This awesome flick was unfortunately in theaters at the same time as E.T. and was essentially a box office failure. But it has gained a wild cult following on television and home video and you can consider me a card carrying member of that cult.
What I love about the 1982 film is the great character performances and use of suspense and paranoia to carry the film, rather than the creature effects. But the creature effects could have easily carried this film by themselves. Grotesque and gory, The Thing is the most bizarre creature I have ever seen on screen. And although the movie was made long before the use of CGI in films, the very fact that almost every effect was in camera still gives the film a tangible quality today that is lacking in so many CGI flicks whose effects look to my eye like glorified cartoons. (Even giants like the Lord of The Rings Trilogy have many phony CGI moments to my eye.) CGI is something I tolerate, and sometimes enjoy, but am rarely fooled by.
When I heard they were making a prequel to my favorite monster flick, I was immediately stoked. But as the time drew closer and I saw some obvious CGI effects in the trailers, I started to prepare myself to be let down and resolved to just enjoy the movie as best as I could. All things considered, I had zero cause for concern. This movie nailed it.
A Norwegian team of scientists have discovered a spacecraft buried in the antarctic ice for thousands of years and hire an American female paleontologist and a few other Americans to help them excavate it. But as is often the case in movies like this, the scientists make reckless decisions out of impatience and pride that lead to disaster and horror as they unleash a terrifying creature that is far more than they are prepared to deal with.
It's hard not to compare this movie to the 1982 film, because it draws so heavily from it. Both films occur in some of the same locations and the producers of the new film obviously used the 1982 production documents as source material. In many ways the plot uses the same skeleton as the original film as well, but is fleshed out in different ways and somehow still feels very original.
This was due largely to the fact that, like the first film, this one keeps you guessing until the very end regarding who is human and who is The Thing. The sense of isolation feeds the paranoia, and the performances by the cast keep the tension levels high throughout the movie. It's this attention to character and the pace of the script and editing that kept me hugging my shoulders for much of the 103 minute run time.
The creature design is a major selling point of the film. As The Thing absorbs and imitates other life forms, it transforms in gruesome and gory ways, contorting the human form into horrific shapes that just plain give you the willies to look at. Although this movie could stand on its tension-setting alone, when The Thing literally bursts onto the scene, it pays off the mounting tension to jaw-dropping effect.
My only point of criticism, the only way I could think to make this movie any better, would be the CGI effects. The film uses some great practical effects to portray The Thing, but also uses CGI now and then, some parts of which look better than others. I would have preferred that they go practical the entire film. But the creature design still looked creepy and bizarre, and even the original movie switched over to some questionable stop-motion animation at the climax of the film.
For fans of the original flick, there are a multitude of connections to the original film. So many in fact that after the last sequence during the credits, which re-creates the opening shots of the original movie, you'll want to go home and watch the 1982 movie.
Ever wonder what led to that crazy "two person meld" they find in the original movie? This flick tells the whole story. There are bits like that throughout the film, although they are handled in such a way as to not be obvious "inside jokes" to old-school fans, such as those peppered throughout the last Indiana Jones movie. This isn't nostalgia film-making, but it does honor the original movie and even enhances the experience of watching it again.
Never seen the original? No worries. This film doesn't depend on that a single bit and stands completely on its own, a modern creature horror masterpiece. But you may just find yourself looking for a copy of the old one as you leave the theater!
Although I always look for something of real-world importance in the themes of the movies I watch, this movie was just pure escapist entertainment. It's not making any philosophical statements. It just wants to scare the pants off of you. As far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished!
Rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language.
For information about my scoring system, visit www.spiritblade.net/reviewscores
You can also listen to this review this weekend at www.spiritblade.net/podcast