The Thing

The ThingThe Thing, a remake of a remake of a solid sci-fi/horror film directed by, despite what the credits may tell you, Howard Hawks, is being projected onto silver screens in dollar theaters across the country right now. While a viewing of the movie does not immediately make clear why theater space would be made available for such a project, I strongly suspect that in the current climate of more-CGI-less-story-less-character, none of the other reels delivered to theaters contained anything more promising. In other words, for about the same reason I occasionally find myself eating broccoli. The best thing I can say for it is that there were a handful of stretches, some of them two or three minutes in duration, in which I forgot how forgettable the movie was.

In this third generation version, a young, good-looking scientist is asked to come to Antarctica and given no clear reason why. She is only told that it is important. When she arrives, she discovers the scientists stationed there are excavating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice a hundred thousand years ago. They have found a creature, also buried in the ice, that they believe came along with the ship. It is nothing more than a blurry form under the translucent surface, and next to nothing about it has been discovered.

They dig out a block of ice containing the extraterrestrial but, because this is sci-fi/horror, it escapes and is so unfriendly that people start dying. The rest of the movie is a desperate fight to survive in the most inhospitable environment offered on this planet that still has breathable air. For those keeping track, yes, there is a black man in this movie. No, he doesn’t make it. And that’s not a spoiler, either. As soon as I reported the monster’s escape from its prison you knew no black man was going to live long enough to read the credits.

A lowly film such as The Thing is always beset by problems, and the litany of sins of omission and commission afflicting it is pretty standard. The director, for instance, is nothing more than a technician, if he is even that (given the nature of the director’s job, it is not always possible to say who on a movie set is responsible for what and to what degree). He fails to do anything of interest for the entirety of the picture. After the prologue scene, he immediately embarks on a quest to bore you into a coma with blocking fit for a third grade Christmas play and camera work to match. A soap opera would have done no worse.

Never does he take adequate time to set anything up, to let us get to know the setting, the situation, the people. He does only enough to be able to say he filmed a first act and not be called a liar. It is the second act, when the monster is loose, that interests him, but if he wanted it to interest us he failed to do the proper prep work. We enter the second act indifferent, waiting for the carnage that at least will bring the relief of movement for our eyes to follow.

The Thing
Don’t be fooled: it’s less interesting than this still shot makes it seem.

There is no real attempt to explore any aspect of a character. The principal one, we discover right away, digs up extinct vertebrates and studies them. A little attention to the details of her science might have yielded something of interest, as well as germinated ideas for themes and plot points later on. No role has more than one distinguishing feature, of which arrogance is the most interesting and black skin the least. Those roles that do have a salient feature are caricatures; those without are scenery.

The movie, however, fails more for what it does than what it neglected to do. What it does is hurl common sense out the window. There is little sense of character in the movie, and what little we have is tarnished by the idiotic things people do to advance the plot, or by the farfetched plot points. Characters survive when we thought they were dead — and indeed must have died if the story were at all constrained by so much as a hat tip to reality — but then commit some act of utter stupidity so that they can be made to die. Even the monster itself cannot bring itself to act in its own best interest if such an act would mean killing a character the screenwriter decided was going to live another ten pages or so.

After all the silliness and stupidity and tiresome scenes are considered, one is still left with a creature so wholly ridiculous it could ruin a masterpiece like Alien were it to take the place of the creature used in that superior project. Its capacities are implausible as far as can be judged, which is not far because it is never entirely clear what it is that it does. Whatever it is, it’s damn sure retarded; I have gleaned enough to determine that.

The Thing is not an unremitting assault of awful. There are times when the creature is not onscreen, the characters are not talking, and we are left with some sound effects — a remote environment and a desperate plight with a good dose of creeping around in ignorance of what is around the corner. Even this director, whose name I will not utter here, cannot botch those moments. He has botched enough of the others, which form an overwhelming majority of the film, to prevent me from recommending this one.

1.5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

Matthew Bruce Alexander Staff Writer

Matthew is a libertarian living in central Ohio. A graduate of Ohio State University, he majored in Spanish and has published a work of libertarian science-fiction called Wĭthûr Wē.

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