Saturday, 2 April 2011
"The Thing" Review
How is it possible that this film did not win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects? I have seldom, if ever, seen effects quite as realistic, as horrifying, as were present in “The Thing”, and to think that the majority of these were created by a 22 year old, working on a movie with an overall budget of $15 million, is simply mind-blowing.
Like you didn't know it was coming...
Reviews from the time of the film’s release seem to suggest that they may have even been too good; they are described as being grotesque, and gratuitous, and a number of reviewers seem to feel that the focus on gore detracts from the movie as a whole, killing the suspense. I, however, respectfully disagree.
The Thing is a movie about Isolation and Paranoia – about not knowing who you can trust, but being stuck in the company of those who may kill you at any second, because you have no way of escaping. It is possibly the most intense psychological horror movie to grace our screens since Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining (although, since that movie was only released 2 years prior to “The Thing”, this may not sound like such an impressive achievement as it actually is). Few horror movies, if any, can even be mentioned in the same sentence as The Shining without paling in comparison, and yet somehow this movie, made on an even lower budget than Kubrick’s famously small $22 million for The Shining, seems to me at least to hold up under the same levels of scrutiny. It is, quite simply, one of the best horror movies I have ever seen.
Yep, even better than this...
However, it is common knowledge that “The Shining” was also critically panned upon its initial release, with Stephen King practically disowning it, and the movie finding itself nominated for Golden Raspberry (Razzie) awards not only for Worst Actress for Shelley Duvall, but (unbelievably) Worst Director for Kubrick as well. Indeed, it seem the early 80s were a bizarre time to be a film maker, with both The Shining and Blade Runner, two movies now regarded as being among the greatest ever made, being universally panned, and even Rocky IV finding itself nominated for 9 Razzie awards, despite being 90% pure awesome, and only 10% shitty robot/little kid scenes (I think this, in and of itself, proves that John J.B. Wilson needs to hurry up and fucking die already so we can all be rid of his worthless opinions on movies (INB4 “look who’s talking”)). So, I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised that The Thing was nominated for a Razzie Award as well – but for the score? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!
I'm running out of these...
Ennio Morricone has proved himself time and again, from the original spaghetti western trilogy (on the subject of which – how are there people who think that “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is set after “A Fistful of Dollars”? It is clearly a prequel, and, assuming you don’t count “The Godfather, Part II” due to it’s only being part-prequel, part-sequel; is the greatest prequel ever made), onto “Once Upon a Time in the West”, right through to “The Untouchables” and “Bugsy”, and “The Thing” is no exception to his consistently high standards.
What is this? Lame Pun Day?
In fact, the score is extremely reminiscent of that of “Escape from New York”, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s previous outing, which Carpenter scored himself. The score is made up of very low beats, mostly bass notes, set at a relatively slow tempo, which really enhances the sense of foreboding at the start of the film, and provides a subtle, yet dramatic soundtrack to the film. Much like in “Escape from New York”, the score seems specifically designed to raise the tension in the suspense-ridden plot of the film, whilst also maintaining excitement. It is one of those rare scores which would hardly be noticeable if it didn’t almost fit in too well; and in fact only drew my attention because it was so reminiscent of Escape from New York.
Remember this one?
Looking back at the effects as well, they are so incredibly well done that it almost seems to bring you out of the movie, as you stop and say “wow, that looks incredible!” – and this is perhaps why many of the critics from the time of the film’s release didn’t see the same brilliance in it that I do. I’m watching this movie from an age where CGI and visual effects are everywhere – so imagine seeing effects that blow my mind today, way back in 1982. You would actually be consciously bringing yourself out of the movie, forcing yourself to think “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie”. And there, my friends, lies the sheer brilliance in The Thing. Even if you can’t suspend your disbelief long enough to just sit back and enjoy it, it has real artistic value.
Depending on how loose your definition of "Art" is, I guess...
