Posts Tagged ‘Mary Elizabeth Winstead’

One thing which it strikes me as highly remarkable (it may indeed have been highly remarked upon, but I stopped watching the news nearly two months ago) is the fact that the winner of one of the most prestigious Academy Awards this year – indeed, the most nominated film at this year’s ceremony – was a comic book movie made under the DC marque. Given that not all that long ago, any discussion of a DC movie’s popular or critical reception included words like ‘disappointment’ and phrases such as ‘urgent talks are in progress at the company’, the turnaround they have achieved is startling. I still think Joker is an uneasy splicing together of two concepts that don’t really fit very well, but a billion dollars at the box office and considerable awards success speaks for itself.

So, if a Batman movie without Batman has done so well, what next for DC? How about a Joker movie without the Joker actually in it? I am fully aware that this was not the thought process behind the origin of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (Or the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – following the sort-of success of Suicide Squad in 2016, this was the film which was selected as the best option for a follow-up – but it could almost look that way. Actually, it looks like a number of things, and one of them is DC’s bad old days, returned with a vengeance.

There are two ideas stitched together in the new movie, as well, but at least this time they seem to have something in common. Birds of Prey is a comic book which started in the mid-1990s, and was basically about a group of masked female vigilantes: the main members of the roster were originally Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of some of these characters, it’s quite understandable). Notably not a member of the team, on the other hand, was Harley Quinn, a sidekick for the Joker who actually originated in one of the Batman TV shows and was then introduced into the comics. Nevertheless, most of these characters are lumped together in the new movie, because – well, they’re all women, aren’t they? Stands to reason they would go together. (This is the level on which the new movie operates, I fear.)

More-or-less disregarding the events of Suicide Squad, the new movie opens with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) being dumped (off-camera) by the Joker, which she takes about as well as you would expect from an unhinged, stubbornly wacky homicidal pole dancer. Eventually she gets it together (relatively speaking) and decides to strike out on her own, sending a message by blowing up the chemical plant where both she and her former inamorata had their origins. This has the regrettable side-effect of informing everyone in Gotham City that she is no longer under the Joker’s protection, which makes Quinn a target for a whole army of lowlives and psychopaths, many of whom have very justified grievances against her.

She decides that the best way to save her own skin is to win the protection of a sadistic crime boss known as Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), by locating a diamond of great plot significance he is after. The stone is currently in the possession of a teenage pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) – despite having the same name as someone in the comics, this is essentially a new character. Also mixed up in what is a rather chaotic situation are metahuman nightclub singer Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), tough GCPD detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and vengeful assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winsome). Could these five very diverse women come together and kick the asses of some presumptuous chauvinist men before the final credits roll?

Well, this is a modern movie gunning for a youth audience, so it would qualify as some kind of miracle if they didn’t, I suppose. I expect a calculation has been made that, given the popularity of Robbie and/or the Harley Quinn character, and factoring in also the fact that a comic book film with an ensemble female cast is likely to prove resonant and successful just now, a movie featuring a load of mostly-female, mostly-very-obscure Batman characters is likely to do well at the box office. This may very well turn out to be the case: I just wish the film itself was less of a mess.

I mean, I still think Joker has been rather over-praised in some ways, but the one thing that Birds of Prey (etc) does exceptionally well is make it look like a serious, heavyweight movie with interesting things to say for itself. The new film, on the other hand, is just garish and frantic and almost totally superficial. Watching it did my head in. I could go on at some length about the disjointed plot, laboured humour and awkward performances from uncomfortable-looking stars. But I won’t.

Instead, I would like to focus on just one moment from the film (and it’s my blog, after all, so I can do whatever I like). This comes quite early on and features Harley Quinn playfully (and graphically) breaking both the legs of another character, because she is drunk and he does something that annoys her. The makers of the film might argue that this sets up a vital plot point (I don’t see it myself), or, more likely, that the victim of the leg-breaking is a bad person who deserves whatever they get. I think this rather misses the point that it still leaves you with a protagonist for this movie prone to brutal, sadistic violence on a whim: the movie even openly admits that its main character is a really terrible person. She’s also really, really irritating: I have no idea whether or not Robbie deserves actual credit for managing to produce such a gratingly irksome performance: my instinct is to say a firm ‘no’.

