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The UnPopular Opinion: The Thing (2011)

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

This has been a very disappointing year for prequels, sequels, reboots and remakes. Typically, trying to force a film like ALIEN: COVENANT into the continuity of a franchise does not work out as well as studio executives may think. Fans may find the movie passable while others in the minority could love it, but it is virtually impossible to ride nothing but nostalgia to box office success. That being said, there have been occassions where filmmakers have taken a beloved or iconic property and done something with it that enhances the original while still delivering a standalone movie that works. JURASSIC WORLD did it, PROMETHEUS did it, and the 2011 version of THE THING did it. While many who overlooked Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s film as a cash grab remake of John Carpenter's cult classic, they missed out on a sly prequel that fits in seamlessly with the story of the 1982 movie while also being a nice claustrophobic horror film of it's own. While it may not be the most original story possible, THE THING is executed brilliantly and is a greatly overlooked homage to John Carpenter.

One of the biggest failures of ALIEN COVENANT was that it tried to marry the vastly different tone and style of PROMETHEUS to the gothic horror stylings of ALIEN. Despite being directed by Ridley Scott, COVENANT just didn't have the same magic as ALIEN. With THE THING, there was a clear desire to be as faithful to John Carpenter as possible. The result is a movie that is not very original and does not stray far from the formula of THE THING, hence the identical title. Had this movie been called THE THING: BEGINNINGS or THE THING: FIRST EXPEDITION, those unfamiliar with the Kurt Russell version of the movie would probably have stayed away. Shocking, I know, that some people are unfamiliar with a film as great as THE THING, but movie studios tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to projects like this. Much like last year's BLAIR WITCH serving as a direct sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a lot of care and effort went into ensuring the continuity between the two THE THINGs. It is that attention to detail that makes this movie so good.

The UnPopular Opinion, The Thing, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Joel Edgerton, Horror, Prequel, Remake

In an era where we can say with 100% honesty that they just don't make them like they used to, THE THING is a breath of icy fresh air. Using more CGI than I wouild have liked, THE THING echoes the horrific creature designs that John Carpenter brought to life and lends a fleshed out story to the failed expedition that came before the story featured in the 1982 film. Like ROGUE ONE expounding on a virtual throwaway line in STAR WARS, the 2011 THE THING did not need to exist but the execution adds so much more to what happens in the 1982 story. In the original film, the Norweigan base is nothing more than a charred husk that helps kick off the mysterious alien attacks. The 2011 film shows how the crew of the Norweigan site along with Americans played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton become infected after discovering the spacecraft that brought the monster to our planet. Some of you may think that this is a story that did not need to be told and you are right. But, if they were going to try and create another THE THING, it is far better to highlight and deepen the mystery of the original rather than disregard it and tell something new. Some of you may disagree but I am all for world building when it is done right.

What this THE THING does so well is use the creature from the 1982 film but not ape the exact same story structure. In the 1982 film, the main characters had no idea what they were dealing with. Coming across the infected dog and the clues left by the destroyed Norweigan site made the ambiguous source of the monster all the more terriftying. The 2011 movie makes it abundantly clear that the antagonist is an alien that will destroy each and every human. Knowing the alien is an alien takes away one type of horror and fully drives another. When you don't know what your attacker is, it is terrifying. When you do know what it is and you still cannot stop it, it becomes horrifying. What is impressive is just how closely the two stories overlap, a feat that has yet to be accomplished by many other movie prequels. The closest comparison I can make is to ROGUE ONE which looks and feels much like the 1977 STAR WARS but has a different visual style and tone. THE THING, both versions, almost feel like they were made years apart rather than decades.

The UnPopular Opinion, The Thing, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Joel Edgerton, Horror, Prequel, Remake

If I asked you to name the first thing that comes to mind about the 1982 film, many of you would likely name Kurt Russell. Russell, who partnered with John Carpenter many times, lent an action hero panache to the character of MacReady that would have been virtually impossible to replicate. The crew of THE THING decided instead to mesh their new film with the aforemntioned ALIEN and give the lead to a female character. Kate Lloyd as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead is clearly written to emulate Ellen Ripley as a strong female character stuck surrounded by men. Winstead, who has effectively played sexy and strong most recently on the acclaimed third season of FX's Fargo, never once feels out of place in this movie. Her fate and that of everyone else in the movie is clearly doomed, but the story never treats any of these characters as cannon fodder. There is a sincere sense of survival that I fell for right away. Not one moment goes by in this movie that I do not feel like any of these characters may make it out alive despite knowing full well where the ending leads.

THE THING never falls prey to what a lot of remakes suffer from. The acting is top notch from the global cast. The special effects are solid recreations of the 1982 practical designs but the CGI does make you yearn for the good old days of puppets and squibs. The cinematography by Michel Abramowicz hedges very close to the Carpenter film while the score by Marco Beltrami does it's best to ape Ennio Morriconne's classic soundtrack. The film also benefits from the characters making decisions and choices that mimic more realistic developments than many slashers fall prey to. This is not a movie full of people going into dark rooms alone or putting their hand into a hole and getting it bitten off. Most of the people chosen for Arctic expeditions are scientists and highly intelligent people that are often turned into idiot cliches by big budget thrillers. THE THING works as well as it does because all of the aspects of the story come together in a realistic fashion despite the overly unrealistic proceedings.

The UnPopular Opinion, The Thing, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Joel Edgerton, Horror, Prequel, Remake

THE THING is both a prequel and a sequel, a remake and a reboot, and that is what makes it so damn good. Had this movie shared no connective tissue with the 1982 version, it would have been dismissed outright as a cash grab. Audiences and critics still stayed away from the film which is a damn shame as we don't often get any horror films from studios quite like this anymore. THE THING works in many ways and you can watch it how you prefer. It is a different experience watching the 1982 film followed by the 2011 one to see where Carpenter's inspiration helped the new crew create their story. At the same time, watching the new THE THING first leads the story directly into the 1982 tale and gives you the same sense as ROGUE ONE does for STAR WARS. In either scenario, you have a great double feature that works both as a late night scare fest or a foray into what is possible when trying to make a follow-up to a movie thirty years after the original.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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