At the opening of the film, I was worried we were going to see the aliens crash land, and then the team would dig them up in an “Alien vs. Predator” manner. Hell, the opening shot of the film is identical to the opening of Predator (made 4 years laters), so it was a really present surprise when the film opened apparently halfway through the attack of the Aliens, as the team of Norwegian scientists who thawed it out are mostly lying dead, and the American Scientists who the rest of the movie focuses on are still unaware of what horrors await them. This decision to introduce us to the story part way along is inspired, because not only does it help you identify far more with the characters if we are all thrown into this mess partway through, but it also means we avoid the need for various tedious explanations. Upon seeing the charred remains of one of the Aliens at the Norwegian camp, Kurt Russell’s character MacReady instantly realizes that the only way to kill the creatures is with fire, and orders them to be burnt from the beginning. This allows the story to progress rapidly without the tedium of having to show the characters discovering that fire works against the “things”.
Till Lindemann agrees that fire works against pretty well everything...
MacReady himself is one excellently written character, and Kurt Russell portrays him superbly. Starting off as merely a bored everyman, MacReady quickly progresses into badass action hero, then apparently regresses back into a paranoid, nervous wreck, before finally taking control of the situation again. The character is multi-dimensional, which is nice to see, and somehow combines the cool of Snake Plissken with an everyman feel which makes him easy to identify with, yet still see as a badass. They just don’t make them like that anymore…
This is actually a picture of Patrick Swayze. Sorry to Mindfuck you...
The rest of the characters, too, are a lot better written than those in most contemporary horror movies. In the same manner in which Predator created a team of Commandos who were all memorable in their own ways, some more so than others, but all with real personalities, “The Thing” manages to do the same thing 4 years earlier with its Antarctic research crew. Of course some of the characters are not explored too thoroughly, and not every last one of them is given a detailed personality or background, but given the pace of the film, it is hard to imagine any way that this could be reasonably achieved without affecting how the plot unravels.
The sets are incredible, with the cuts between location shoots in British Columbia in the winter, and studio scenes in the Californian Summer being unnoticeable, thanks to clever camerawork and direction, and the brilliant idea to supercool the sound stages to a mere 40F so the actors would appear just as cold in the interior scenes as they did outdoors. John Carpenter once again outdoes himself bringing his movie to life with the smallest of details, much in the same way as he and his set designers transformed just a couple of blocks of East St. Louis into the apparent sprawling Urban environment of a dystopian Manhattan in Escape From New York (shot on an incredible $6 million, incidentally). It is impossible to fault the sets or locations in this movie, and that is one of the advantages of setting a film in such a small, confined area. Even though 95% of the movie takes place within a single compound, the overall feel of the film is grander than many which take place across entire cities.
In the end, it is hard to fault this film. It is very disappointing that it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects; E.T. won in 1982, with Blade Runner and Poltergeist being the other 2 nominees, whilst Return of the Jedi won in ’83 – with no competition whatsoever. Of these films, only Blade Runner really seems to deserve the award over The Thing, and even then, only because it created such a grand scale futuristic metropolis (Incidentally, I have only seen the Director’s Cut, which I hear is far superior to the original version – hence the critical panning and missing out on the Oscar?) – The Thing still has the more realistic, and ultimately more impressive, visuals. The only reassurance that I take from the effects side of filming is that Rob Bottin, the incredible designer of many of the alien creatures, went on to work on such great films as Se7en and Fight Club, so it seems his talents weren’t entirely wasted after this.
My only real concern now is the rumours of either a remake, or a prequel to, The Thing being made later this year. I hated the idea of an Escape from New York remake when I first heard about it, and I hate the idea of The Thing being remade, even with John Carpenter at the helm. There’s an old saying which goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – and with an average rating of 8.2 on IMDB, landing it in rank 177 on their Top 250 list, it doesn’t look like there’s too much wrong with The Thing in anyone else’s eyes, either.
You know, except for the obvious...
Probably the best horror movie I have ever seen, and certainly the best Alien movie (that's right, even better than Aliens! *GASP!*) - If you haven't already seen this, place it right under Full Metal Jacket in your stack of films to fucking watch! Peace Out!