The other consequence of the leg-breaking (this moment is just emblematic of the amorality which much of Birds of Prey (etc) so enthusiastically embraces) is that it cuts the film’s own legs out from under it when it attempts to be more than just a lurid cartoon. You want us to empathise and identify with Harley Quinn in her moments of despair? No chance, she’s a leg-breaking psycho. You want us to listen while you make some kind of point about gender politics? No way – not only is your point really facile (given the chance, women can shoot men in the head! Yay!), but you seem to think it’s cool and funny to go around breaking people’s legs. What makes you think you have any kind of moral authority worth mentioning?

I could go on and on about the sadistic violence and awkward political positioning which suffuse the movie, but I think I’ve communicated my concerns. In the film’s favour I will admit that it does rattle along pacily enough, and that some of the action choreography is pretty good in a sub-John Wick sort of way. But honestly, the most alarming thing about Birds of Prey (etc) is that it made me think back quite fondly to some of the films DC put out when it was normally Zack Snyder in the director’s chair. This one undoes many months of hard work, and we can only hope it proves to be a blip on DC’s general upward trajectory.

Read Full Post »

There was a point, during the Great Late Summer Interesting Movie Drought, that I took to hanging around the local library in the afternoons while waiting for the evening Almodovar revival to get under way. One of the books I dipped into was The Greatest Movies Never Made, an account of just exactly what went wrong with the production of Brazzaville, Superman Lives, The Defective Detective, and many others. Of course, ‘never’ is a big word, and I must admit I derived some amusement from the fact that at least two of these ‘never made’ projects had of course either been finished or were well on course to make it to the screen – Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, long a near-mythical enigma, is currently available on Netflix, while Gemini Man, for decades a resident in Development Hell, is out at the moment, finally dragged to the screen by Ang Lee.

A list of all the people at one time tipped to star in this movie reads like a who’s who of Hollywood leading men and action stars: Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, and so on. The fact that we have eventually received a version starring Will Smith… well, I suppose it depends on what your opinion of Will Smith is, but I can’t help feeling that he does not have quite the same legendary status as someone like Connery or Eastwood, at least. One must try not to dismiss a film just because another possible version sounds more interesting.

For once, this is not a TV remake and has nothing to do with Ben Murphy turning invisible for 15 minutes a day. Smith plays Henry Brogan, one of those either very trusting or morally flexible chaps who has had no problem with making a career out of being an assassin for the US government, on the understanding he only has to shoot baddies. However, now Brogan is knocking on a bit and decides to retire, rather to the dismay of his handlers. It turns out he has left this just one job too late, as he discovers his last target was not a terrorist as advertised, but a genetic scientist. Dark forces within the military-industrial complex, chiefly personified by private security contractor Clay Varris (Clive Owen), decide that he knows too much to be allowed to live. But how are they going to take out the world’s greatest killer?

Well, it turns out that Varris has got just the man for the job: he’s young, gifted, and black, not to mention the owner of an impressive set of ears. But hang on just a minute here! What can this possibly mean? Well, you’re probably way ahead of me, or have read the publicity for the movie: Owen has sneakily had Smith cloned, and is sending the younger version out to eliminate his progenitor. Older Smith is obliged to go on the run in the company of friendly agent Danny Zakarewski (Mary Elizabeth Winsome) and an old comedy-relief buddy (Benedict Wong). Will the day be won by age and experience or youth and commitment?

As noted, the script for Gemini Man has been doing the rounds since the late 1990s, and the finished movie does have a weirdly old-fashioned vibe to it – perhaps that’s just because it stars people whose years of greatest star wattage do seem to be rather behind them – before Aladdin this year, Will Smith hadn’t had a significant hit in a long time, Clive Owen’s years of being talked of as a potential Bond-in-waiting are long over, and even Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems to have been focusing on her TV career of late. But perhaps it’s more than just the personnel choices – the script is functional enough, but the whole film feels glib and superficial, about surfaces rather than details.

This is, by any reasonable metric, an SF movie of sorts, but the opening section at least feels much more like a slightly hackneyed action film about an aging hitman beginning to grow a conscience. In this respect it has a definite Bourne Identity feel to it, with rather less grit – the presence of Owen probably adds to this. As such it trundles along quite cheerfully. But the clone element is badly fumbled in all sorts of ways – the big reveal that Smith’s pursuer is, well, him, has minimal impact, the revelation sort of seeping into the film rather than being a significant, discrete plot point. The script fails to engage with any of the potential of the idea of being confronted with your own double – it doesn’t address nature versus nurture, the desire for second chances, the potential for resentment, and so on.

