Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Dull Thing

Nostalgia for John Carpenter's The Thing brought me to the latest reboot/prequel, also aptly named The Thing.  Scary movies are my favorite way to celebrate the coming of Halloween each October, and watching them has become an annual ritual for me that typically goes unobserved for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately, this Thing doesn't succeed as nostalgia and the only dread it generates is a fear of which successful franchise the studios will seek to destroy next -- not to mention a fear of narcolepsy.  I almost fell asleep twice.

In the right hands, the project could have been a sure thing.  The notion of a creature from another world that can absorb and convincingly impersonate anyone is a corker ripe with with possibility.  The makers of this movie had nearly 30 years to let a new idea germinate -- for instance: imagine the Thing running rampant in a major city!  Nobody is who they seem.  That would be an interesting follow-up.  Instead, the big idea of this movie is to set-up why the dog is being pursued by Nordic scientists in the opening of the Carpenter film.  Finally, the question is answered!  Unfortunately, we learn nothing about how the creature comes to earth or why it feasts on human flesh with such unbridled fervor.  It's as though after all this time, the studio panicked and pushed the project into production before the script, cast and crew was ready.  Which begs the question: why now?

Although Carpenter's 1982 film was also a remake, it was shrewdly conceived with a unique visual style all its own and a particularly lean and chilling screenplay.  I don't object to remakes as a rule, but  remakes only work when they do one of two things: enrich the original material with new conflict and deeper characterizations, or use the original material to develop a unique visual approach to the telling of the story.  This thing looks exactly like the Carpenter film, which only underscores all of its weaknesses.

There isn't an original idea in the entire picture unless you count the revelation that the "thing" cannot impersonate its victim's dental fillings.  The best part of the movie is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who tries her best to generate a modicum of audience engagement.  The worst part of the movie is the senseless timing of the monster attacks.  It literally seems as though the creature waits until the most potent moment of on-screen silence to tear things up.  Perhaps in the sequel we'll learn precisely why it lies dormant inside its human hosts and holds full conversations before arbitrarily revealing itself to its prey.  Still, I did marvel at the many ways the filmmakers found to turn the titular slime creature into a gelatinous abstraction of the human form -- sometimes with two partially digested heads.  That's real efficiency.

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