Trailer Tuesday: The Thing
Every good sci-fi horror movie should have an angle that sets it apart from its fellow genre entries... whether it be the inclusion of sinister supernatural forces, robots with misanthropic tendencies, environmental concerns provoking the villains' fury or even something as simple as having a woman as the courageous lead and figure of action.
In the case of John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing - based on earlier sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World, and (more faithfully) its literary source material Who Goes There? - the big differentiator was the film's setting of a remote American research station in Antarctica, and the basic nature of the alien foe itself. Unlike most other cinematic extra-terrestrials, with their distinct character designs, the Thing is a mimetic life form that can gorily shape-shift into anything that it assimilates. Its mimicry is so accurate that only a blood test can determine who is human and who is not. So cue paranoia and hysterical over-reaction amongst the crew, led by pilot Kurt Russell.
Of course, we live in the Era of the Hollywood Remake, as studios lazily rehash hits from previous decades. Weirdly enough, horror hits from the 1980s have received the remake treatment most often, and we can add 2011 release The Thing to that list. Kind of...
You see, 2011's The Thing, despite its title, is not a remake. Rather, it's a prelude, chronicling the Thing's first devastating contact with humanity, right before it reaches the US research base in the 1982 film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Dr Kate Lloyd, a paleontologist who arrives at a Norwegian outpost to assist with the greatest scientific discovery of the century - a crashed alien spacecraft frozen for thousands of years. A routine experiment unleashes the craft's malevolent inhabitant, and as the station's crew fall one by one, it's up to Kate and American helicopter pilot Joel Edgerton to identify and kill the Thing before it can begin its deadly trek to civilisation.
I'll admit now that, although it's been years since I've seen it, I don't have any special feelings for the 1982 Thing. As a result I'm not going to slip into a frothy rage at the thought of pseudo-remaking it. I do think however that prequel territory is dangerous to play around in, given that it can severely impact on audiences' capacity to care. If viewers are familiar with the first Thing, they will already know what happens to the team stationed at the Norwegian research base. So they will enter the cinema refusing to invest themselves in the characters, and their fates, no matter how exciting the action scenes, or terrifying the alien encounters. As intellectually pleasurable as it may be to watch something that has been reverse-engineered in minute detail from a 30 year old movie, the emotional hook is still absent.
It's one of the reasons I'm still undecided about The Thing 2011. The other major reason is that I don't know if I buy Elizabeth Winstead as the film's lead. I keep expecting her to deliver one of Ramona's withering looks of disinterest.
Anyway, now as in 1982 The Thing's concept remains fantastic, with huge scope for thrills and chills that burrow under your skin. However, the trailer just doesn't convey the all-important sense that The Thing is different from the dozens and dozens of other monster movies we've already seen. For the record, you can watch the graphic and potentially spoiler-ish Red Band Trailer here, which provides a better idea of how the movie's creature transformations will look.
The Thing is gearing up to be one of the big horror movie releases of October 2011. It will be interesting to see how it reviews and how it is received.
The Thing opens in North America on 14 October. The film's South African release date has yet to be announced, but I'd be very surprised if The Thing reaches our cinemas before the end of this year.