The script may not be much cop but what I must concede is that Will Smith does give an unexpectedly good performance – as the older Brogan, anyway. He manages to find some soul and depth and is probably rather better than the script deserves. Everyone else struggles a bit – Owen plays a cartoon baddie, while Winstead is stuck in a largely decorative, transactional role: box office considerations mean there is no prospect of her and Smith, er, getting jiggy with it.

As for the junior Smith – well, the special effects involved in rejuvenating him are somewhat variable, to be honest. In places they are astonishingly good – at one point Smith engages in a complex fight sequence with himself, and the deep-fakery involved is virtually flawless. Other scenes, particularly ones with the two of them wandering about in wide shot, are less than fully convincing. This may also be a consequence of the way the film’s been made – it is available in super-high-frame-rate-3D (I gave it a miss and saw the regular version, as six dimensions of Will Smith is far too many for me), and to make this work it has been shot on special cameras. The end result is crisp and bright and colourful but also strangely lacking in atmosphere. The fact the whole screen is in pinpoint focus all the way through is also strangely distracting and unnatural – it’s not just Smith who spends half the time in the Uncanny Valley, the whole film is there throughout.

Still, as noted, it does work quite well as a weirdly old-fashioned thriller, and there is some well-choreographed action at several points in the movie, even if the climax is vaguely unsatisfactory in a couple of ways. Gemini Man isn’t exactly a bad film, it’s just that given the premise and the talent involved, you would be forgiven for expecting something rather more substantial.

Read Full Post »

As I have occasionally observed in the past, it can be difficult to attract publicity to a new film production – crowded marketplace, short attention span, audience fatigue, and so on – especially if your project doesn’t immediately connect with an established interest group and doesn’t feature big-name stars. There are various ways round this, especially if your film has a decent gimmick or some interesting quirk involved in its production. The people at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company seem to have hit on a particularly interesting and clever way of advertising their film, which is to keep the fact that they were making a film at all completely secret. Keeping up a steady drip-drip-drip of information about a project is pretty much standard procedure these days, especially for a genre sequel, so when the release of a trailer for Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane was actually the first sign of its existence as far as most people were concerned, there was a bit of a kerfuffle.


Does the film live up to the non-hype? Well. Mary Elizabeth Winsome, who I would venture to suggest is not on the big screen enough, plays Michelle, who as the film starts is making a hurried departure from her home, as an orchestra gets all ominous in the background. Shortly afterwards her car is involved in an accident, and she wakes up in a cellar, chained to the wall.

It turns out she is in the personal underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman), an ex-military survivalist. Howard informs her that the USA has come under attack from unknown forces and that the air outside is contaminated and deadly. She will have to stay in the bunker with him for a year or two until things clear up, and until then, there are to be no attempts to escape or contact the outside world – this applies both to her and the third inhabitant of their little world, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Michelle takes this news about as well as could be expected, in the circumstances, and it’s only a short while before she finds herself wondering – if Howard is telling the truth and Very Bad Things are happening up top, why can she still occasionally hear the sound of cars going by…?

In terms of attracting interest to a very low budget genre movie, the no-publicity publicity approach is quite a novel idea. Less original is the way this film has been widely linked with the 2008 film Cloverfield, Matt Reeves’ curious found-footage kaiju movie. There are no character or plot elements in common between the two films; it’s very, very late in proceedings before the significance (such as it is) of the title becomes apparent, and to be honest it’s an extremely tenuous connection. Claiming that Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane constitute a series is a bit like doing the same for Wolf and The Wolf of Wall Street, or Moon and Moonraker.

However, all this just seems to be a tactic to get people into theatres to watch the movie, and I’m inclined to grant them some latitude because the movie is mostly rather good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is always watchable, and to be honest it’s great to see John Goodman in a proper leading role that doesn’t require him to play a film producer of some kind. Goodman gets the best role, of course, and really shows his considerable abilities as a straight actor – Howard is a memorable combination of looming menace and slightly prissy control-freak, and Goodman keeps you guessing almost to the end – is Howard mad or not? And, not quite the same thing – is he telling the truth or not?

It’s practically become a trope of a particular kind of fem jeop story that, when an attractive young woman ends up down a bomb shelter with a man, who then tells her that the world has ended and they’ll have to stay there together for years, it’s a virtual certainty that his motives are not entirely pure and he may not be telling her the whole truth. The writers of 10 Cloverfield Lane seem to be fully aware of this and cheerfully play with audience expectations. Naturally, fake-critic etiquette prevents me from saying too much about what their game actually is, but this is a film with a clever script, solidly structured, which does a good job of telling you in advance some of what’s going to happen without you actually noticing it.

