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Review: ‘The Thing’

'The Thing'
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'The Thing' (Universal)

Full disclosure: John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite movies of all time. I also have a great deal of respect for “Who Goes There?,” the original story by John W. Campbell, Jr., and believe that The Thing From Another World, directed by Christian Nyby and/or Howard Hawks, is well-made and a good deal of fun. Each stands on its own, each reflects a strong creative vision, and each is a product of its time.

Nonetheless, I was fully prepared to follow the new version of The Thing, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., as it charted its own distinctive course. The film’s biggest problem, it turns out, is not that it fails to reach the heights established by its predecessors — it doesn’t come close — but that it doesn’t even live up to its own potential.

Eric Heisserer’s script starts things off with a good dirty joke told in Norwegian, which would seem to indicate the desired tone: less serious, more jocular. As the story develops, it becomes clear that the filmmakers are, indeed, more interested in crafting an action-packed creature feature, more akin to an updated version of the 1951 edition, rather than something like Carpenter’s dark, almost nihilistic 1982 take on the material.

That would be fine if the new version established its own identity. But the tone is tossed hither and thither, losing its jocularity when the full extent of the danger posed by the reawakened alien creature becomes known, and settling in for a long, sober fight for life that holds few surprises. The craftsmanship needed for a muscular action picture is missing; the set pieces are extremely limited — creature appears, followed by yelling and screaming, and then either CGI’d body horror or bursts of flames setting tiny rooms on fire — and they’re staged and shot in very conventional fashion.

— From my review at Twitch.

‘The Thing’ is now playing wide across the multiplex.

Retro Scene: ‘The Thing’ at Texas Theatre

'The Thing'
Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's 'The Thing' (1982)

Retro Scene is an occasional Dallas Film Now feature, highlighting retrospective screenings at area theaters.

The summer of 1982 was a glorious one for a young genre movie fan. It began with ‘Conan the Barbarian,’ moved onto ‘The Road Warrior’ (which raised the bar impossibly high), then the very satisfying ‘Rocky 3,’ the hugely successful comeback ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,’ followed by the amazing blockbuster entertainment that was ‘E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.’

No wonder ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Thing,’ released shortly thereafter, were lost in the shuffle. Both were dark visions, holdovers from the 70s, really, reflecting a bitter taste of disappointment and disillusionment. ‘The Thing’ was criticized sharply for its extreme, bloody violence, which was shocking at the time for mainstream audiences, and disappeared from theaters rather quickly.

Drawn by the lure of John Carpenter’s amazing string of films up to that point (‘Dark Star,’ ‘Assault on Precint 13,’ ‘Halloween,’ ‘Elvis,’ ‘The Fog,’ ‘Escape From New York’), I saw ‘The Thing’ as soon as possible. I was traumatized by the violence — it still gives me shivers whenever I see Wilford Brimley’s arms — and held completely spellbound by Carpenter’s storytelling.

The script by Bill Lancaster is a smart update, drawing both from “Who Goes There?,” the original novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., and ‘The Thing From Another World,’ the first filmed version by director Christian Nyby and producer Howard Hawks. Carpenter keeps the film in overdrive, as far as gut-clenching tension is concerned. Kurt Russell leads a very strong cast, including very good turns by Brimley, Donald Moffat, Keith David, Richard Dysart, and David Clennon.

Carpenter’s version holds up to many, many viewings, never losing an ounce of its power and strength, a disturbing vision that questions whether the human race really should survive — or if it’s already too late for all of us.

‘The Thing’ screens at the Texas Theatre on Saturday and Sunday. All screenings in 35mm. (Details here.)