Thing, The (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the recent prequel to the classic John Carpenter sci-fi horror
At an Antarctica research site, a team of Norwegian and American scientists intercept a mysterious signal and soon make a startling discovery in the frozen wastelands. They unearth an ancient alien craft that’s been buried for 100,000 years together with a startling life form that’s also in deep freeze. Back at the base, a decision is taken to take a sample from the frozen creature which leads to a confrontation between quarantine-cautious graduate student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and lead scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson. Whilst the team are celebrating their life-changing find, the frozen organism starts to thaw with devastating consequences for not just the team but all of mankind. Realising too late that it is still alive, the team make the horrifying discovery that ‘The Thing’ is consuming and replicating the team members. (Taken from the official synopsis.)
As a long-time fan of John Carpenter's version of The Thing I went into this prequel/sequel with a degree of trepidation. How would it compare to the 'original'? Was it even necessary? Well I can answer both of those questions fairly easily: not favourably and not really. If the movie existed in a vacuum where John Carpenter hadn't made a fantastic film it might have received a more positive reception. Unfortunately it doesn't and there's just no escaping the fact that the plot follows a very similar path to that of Carpenter's version, with one major exception: a lack of suspense. While JC's film was a tense affair that did a marvellous job of conveying the characters' feelings of isolation and paranoia this movie takes a more action-oriented approach, with larger set-pieces, more pyrotechnics and even weirder alien transformations. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it does feel like a second-string imitation of the 1982 film. The creature is far more aggressive in this movie, openly attacking its prey at an early stage, so you never quite get that feeling of uncertainty about who is and isn't a copy. The group isn't as believable or likeable as MacReady, Blair, Childs and company and Winstead's character is uneven, one minute looking like she's going to cry after being reprimanded by a nasty Norwegian scientist, the next acting all 'Ellen Ripley' with flame-thrower in hand. For me the lack of a clearly-identifiable, strong lead is the single biggest problem with the feature. It's supposed to be Winstead's character, but the waters are muddied by the inclusion of Joel Edgerton's American helicopter pilot, who comes across as an inferior MacReady clone (in an earlier draft of the script he was actually MacReady's estranged brother!).
It's not all bad news though. While it doesn't live up to Carpenter's take on the short story 'Who Goes There', and neither is it a film that was simply begging to see the light of day, like last year's Fright Night remake the filmmakers have at least made a fair stab at delivering something that is respectful to the feature they're emulating. The creature designs are the stuff of nightmares and far from creating everything with CGI many of the effects were accomplished practically and then digitally enhanced, making for more convincing monsters (although still not as convincing as the 1982 equivalents). The filmmakers have also thrown in more than a few nods to the Carpenter film and attempts to tie the two together are welcome, although there are a few glaring continuity errors (one of which the commentary reveals to be intentional). The supporting Norwegian cast are one of the film's strengths, stealing many scenes from their more famous counterparts, especially the Viking-esque Kristofer Hivju - or more specifically his huge ginger beard, which I kept expecting to turn into a creature! In all honesty The Thing is a perfectly functional sci-fi horror that sits happily alongside any number of disposable genre pictures, but given the love for - not to mention the quality of - the 1982 feature it was always on a hiding to nothing.
As a big fan of the Carpenter version of the film you'd probably expect me to own it on BD, but because of Universal's infuriating practice of noise-reducing most of their catalogue titles I've stuck with the visually superior HD DVD. Thankfully the majority of their new releases look pretty good and while the 2011 version of The Thing isn't among the best the format has to offer it is a strong, flimic presentation overall. A few scenes exhibit softness, but this would appear to be by design (a lot of films are now smoothed out in post) and I wouldn't say the image ever looked waxy. On the contrary, deail levels are pleasing throughout with some particularly impressive texturing in the close-ups. Haters of the en vogue 'orange and teal' colour scheme will be over the moon to learn that the film has quite a realistic palette, with accurate flesh tones, some fantastic primaries and reassuringly pure whites. As a relatively recent feature the transfer is free from any blemishes and while I'm sure if I scrutinised the image up close I could find one or two digital artefacts to complain about, by and large the encode is a solid one. It might not be as scary or suspenseful, but the prequel has the upper hand over Carpenter's film visually so far as the Blu-ray format is concerned (and that's a shame). Oh, before I forget, for the technically minded among you this is a 2.40:1 1080/24p VC-1 encode.
I saw The Thing theatrically and the one thing that stuck in my mind was the utter ferocity of the soundtrack, which was so loud and aggressive it was actually painful at times. Thankfully I have control over the levels in my own home, so while The Thing still delivers a robust soundtrack it does so without the need for ear defenders. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundfield is engaging from the outset; the film opens with a Norwegian snowcat falling down a newly-emerged chasm, scraping the walls as it goes before finally screeching to a halt. During this scene plenty of icy debris rains down onto the vehicle, which provides ample opportunity for the discrete channels to assault the listener from every angle. This continues throughout, with great balancing and wonderful fidelity that delivers even the most inconspicuous of sounds with fantastic clarity. While bass is incredibly powerful when called upon dialogue is never marginalised in favour of the more bombastic effects, which is something that happens too often these days. If I have one criticism it's that the score isn't as atmospheric as Carpenter's movie, save perhaps for when it is lifting cues directly from it, but in all fairness that's a personal opinion rather than a technical issue. There's really no need to blather on about this one - if the visuals fell somewhat short of the best Blu-ray has to offer, the same cannot be said of the top-notch soundtrack.
Perhaps the best of the extras is an informative commentary from director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman. It's one of those tracks that strikes just the right balance between anecdotal and technical information and the participants have done a great job of keeping things interesting. The disc also includes a picture-in-picture track, but as with most of these things the video segments are too few and far between as to make for an engrossing feature. The Thing Evolves (13:55 HD) is a relatively short making of featurette that concentrates on the filmmakers’ attempts to honour John Carpenter’s movie by staying true to themes and including as many nods as possible. There’s also some discussion of casting and effects. This is followed by Fire & Ice (04:47 HD), which concentrates on the pyrotechnic effects used throughout the film (including flamethrower training). Last up we have a selection of deleted and extended scenes, seven to be precise, most of which were wisely trimmed from the film.
To my mind there was no pressing need for this prequel and it's not as good as Carpenter's offering, but it is at least deferential to the superior film. Unfortunately there are just too many little plot irritants and illogicalities to make for a truly cohesive viewing experience and the lack of suspense is a real killer. Technically the Blu-ray fares well, with a solid visual presentation and a compelling soundtrack, but commentary aside the extras aren't particularly thrilling. While fans will almost certainly be pleased with what's on offer I'm not sure that that the above-average A/V will be enough to win over the film's detractors, but the uninitiated could do worse than a rental to discover which side of the fence they sit on.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 26th March 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 German, DTS 5.1 Spanish, DTS 5.1 Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: U-Control PiP, Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted/Extended Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jørgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Røise, Stig Henrik Hoff, Kristofer Hivju, Jo Adrian Haavind, Carsten Bjørnlund, Jonathan Walker
Length: 143 minutes
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