However, in the end the film-makers have to show you their cards, and it’s only near the very end of the film that it sort of stumbles. Once again, I wouldn’t dream of talking about the ending in too much detail, but there’s a definite change of gear and approach, and not necessarily for the better. On the other hand, I’m not sure what I would have done differently to conclude the film. As it is, the ending is by far the weakest part of the film, not least because it feels especially generic and derivative and not really of a piece with the rest – for this kind of twist to work it has to be a surprise, but not so big a surprise that it feels ridiculous. This may be a case of trying to square the circle.

Still, this isn’t the first modest little genre movie to stumble in the closing stages as a result of its own ambitions, and the rest of 10 Cloverfield Lane is good enough to make it well worth watching: there are strong performances from the cast, and it’s actually quite refreshing to watch a genre film that derives tension and drama simply from people sitting in a room together, without feeling the need to constantly spray CGI all over the screen. A flawed film, certainly, but still one with a lot to commend it.


Read Full Post »

I was moved to ponder, not long ago, the somewhat vexed issue of whether it might not be a good idea to institute a licensing system whereby film-makers, etc, would not be permitted to use a really good title unless they could first prove they were capable of doing it justice. This idea may have first crept into my head in the summer of 2009, when I wandered into a branch of a well-known bookseller and happened upon Seth Grahame-Smith (‘and Jane Austen’)’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Another winning title, embodying a genuinely funny concept. Unfortunately the book itself was, possibly predictably, and certainly appropriately, rotten.

And so I approached Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with a level of misgiving. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did well enough to prompt a slew of similarly improbable mash-ups, ranging from Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, to (good grief) Android Karenina. Grahame-Smith himself knocked out Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and has written and exec-produced the movie. So, cause for apprehension there. On the other hand, this film is a product of the same creative vision that gave us the rampantly insane excess of Wanted, an everyday tale of weaver-hitmen and their precognitive loom that did more than any other to epitomise the summer of 2008 for me. So this is a movie which looked like it might go either way.

Perhaps it takes a director of Kazakh origin, like Timur Bekmambetov, to cast such a new and original light on one of the most central and iconic figures in American history. But in this case I sort of doubt it. Semi-professional Liam Neeson lookee-likee Benjamin Walker plays the great man himself throughout most of his life (not the very early bits though), in a story which purports to reveal that Honest Abe actually had a few startling secrets in his hinterland. We first meet Abraham Lincoln as a lad, and even at this young age he is fiercely committed to justice, equality, fairness, etc, etc. You know the drill. Unfortunately this indirectly ends up putting his family on the wrong side of a shady character, who chooses to work his issues out by chowing down on Mrs Lincoln’s blood vessels. That’s right, he’s a vampire! Yowser! Who’d have seen that coming?

Naturally, when he grows up, Lincoln sets out to avenge his mum, only to discover he is not up to the task. He is taken in hand by the mysterious Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), who teaches him the forbidden lore of the undead and equips him for the battles to come. To be honest, Abraham Lincoln is a back-to-basics kind of vampire hunter and usually turns up packing only what is technically known as a damn great axe (with a silver edge, of course). When not thinning the ranks of the undead of Illinois, he dabbles in the law and with politics, and embarks on a rather sweet romance with a charming local girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as winsome as ever). However, as his battle with the forces of darkness and their leader (Rufus Sewell) intensifies, he begins to realise the full extent to which the injustices of slavery are intertwined with the vampire presence in the southern states. Could it be that he will have to take a more public role if he is to fully eradicate the menace he has dedicated his life to destroying?

Well, look, before we go any further, I’m English and the limit of my knowledge of Abraham Lincoln is basically: top hat, chinstrap beard, freed slaves, Gettysburg Address, ‘Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?’, Henry Fonda in Young Mr Lincoln, got speared to death in an episode of Star Trek. To any of our former-colonial friends reading this and feeling outraged, I would ask you to supply a brief essay on the life of Oliver Cromwell (not derived from Wikipedia) with your complaints, and we’ll take it from there. What I’m basically trying to say is that I know very little about Abraham Lincoln as a historical character, which some might consider a handicap when attempting to intelligently review a Lincoln biopic.

