Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

 My girlfriend hates horror films.  She doesn't like the gore, the violence, and the often poor production quality, writing, and acting.  Despite all of this, for our anniversary (October 31st), she took me to see The Thing at the theater.  I am a huge fan of John Carpenter's original film, and even enjoyed the video-game "sequel", so she knew I would look forward to this.

At some point, sanity just takes a back-seat.
 One of the issues I think we should get out of the way is how this film is evaluated.  I think it is unfair to hold this film up to the standards set by the original.  The reason that the production team opted to do a prequel was because they considered the original "perfect".  While the prequel has superior special-effects and is as a production equal or superior to the original, it lacks the impact because the concept is not novel and the audience knows what is going on.  The original had the advantage of presenting a new threat which it revealed slowly to the audience, building the suspense.  Not having this advantage, the prequel had to get to the action of the film as quickly as possible and rely on its CGI effects and stunning visuals to carry the film.

 When not measure by those standards, the prequel is wonderful, although the pacing mentioned above might be disconcerting for those unfamiliar with the original.  The audience is given just enough information to establish the personalities of and make a minimal connection with each character.  The alien attacks come much more quickly than the first film, with enough misdirection to throw the viewer off the scent and keep the audience guessing.  The film ends with cut-scenes leading to the events which start the original film.

I wonder if Pinhead promised to keep these two together.
 The special effects are top-notch, seamlessly blending CGI with the real environment, making for horrifically convincing creatures and displaying an impressive alien vessel trapped in the Antarctic ice.  The acting is also excellent, although the characters do come off as slightly one-dimensional (the tough-guy is tough, the heroine is witty and heroic, the damsel is in distress, etc).  This is attributable entirely to the films pacing, which must be what it is because the audience already knows what to expect.  The only problem I had with the story was that the the characters make some incredible and speedy leaps in logic in order to piece together what they are facing.  The clues are there, but are pieced together in a rapid fashion that is difficult to imagine.

 I thought it was an excellent touch for the Norwegian Base to be modeled after the base presented in the video-game sequel, down to in many instances the damage and ruins.  Having spent many hours running around that base while playing the game, it was nice to be in familiar territory.

 All-in-all, this was a worthy predecessor to the original, in my opinion.

Inter-species sex can get a little messy.
 John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite horror-film, the first film to really frighten me as a kid.  One of the things that bothers me about this film and its prequel is the concept of the alien.  An invader that attacks the body cell-by-cell to become its prey was a novel concept.  However, the method of predation doesn't seem to be very realistic.  It is unnecessarily violent.  The alien tries to attack its victims when the victim is alone, but a violent attack draws unnecessary attention.  As has been demonstrated in the film, casual contact with the alien can result in infection.  Based on the alien's use of technology, we can see that it has extremely advanced intelligence.  The inefficiency of its mode of attack should be apparent.  A more effective mode of attack would be through casual or sexual contact, with the victim not knowing they had been infected until it was too late.  (In the original, the casual contact method was also used as a means of infection).

 A reason for a violent attack could be that the alien simply needs to eat.  They victim is not only infected and invaded, but is also partially consumed, providing energy for the entire bio-mass.  In both films, cells from the alien are demonstrated consuming and then replicating the cells of the host on a 1-to-1 ratio.  The process of consumption and conversion, while providing some energy, would still require more energy than is consumed.  Thus the alien is in a constant state of starvation, and each replicated being needs to absorb more bio-mass in order to sustain itself.  This might account for the violence of its attack; if each cell is a distinct being, and each being is starving, then it would need to rapidly consume its victims.  Still, this remains inefficient.  It is difficult to imagine such a creature ever being able to sustain itself, let alone develop into a star-faring species. 

 This leads to another issue. It must be assumed that each cell possess the sum intelligence and memories of the original alien bio-mass... which is demonstrated to be considerable.  In the first film, the alien is in the process of creating a small craft from gathered parts stolen from the scientific base.  While it is plausible that a significant amount of information might be carried by each cell, is it plausible that the entirety of the bio-mass's intelligence and memory would also be present?  I suppose one could argue that the information is stored in the larger masses and transmitted to added mass once it is formed vs. being carried in each cell, but no other psychic talents on par with this transmission of data were demonstrated by the alien. 

 These questions about the alien take nothing away from the films.  They are questions I ponder more than 20 years after seeing the original, but while I watch these films, I am totally engaged.  The questions are merely the meanderings of a sci-fi deep-geek. 

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