Imitation, by Jack Fleischer
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a movie with sanctified status. While a casual Carpenter fan I had never seen this pic and at first I thought maybe I should watch it before reviewing this prequel. But a Carpenter fan suggested instead that I should hold off until after seeing the prequel. This would allow me a better opportunity to see if this film could stand on its own, and I’d be watching the movie the way most of the under 30 crowd will see it, without a clue. The verdict? This film is a mild success … with some heavy conditions.
A dour Norwegian (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant (Eric Christian Olsen) walk into a lab and ask an American (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help them with a top-secret project in Antarctica. The punch line is what you’d expect if you’ve seen the trailer. People die.
Sitting in a darkened theater, this movie was enjoyable. It reminded me of any number of successful and unsuccessful creatures vs. trapped crew films (Alien, Andromeda Strain, Leviathan, Sphere). The scares are occasionally genuine, occasionally of the black cat variety, but I was kept on the hook thanks to a good monster and decent performances.
This film also did a good job of getting to the point. I enjoy suspense, but ever since Jaws there’s been a clamber to keep the monster under wraps for as long as possible, but sometimes shit just needs to go down. The beast is CGI, but not in a Jar-Jar way. It reminds me of a cross between a “The Real Ghostbusters” ghost toy I had as a kid and a very angry vagina.
Occasionally the dialogue is a little on the nose and wooden, but the real unfortunate weakness to this film is its final act. There are parts that are mildly confusing and abrupt. I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory, but certain threads seem dropped for no discernible reason, and it doesn’t have a resolution so much as a hard stop. Then they seem to try and gloss over it all with an additional ending appears in the midst of the final credits. It seems a little like a distraction added to appease original fans.
Judging from other audience member’s reactions as the lights came up, staunch fans of the original will not like this film. There were numerous snide comments, and even a “boo” or two. On the other hand, it got me real primed to see the original.
With little surprise, I’d like to say that the original is indeed a better film. Carpenter’s version has more humor, more creep, and holds together better from beginning to end. It also captures a true feeling of paranoia as opposed to merely the fear of being eaten.
A number of folks have commented on the monster’s change from practical effects to CGI. When dealing with a monster like this, the CGI and original practical effects can look equally fake or hokey. Neither of these films can lay claim to the perfect monster, but I would say that both are very good in their respective field. Carpenter’s creature has better goo, grease, and sinew, but the CGI beast captures some of the more terrifying movements of a creature with otherworldly physical rules.
Watching the original I did enjoy the reverse homage’s, and for the most part they seemed subtle and well done, but there is a part of me that sees these as possible reasons as to why the prequel falls apart at the end. They had to bend it to make it fit. I also found it a bit odd how much these two films looked like each other in terms of visual style. Everything from the sets to the characters look somewhat similar, like an eerie copy, and I almost wondered if the filmmakers were taking the whole insidious duplicate idea to an odd meta level.
All in all, this prequel did a fair job of being part of the franchise. I think it’s not a bad way to come into the series and an interesting exercise in explaining the original’s origins. But, Carpenter’s film ultimately makes this one unnecessary. If you’ve never seen the one from 1982, you can warm up with this, but otherwise you can probably live without it.