However, as you may have possibly surmised, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not strictly a by-the-book biopic. In fact, I suspect that a few people would consider the depiction of Lincoln as an axe-twirling bad-ass warrior to be tasteless and/or monumentally absurd. I’m not convinced about the former but it is certainly the latter. This film is impossible to take seriously, but – and this is the key thing – Bekmambetov seems to be fully aware of this, which stops proceedings from becoming actually annoying. The main problem I had with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was that it took an idea which was an amusing concept in its own right, and felt the need to try and funny it up by actually playing it for laughs, inserting rather creaky old jokes. The great strength of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is that it’s played absolutely straight (or at least as straight as possible, given it features the President of the USA standing on top of a moving train hitting vampires with an axe) – one never gets a sense of the director or writer winking at you and going ‘Ho ho, isn’t this wacky?’

Most of the time this works really well, particularly in the opening part of the film, which deals with Lincoln’s years before he rose to prominence. For a while it even seems as if Bekmambetov is trying to handle the historical biography as painstakingly as the action-horror, because there are a few non-vampire-hunting scenes which go on for what feel like a surprisingly long time. Problems start to set in, however, when Lincoln actually becomes president and grows the beard (both of these happen off-screen, the latter not surprisingly) – and all of a sudden we’re into the historical events of the American Civil War. Now, it may possibly be that my lack of familiarity with US history is to blame, but it seemed to me that the film was taking my comprehension of what was happening for granted here. There’s also the more serious point that the film is dealing with the deaths of real people – real people from 150 years ago, admittedly, but even so. As a silly romp the film is enjoyable stuff, but attempts to hit genuine notes of pathos and human drama just feel very uncomfortable and misjudged when they occur. Thankfully the film returns to its previously nonsensical vein for an appropriately uproarious finale.

Ultimately this is a very silly film, but the actors hurl themselves into it with impressive gusto, and the CGI-slathered recreation of 19th century America looks appealing. Bekmambetov indulges himself in his usual visually-inventive but utterly implausible action-business – fun to look at but not remotely convincing – for example, a chase through the middle of a stampede, the train fight, and so on. This is not a great action film, not a great horror movie, and (you’ll be surprised to hear) not the greatest telling of the story of President No.16 ever made, and it has nothing like the breathtakingly in-your-face bonkersness of Wanted (nor even, it must be said, that film’s inventiveness of plot). But Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is, for the most part, a fun and amusing piece of work which just about earns its right to such a catchy title.

Read Full Post »

So, my friend and I decided to go to the cinema together – for the first time, I believe, since 2007’s The Invasion, which we saw at the Serialkillerplex in Chiba. Protracted to-doings about seats and tickets concluded, we took our positions in the auditorium expectantly.

‘What do we do now?’ my friend asked.

‘Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens,’ I suggested.

Yes, we were there for the latest incarnation of John W Campbell’s immortal tale of extraterrestrial polar nastiness, best known these days simply as The Thing. I am a big fan of the 1951 adaptation (hereafter ‘the Nyby version’) and a recent convert to the 1982 take on the story (hereafter ‘the Carpenter version’) and so 2011’s offering, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (hereafter ‘the new version’, mainly as that’s easier to spell), was a movie I was rather looking forward to. Is it a remake of or a prequel to John Carpenter’s cult shocker? I’m not sure- let’s just call it a preremaquel and leave it at that.

Winter, 1982 (again), and a Norwegian expedition carrying out research in Antarctica makes an astounding discovery: a huge alien ship buried under the ice there, and what appear to be the deep-frozen remains of an occupant. Primarily to avoid the entire movie being conducted in subtitled Norwegian, comely American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to help with the extraction of the carcass.

However, as is practically a truism by now, ‘frozen alien’ is not the same thing as ‘dead alien’ and the entity in the ice takes advantage of its new situation to bust out of its frozen prison and run amok around the camp. Casualties ensue before it is burned to death by American chopper pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton).

But an analysis of the creature’s biology reveals something unexpected: the alien has the ability to absorb and then perfectly mimic any other life-form it comes into contact with. If the Thing can make it out of the barren wastes of Antarctica, there will be nothing to stop it assimilating the entire biosphere of the planet – and there are signs that prior to its demise, the original Thing was able to replicate at least one of the people at the base. But who…?

