How It All Began… (The Thing, 2011)

thing_2011_posterWhen it was announced that they were making a movie connected to John Carpenter’s the Thing, the internet seemed unsure how to describe it.  Is it a Sequel?  No.  Is it a reboot?  No.  Is it a remake?  No.  But boy, I saw it constantly referred to as a remake and a reboot, even after it came out.  Here is the thing, there is literally no doubt that this is a prequel.  It is set shortly before Carpenter’s film at the Norwegian camp that discovers the alien thing.

Of course, being a prequel, the film spends a lot of time trying to set up and explain stuff we saw in the first film.  How was the ship so exposed?  How did the alien get out of the block of ice?

This is not to say they do not try and be a bit different.

For one, the cast has female characters, rather than the original’s exclusively male cast.  Specifically, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, a scientist brought by an old friend to the Norwegian base for mysterious reasons.  Of course, once she arrives, she can see why they were not so quick to tell her what they found.

They discover a body in the ice, and bring it back to the base.  They start to investigate, and are all excited, imagining what this discovery means.  But of course, that is when the creature awakens and the horror begins.  Once the infection starts, it moves through the cast quickly.  One of the things that they successfully do differently is how the characters determine infected from uninfected.  This all leads to an eventful showdown as the alien tries to take off with his ship.

Unlike the original, which often would slow down, and the ending fight was small and contained, this film is full of major action on a regular basis.  The paranoia takes a back seat to fast action sequences.

While there were actually quite a bit of practical effects designed for the film, the studio pushed for more digital.  The digital is not terrible in the film, but still, it feels less real than the effects of the original.

As the film races towards the end it becomes heavily focused on filling in the blanks of the destruction discovered by Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart in Carpenter’s film.  In the end, while a strong idea supports this film, the execution never comes close to having the impact of John Carpenter’s the Thing.

 

Mighty Mutatin’ Machine (The Thing, 1982)

The-Thing-PosterHot on the heels of Escape From New York, Carpenter and Russell worked together on the Thing.  A film based on the short story “Who Goes There” (which had been adapted previously as The Thing From Another World).

Focusing on a research team in a remote arctic location, this story of paranoia is highly effective.  The team is attacked by a pair of Norwegians.  When they go visit the base, they find the remains of some major mayhem.  They also find some bizarre corpses and video evidence of something discovered within the ice.

What they do not realize, until it is to late is that the Norwegians were not attacking them…they were after something else…something protected by our American team.

And what they discover is an alien lifeform that can mimic any life form it encounters.  And that is when it really gets interesting.  Who can you trust?  Who is human and who is not?  Carpenter uses this to fuel a paranoid and exciting story full of twists and turns.  Kurt Russell’s helicopter pilot becomes a defacto leader, much to the annoyance of Garry (Donald Moffat) and Childs (Keith David).

The cast is excellent.  It is hard to go wrong with guys like Keith David and Kurt Russell, but the entire cast are top notch in their performances.  The film is full of tense moments that lead up to shocking moments.  The shocks are courtesy of FX guru rob Bottin and his crew.  The transformations are bizarre and gruesome in the best way possible.  This film is a benchmark of effects achievement, and it is a great selling point for practical effects.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is an absolute sci-fi and horror classic and one of Carpenter’s best films.

the-thing-blu-rayThis month, Shout!Factory has released an all new Blu-Ray of the film.  The Two disc Special Edition has a very nice 2K scan, resulting in an excellent picture.  The packaging has lush new cover art.  It also has the Drew Struzan original on the reverse side.

The special features are are numerous and about as comprehensive as a package is eve be.  There is a brand new interview with Carpenter by director Mick Garris.  Another new feature is the Men of Outpost 31 which features interviews with several cast members (though, no Kurt Russell).  Both of these offer new and entertaining insights to the film.  They also included the Terror Takes Shape, a 90 minute making of film from the original DVD.  It was left off the previous Blu-Ray.

The set also includes vintage featurettes, audio commentaries (a new one with Director of Photography Dean Cundey), outtakes and one of the more surprising inclusions the Network broadcast version of the film.

