they were all computer generated images, I think they still managed to be quite impressive. It’s like, okay this isn’t a film that will impress you with it’s top of the line make up effects work (because there was practically no practical effects work) but it might impress you with its computer generated creatures none the less. So rest easy: you will be seeing some wonderfully grotesque creatures on this new film. And at least conceptually, they do go into the grotesque and monstrous territories that Bottin’s and Winston’s creations went to.

 You can see this new film and see Carpenter’s film right afterwards in a double feature and you will feel like you are watching characters inhabiting the same universe. I thought that was this new films major achievement; that cohesiveness. The only problem is that the film says it isn’t a remake, yet it feels like the same film. It goes through the same motions and situations, only slightly altered. There are a couple of entirely new situations, but for the most part this new film feels a heck of a lot like Carpenter’s film. Bottom line is that this new film wasn’t the disaster we all thought it was going to be. It’s a film that could stand proudly next to Carpenter’s film; only its not a better film. Carpenter’s classic is so awesome; such a perfect horror film, that there was no way it was going to be beat. The bar had been set to high by Carpenters film. But still, this new The Thing was an enjoyable monster movie, and one that a fan of Carpenter’s film can enjoy. Just don’t expect a better film.

Rating for The Thing (1982): 5 out of 5
Rating for The Thing (2011): 3 1/2 out of 5 


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a gorgeous little darlin`.

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Wow, that is a really great analysis! I loved how clear you are on your points and great notation that it's cohesiveness with Carpenter's film, that really does make it unique in the remake world.

It's true that they do encounter a lot of the same scenarios, but I though there were enough new spins to keep in interesting even if you know the original well. And I truly love both Joel Edgerton & Ulrich Thomsen so I'll admit that seeing them here was an extra special treat.

INDBrent said...

great and very useful analysis. I haven't gone to see it because, like you, I was hesitant to compare it to the Carpenter version, but if it works well as a companion piece, that's not so bad.

Craig D. said...

"But they didn’t have to go and do everything with CGI."

They didn't. I'm sure that some of the effects are 100% digital, but a lot of it is hybrid work: practical enhanced with CG. I think that when you see that kind of stuff, your brain just assumes it's all CG. There's a great featurette video on the effects which shows this off very well, with some before and after shots. Here’s the YouTube link:


I saw the movie yesterday, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. Carpenter's film is my second favorite movie (after Blade Runner), so I was ready to hate it just as much as any other psychotic fanboy. I certainly have my complaints. To name just a few: the plot is far too similar to the 82 film, the characters are mostly interchangeable, there are too many jump scares, the final Thing monster is a bit silly, and yes, a lot of the CGI looks too... plastic.

But the movie captured the basics of what made the 1982 film so good: the combination of paranoia and social decay with grisly, Lovecraftian creature design. It's a lot closer to The Mist than Saw or those lousy Platinum Dunes remakes like Texas Chainsaw and Friday the 13th. Of course it's not as good as Carpenter's film, but there are way too many good scenes to just dismiss it. I'm already anxious to see it again, and it's going to be fun watching it back to back with the 82 film, since they match up perfectly.

Franco Macabro said...

@Shannon: Agree, there's enough new stuff to keep those who thought they'd be seeing the same movie all over again (I was one of them) happy.
Weird thing about this film is that it feels familiar...then it doesnt!

@Brent: It's a great companion piece, I mean, stay after the ending starts to roll, everything matches up perfectly to Carpenter's film.

@Craig: Thanks for that link, I will check it out. Im surprised to find out there's some practical effects on there, it didnt look like it. But I guess I've only seen the movie once, maybe I'll notice on further viewings.

Agree with your points on what you didnt like. My biggest problem was the tension level which I thought was low when compared to Carpenter's which is soooo freaking intense at certain points.

I'm also looking forward to seeing it again, I was especially thrilled with the last moments of the film, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the ship...that was awesome.

Thanks for commenting everyone!

SFF said...

Hey Francisco- hope all is well.

You pretty much sum up what my eyes had revealed to me. The trailer for the film tells you so much about its similarities to the superior original.

Having said, that, someday I'm sure I will enjoy it. But, I'm still left to wonder why it was remade this way.

