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"THE THING"
(2011) (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Horror: A small group of researchers and scientists must contend with the discovery of a frozen extraterrestrial at a remote Antarctic outpost and what then happens once it thaws and escapes.
PLOT:
Kate Lloyd (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) is a paleontologist who's been asked by scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (ULRICH THOMSEN) and his assistant, Adam Goodman (ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN), to travel with them to a remote Antarctica outpost where geologist Edvard Wolner (TROND ESPEN SEIM) and his crew have made a startling discovery long-buried under the ice and snow. When they arrive -- courtesy of helicopter transport provided by pilots Braxton Carter (JOEL EDGERTON), Jameson (ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE) and crewmember Griggs (PAUL BRAUNSTEIN) -- they discover that an alien spacecraft was found.

Even more exciting is the fact that an extraterrestrial from that craft has also been found intact, frozen solid in a block of ice. As they along with French scientist Juliette (KIM BUBBS), Norwegian workers Lars (JORGEN LANGHELLE), Peder (STIG HENRIK HOFF) and others watch, Halvorson orders a tissue sample be taken from the creature. With that in hand, the crew celebrates that night, unaware that the block of ice is melting.

All of which allows the alien to thaw out and escape, a bad development since it has a taste for human flesh. To make matters worse, it absorbs its prey in a near perfect cloning process, thus allowing it to infiltrate the unaware group, waiting to attack its next victim. Once Kate and the others realize this, they become suspicious of the others, with the belief that they can't let this thing escape the outpost and possibly infect and kill the rest of the world.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Various artists have long used their work -- be that plays, poems, novels, songs, movies, TV shows and such -- as allegories to current or past events. In doing so, they could slip in their views on whatever the topic of their concern might be in a way that usually wouldn't alienate the majority of their audience. Science fiction has been one of the best genres for doing that, especially since the outlandishness of the plot or related elements is usually a good way to camouflage the message.

Of course, sometimes it's only certain core demographics of said audience -- meaning academics and critics -- who end up reading more into what they're examining or reviewing than is actually there. Take, for instance, the adaptations of the 1938 story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. In 1951, it was done as the movie "The Thing From Another World" (where James "Gunsmoke" Arness played the creature), and people saw parallels to Cold War paranoia.

When director John Carpenter did his version of "The Thing" in 1982 where the alien infected people and a dog virus style -- before splitting them open in the old school mechanical visual effects way -- people saw that as an allegory about AIDS. And now we have some people claiming that the latest incarnation -- also titled "The Thing" despite being a direct prequel to Carpenter's film -- is all about viewing people as terrorists in hiding and thus casting a wary eye on all around you.

C'mon folks! You can conjure up whatever allegorical elements you want, but this is really just a sci-fi horror show, complete with state of the art special effects (save for one really cheap looking visual near the end), and the old horror movie staple of isolating its characters and having them be picked off one by one. If anything, those looking for hidden messages should see the most obvious one -- the filmmakers clearly found Ridley Scott's claustrophobic "Alien" and James Cameron's superlative "Aliens" as inspiration for their flick.

Yes, much of what's present obviously ties in with Carpenter's flick as this one takes place a few days prior to what occurs in the '82 pic. Even so, I found myself thinking more of the "Alien" flicks, especially considering the presence of the initially unlikely flame thrower toting heroine. Following in Sigourney Weaver's footsteps, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a paleontologist invited to help extract an unusual find in the cold Antarctic environs, just a few clicks from the setting of Carpenter's film.

To no one's surprise -- at least among viewers as the cast members have to suffer a few loses before getting up to speed with what's occurring -- the discovered alien escapes and starts killing those in the remote station (with, natch, a bad storm knocking on their door). Like before -- and in keeping with the parameters of its predecessor -- the creature absorbs and then imitates other organisms, all in a fairly gross manner.

But as is oft the case, the powers that be have turned up the gross-out factor by several notches. While there was only so much Rob Bottin and his effects crew could do with their animatronic magic (albeit successfully for their time), today's CGI wizards can pretty much deliver whatever they've been tasked to craft. And they do so in spades, creating some truly barf-o-rama visuals of victims splitting open, being partially absorbed by the predator and so on.

A little of that goes a long way, though, and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. -- working from a script by Eric Heisserer -- ends up overusing such visuals. The first one is shocking and the next one revolting, but then it starts to get, well, a little boring. It's been nearly 30 years since I've seen the Kurt Russell flick in full, so comparisons there are fairly moot. But this offering clearly pales when pitted against the cat and mouse element of "Alien" and the all-out action mayhem of "Aliens."

It also doesn't help that it's missing the mothering themes of the latter where Weaver's character makes it her mission to save young Newt amidst all of the terror and horror. Here, there are no extra sub-themes. So, what we're left with is the standard boogeyman/serial killer story as portrayed by a parasitic extraterrestrial.

I never found myself particularly worried about any of the characters, be that those played by Winstead or Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen and Jorgen Langhelle among others. They're barely personified beyond one-note characteristics (if even that) and are present just as potential fodder for the standard meat grinder plot mechanics.

Fans of the original will be relieved that this is a prequel and thus not an actual remake of the '82 film, and they'll certainly enjoy how it ties in to that flick (especially its ending to the earlier film's beginning). For everyone else, however, and once one has gotten over the shock value of the gory visuals, the result is a fairly humdrum and less than engaging experience. The 2011 version of "The Thing" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed October 11, 2011 / Posted October 14, 2011


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