This is a set worth having in one’s collection.  It is filled to the brim with features to explore the history and design of the film.  Shout!Factory has done a stellar job here.

Carving a Niche

As part of my October Horror Movie Madness, I am going to explore the films of John Carpenter.  I will start at the beginning with Carpenter’s Student Film and work my way up.

Noticeably absent will be Halloween, as I covered the entire Franchise last year.  Also, I am leaving the TV movie Elvis aside for another time.  Although, at the same time, though not horror films, I will be covering Assault on Precinct 13 and Memoirs of an Invisible Man.   I have long admired Carpenter’s work.  Not just as a  director, but also as a writer and songwriter.  He has recently released two fabulous albums of music called Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.

Carpenter has written and directed more than one classic film, and I look forward to exploring his work in the days to come.

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Cold Fear (Harbinger Down, 2015)

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This film, in part, was a response to the 2011 Thing prequel.In early interviews, (Harbinger Down Director) Alec Gillis had emphasized that it was going to be a mostly practical film.  Even the special features show an awful lot of practical work in the behind the scenes.  The studio “had a change of heart” and decided the film should favor digital over practical.

There is a place for the tool of digital.  But the avoidance of practical hurts film.  Alec Gillis, coming from an award winning practical effects background, knows this well.

Harbinger Down was a film made in part to showcase practical effects.  It is for lovers of monster movies.

It tells the tale of Sadie, a student studying climate change effects on Beluga Whales who brings her professor and fellow student on her grandfather’s crabbing boat the Harbinger.  They discover an old soviet ship in the ice and once on board, horror based mayhem ensues.

Evoking memories of John Carpenter’s the Thing (right at the beginning there is an easter egg for those of us who love the Thing) and the films of the Alien franchise, Gillis clearly set out to make a classic monster movie.  Using the familiar elements of people trapped in a remote location facing a scary unknown, Gillis charges forward.

The film has great practical effects driving the action and scares.  The monster is lifelike and gruesome.  but it is not enough to have cool effects.  If the cast cannot hold up their end, a film will fall apart.  Luckily, Gillis has a terrific cast.  The characters feels defined and are entertaining.  Especially likable is Winston James Francis as Big G.  Star Lance Henrikson is great in the role of gruff but decent Graff (captain of the ship and Sadie’s grandfather).

The film has moments of humor that allow us to get to know the characters before it all falls apart on them.  The cast makes the most of their roles, whether large or small.

Harbinger Down is a solid monster movie, one that pays tribute to the great monster movies of the early 80’s.  It deserves a watch by lovers of monster movies and practical visual effects.

Blahtastic (Fantastic Four, 2015)

fantastic-four-2015-posterTruthfully, the Fantastic Four reboot is exactly what I would expect from someone behind Chronicle.  Chronicle was a good film, but it was tonally dark, focused on the breakdown of family bonds and friendship.  It was dark and sad.  None of these are really good tones for the Fantastic Four.

Josh Trank has already tried disowning the movie, but the problem is?  It sure looks like the kind of movie I would expect from him.  The film has a color treatment to suck out any and all vibrancy. It is a serious and un-cheery affair.  Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is not a carefree adventure loving guy…now he is and aggressive, unhappy street racer.

Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is…a guy?  Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is awkward socially, so is Reed (Mile Teller) and so is Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).  There is nothing that makes the characters easy to tell apart…and little to see a spark of heroism.

The film takes forever to get to the pivotal accident that gives everyone their powers.  And then the film gets real boring.  Doctor Doom is terribly dull, and lacks any visual identity.  Sure, he has a green cloak.  But He looks like a generic villain, like they forgot to finish the character design in the pre-production stage.

dr_doomThe film lacks any joy of discovery with the characters, and focuses on the darkest take of their getting powers.  They do not have code names in the film.  Everybody refers to the as Subjects.  Johnny’s digs at Ben are simply mean, lacking the playful spirit (Captured so well by Chris Evans) of the character in the comics.

This is a dull film, that misses why people love these characters in the first place.  I wish it had been a disaster, because that might have been interesting to watch.

And there is just something about the Thing not wearing pants that just looks weird.

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