One small bit, "Kurt Russell Wannabe." I don't know a lot about Joel Edgerton, the actor who played Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels, but I think he's an actor on the rise and does appear to have real talent.

I know you wrote it in humor, but he does obvious Kurt similarities. I do think he has talent though.

As always, a fine review.
best, sff

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I didnt mean to bring down his performance or anything, in reality, nobody on this film did a bad job acting wise.

But it seemed to me like it was his character that was playing the McReady type of role on this one.

When I saw the trailer, I immediately thought it was going to be the same exact film remade, but upon watching it, it's strange because it feels like it is a remake, but then not. They changed things around a bit, but essentially, the story does go through the same beats as Carpenters, only slightly altered.

I'm a die hard fan of John Carpenter's film and I walked out happy, so take that for what it's worth.

Thanks for commenting Sci-Fi!

SFF said...

I know that about you Francisco. I totally got what you were going for.

I think your enjoyment of it is a big nod. I love the original as well.

Yeah, it definitely sounds like The Thing in an alternate dimension. : )

Anonymous said...

I agree with your review, I even enjoyed watching the remake a second time.. its fun looking for links and disparity with Carpenter's classic movie.. I do think its missing Russell's iconic performance at McReady, hes such an underrated and versatile actor.. but one thing left me perplexed - having just watched the 'remake' a second time - I'm curious, what happens to Mary Elizabeth Winstead at the end of the film? Is it assumed she freezes to death in the vehicle by the spaceship? As she is never discovered by the US crew in Carpenters version when they discover the site? Surely the big yellow vehicle she was sat in would still be there.. or maybe snowed under.. wouldnt she have attempted to drive back to camp or..? Seems like a strange loose end, unless its another goddamn open ended sequel strain lol! And another unasnwered question to this day is... did the alien get to McReady?!!

Franco Macabro said...

Thats a good observation right there, they never did find that vehicle or the girl...I guess had they made a more detailed search they would have found it, but thats stretching it.

I guess both films have that open end thing that a lot of horror movies love to do, they leave you hanging..with questinos in your mind. Fulci for example loved to that with his films.

The Horror Seeker said...

Great analysis! Nice points! When it was first announced, I was very skeptical, if not downright hostile. Then I read it was going to center around the Norwegian expedition who found the ship in the first place... then I gave it a shot. And what I got was a nice prequel which can stand on its own as well.

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you liked it Horror Seeker, I was expecting a huge stinker, thank the movie gods I wasn't totally let down. Still, I believe the first one is way more effective.

Anonymous said...

It's a bad prequel because it has massive inconsistencies with the original film.

Like, I love how the makers think themselves being clever for showing how that axe got against the wall, yet they fuckup stuff like not showing the Norwegian team blowing up the ice to reveal the spaceship underneath the surface and film it on a tape for MacReady to find (in the prequel the ship seems to be located in some kind of cave... WHY??) or the fact that the Norwegian team has a british and an american member and somehow in the original they never mention that.
Or that the dog looks nothing like the dog of the original film.

And it's a bad horror movie on its own because the characters are flat and the acting is dull, it's full of stupid jumpscares (silence, silence... BOOOM!!!), the CGI is awful and the movie is even inconsistent with itself: so the Thing rejects not-organic stuff... And yet we clearly see the monster gobbling up a guy with his jacket on. Or how about the fact that the Thing isn't able to reach the girl when it hides in a hole inside the spaceship... When it could just detach its arm to catch her like it did when it infected that guy turning his hand into a scolopendra-like creature?
And let's not forget the whole thing about the flying saucer being fully functional which begs the question of why the hell the creature didn't just left that place a long time ago instead of going out and freezing itself. If it wanted to invade the Earth, he could've just took off and find a better, warmer place where to spread, why did it get out of the ship and got forzen like an idiot? It makes no sense no matter how you put it.

The 2011 prequel contains pretty much everything wrong with modern horror films, like using too much CGI, unlikeable characters, disrespectfully using old and better source material to profit from it, retarded jumpscares that are more annoying than scary... All that it missed was a sex scene between two teenager dipshits.


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