31 March 2012

Movies: The Thing x 3

The Thing from Another World (1951) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044121/
The Thing (1982) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084787/
The Thing (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0905372/

Horror Sci-Fi

Yes, all three films. After watching the 2011 version I figured what the heck, I'll watch the other two versions again as a refresher. So I popped in the 1951 film then the 1982 film. I realize now I should have watched the 1951 film last for better continuity, but that's okay.

All three films are adaptations of the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr, who wrote the story under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart.  All three films have at their core the premise that a craft crashed and melted in to the ice, a body was found a short distance away frozen in to the ice, when the body was recovered it breaks free of its icy prison and starts wreaking havoc on the people who found it.  They end up not only battling for their lives but for all of Earth, for if this Thing gets to warmer climes and near populations the whole world is in for some hurt.

* The 1951 "The Thing from Another World" takes place in the Arctic. A science team detects the crash of some sort of craft and calls the military to report it. As our military and its allies did not have any air craft in the area they suspect it may have been a Russian craft.  The Air Force sends a team to find the crash site with the science team's help and investigate. A reporter hanging out in Anchorage, AK, with the air crew asks permission to come along and get a scoop.  After locating the crash site they realize it is probably an extraterrestrial craft and try to melt the ice with thermite to get to it. They inadvertently destroy the craft, but luckily find a body frozen in the ice a short distance away. This time they dig out the body and return the corpsesicle to the station. The body gets free of the ice and begins to wreak havoc.

As it's a 50's-era film there is plenty of dialog that we just wouldn't hear in today's world. It also goes toward the stereotypical science blinded to reason route vs. the military level-headed authority. It's also filmed in black-and-white. There aren't much by way of special effects. The creature looks like a Frankenstein's monster knock-off in a jumpsuit. However the film does feature what is possibly the first stuntman set fully on fire for a film.
The film deviates from the source story by making the Thing a plant-based life form. The scientists in the film surmise that the Thing was going to plant its seeds on the Earth to take over the planet.  Knowing how resilient the Thing is they realize they have to destroy it before it gets to warmer climes.

The film is effective and entertaining enough. Despite some dated dialog and obvious low-budget effects it holds up rather well today. Probably moreso from a nostalgic perspective than anything. Plus some of that dialog is great in its dated way. By today's standards it is probably a lot less scary than modern horror/thriller films have acclimated us.

* The 1982 version of  "The Thing" by John Carpenter takes place in the Antarctic, in contrast with the 51's taking place in the Arctic. In some ways it might be considered a remake of the '51 film, but in actuality returned to the source story and followed it more closely than the '51 version.
The film begins with a Norwegian helicopter chasing down and shooting at a sled dog. When the dog reaches an American camp the pilot lands the craft and the shooter chases after the dog, still shooting. After he missed the dog and hits one of the Americans the Americans shoot back and kill him.
After securing the dog in the kennel it goes through a crazy transformation and starts eating the other dogs. Understandably wigged out a couple of the Americans fly back to the Norwegian camp and discover it burned out, nobody left alive, and some recordings they made. They also find a bizarre and charred two-headed creature lying in the snow. They grab the remains and bring them back to their camp.
Through the recordings we see the actual discovery of the craft and the digging up of its passenger actually took place prior to this film's start. What happens after isn't recorded, but the Americans have an idea what happened next, because they start living the same horror.

The creature in this version is no longer a walking growling vegetable. As in the original novella it assimilates and morphs into the creatures which it comes in to contact.  The body count is much higher in this film than the 1951 version. Scarier and greater tension-building too. Great special effects for its time and considered a benchmark setting film.

Also notable this film has an all male cast. The '51 version had two women cast members, as does the 2011 version.

* Now, on to the 2011 version of "The Thing".
This one, too, takes place in the Antarctic.  But this isn't exactly a remake, it is a prequel to the 1982 film. The production took care to 'set up' things at the station to look like the burned-out Norwegian station in the 1982 film. They even play out events that put in to place objects that can be seen in the 1982 film, including an axe stuck in the wall, certain corpse locations and how those charred remains of a two-headed creature got outside for the Americans to discover later in the 1982 film.
The creature's abilities are the same as the 1982 flick's creature.
This film begins after the Norwegian team has already found the craft. They bring in an expert to help dig out and examine the frozen corpse that was discovered. Unlike the 1951 film's corpse, this one looks more alien and bug-like in the ice. The craft's discovery is not portrayed, though the 1982 flick fills in that gap by showing us that video footage.
So, in some ways, this retells the 1951 story, although the 1982 also retells the 1951 story. Remote scientists battling a creature from outer space is the common theme and they can only deviate so much. However by making the 2011 film a prequel to the 1982 film it tells a more coherent story when coupled with the '82 film.  Admittedly the 2011 flick is event-similar to the '82 film, a factor which drives the nerdspace crazy when talking about the film.

As a stand alone film it is good. As a prequel to the 1982 film it works especially well.  One can watch the '82 flick right after this one and continue the story where it leaves off. Excellent job by production to tie the two together. If you watch this 2011 flick go ahead and watch the credits roll at the end of the film. There are scenes cut into the credits that lead directly in to the start of the 1982 flick.
I thought the special effects are done well. They used a mix of animatronics and CGI.
As a horror/thriller flick it has its moments, mostly due to startles and some building tension. But it is more action-oriented than the 1982 flick.
One complaint I have is the technology shown in this film seems to be more modern than the technology in the 1982 flick, even though you can see they tried to keep it 80s-ish. You can't fault the '82 flick's technology because it was practically state-of-the-art at the time. However the difference is rather jarring when you watch the 2011 film then the 1982 film back-to-back.
Another, slightly bigger complaint, is there is some difference between the alien ship discovery in this film vs. the video footage portrayal in the 1982 film.  It's quite obvious when you see them in sequence. It isn't quite a seamless prequel, but darn close, and I'm not going to let that totally ruin the experience of watching the films back to back. They do good enough in other ways for me to let some things slide.
There exist more in-depth continuity discussions fueled with nerd-rage, but you know what? I don't care. I can accept 'good enough' and 'close enough' for entertainment purposes, well, up to certain extents. This film didn't exceed my allowance tolerance, so I'm satisfied.

* My overall recommendation?
The 1951 flick is a great nostalgia film, one to watch more out of curiosity or if you like those classic horror films of yore.  It isn't really a must-see because the 1982 film had a greater impact on pop culture and is a lot more memorable to folks still living today. However it is still fun to see those old 50s flicks, no?

The 2011 flick is a good film to watch for that horror/thriller/sci-fi movie night. It does well on its own. But why stop there? Why not just turn that into a double-feature night by watching the 1982 film afterwards. You'll better appreciate how well the 2011 film sets up the 1982 film. Even if you've seen the 1982 film before and think you'll remember it you'll better appreciate what they do in the 2011 film.  And if you haven't watched the 1982 film this would be the perfect time to see it.  Keep in mind, too, that the 2011 film is more action-oriented and the 1982 film is more psychological.

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