Well, the first thing to say about the new Thing is that this is such a good scenario for a story that it would take a very special film-maker to completely faff it up (and luckily Paul W.S. Anderson was busy elsewhere). This is by no means a dreadful film or even a particularly bad one: it’s never less than polished and competent in virtually every department. Unfortunately, it never goes much beyond this level of achievement, either.

This movie is being marketed very much on the strength of its connections with the Carpenter version, but something which slightly surprised me about it was the degree to which it draws on the Nyby version, too – rather more than Carpenter did. The chief Norwegian scientist (Ulrich Thomsen) is very reminiscent of the Thing-sympathising boffin played by Robert Cornthwaite in 1951, but there’s more to it than this. The biggest difference between the two previous versions is that Nyby’s is an it’s-out-there-somewhere! movie and Carpenter’s is an it’s-secretly-one-of-us! movie. You would expect the preremaquel to follow Carpenter, but it doesn’t: the Thing here spends much more time rampaging around in the open, spewing spiked intestines in all directions and chasing people about. Basically, the Thing here comes across as rather more stupid and less subtle than it was previously (or, given the nature of the narrative, it will be in future).

One could argue that this is a result of advances in special effects, making the realisation of the Thing much easier than it was in 1982. Well, maybe, but seeing more of the monster doesn’t necessarily help the movie. The startling effects sequences in the Carpenter version (described on the IMDB as ‘one of the most vile and scary movies ever’) work so well because a) they’re strictly rationed and b) they’re wildly varied and immensely inventive. And that movie works as well as it does because of what happens between the splatter – the tension and the atmosphere that is relentlessly built up.

In the Carpenter version the Thing doesn’t start doing its thing willy-nilly – but in the new one it does, as I mentioned up the page: people start splitting open and spewing viscera about, not quite at the drop of a hat, but certainly at times when it doesn’t strictly seem necessary from the entity’s point of view. And the CGI Things, while appropriately disgusting to look at, just don’t have the ‘eeuuuurgghhhh’-factor of Rob Bottin’s 1982 puppet and animatronic creations – they even get a bit samey-samey after a while, which is absolutely not how Things should be.

Nevertheless, the new version is deeply invested in its connection to the Carpenter version: and to some extent its achievement in this area is highly impressive. So far as I can tell, the two movies dovetail almost seamless, to the point where the last shot of this film is essentially the first of Carpenter’s – even down to the soundtrack. (Although I don’t quite see how the Norwegian videos in the Carpenter version fit into the story told here.) I was dubious as to how this would play, as it would surely mean depriving this film of a proper ending. That isn’t quite how it works out, but making the lead-in to Carpenter not much more than a coda really means it feels like an afterthought.

The new version’s status as a preremaquel doesn’t always work to its advantage, either – in order to stay credible this means that it can’t repeat too many scenes or ideas from the Carpenter version. The new ideas it comes up with are too often substandard – Kate’s plan to see who could possibly be a Thing and who’s still human is scientifically based, which is good – but the discipline in question is dentistry, which I thought came dangerously close to bathos. (Certainly, at the screening I attended, people were openly sniggering.) A lengthy sequence aboard the Thing’s own vessel also feels like it’s taking the drama too far out of a recognisable world, too.

The great thing about the Nyby version and the Carpenter one is that neither of them is exactly overflowing with reverence for their predecessor – Nyby’s film does a major number on Campbell’s short story, while Carpenter in turn doesn’t try to imitate Nyby (though he does go back to Campbell in a lot of ways). I would have been interested to see a brand-new version of The Thing that didn’t try so hard to mimic Carpenter – then again, mimicry’s the name of the game where this beastie’s concerned.

But, having said that, this is not a replication that the Thing itself would be proud of. One of the defining qualities of the Carpenter version is that it’s so resolutely true to a very idiosyncratic and rather uncompromising vision. It’s a relentlessly bleak and downbeat movie that makes very few concessions to the audience – for instance, Carpenter didn’t put any women in his film as he didn’t see how it would help the story. Here, on the other hand, we have hitherto-unsuspected Brits and Americans at the Norwegian camp, for the reasons previously mentioned, and a gutsy-but-cute female lead very much in the Sigourney Weaver mould. It’s exactly what you would expect in a by-the-numbers SF-horror movie (just as happened in Alien Vs Predator, a distant cousin to The Thing lineage), but given the history of The Thing, by-the-numbers doesn’t cut it. This is a perfectly average, perfectly acceptable piece of forgettable entertainment – but when it comes to The Thing, just being acceptable is not acceptable at all.

Read Full Post »