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AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Kerry Hayes
In this image released by Universal Pictures, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is shown in a scene from "The Thing."

Here’s the thing about ‘The Thing’

Posted: October 27, 2011 - 8:24am  |  Updated: October 27, 2011 - 8:58am

"The Thing"
Morgan Creek Productions
1 hour, 43 minutes

We all know what a "fan" is. Someone who likes something. Facebook will allow you to easily be a fan of everything from a rock band to your uncle's choice of sandwich. It's fandom that's kept George Lucas in solid gold bunny slippers since the early 80s. Fans are the reason a show as insipid as "Two and a Half Men" can't die even when its star commits career suicide in such a massive fashion that it requires a nationwide tour to contain it.

But having fans isn't always what it's cracked up to be, as the creators of this week's sci-fi horror prequel "The Thing" can attest. It's no coincidence that "fan" is the root of "fanatic."

Early on, I was looking forward to this movie. I've known of its coming for about a year, and the idea is pretty cool. To explain exactly what's going on, I'll give a little primer for those who haven't seen the 1982 original. (Actually, the 1982 version is a remake of 1951's "The Thing from Another World," but who's counting?)

The 1982 film, directed by John Carpenter, takes place at an American research station in Antarctica. At the beginning of the movie, the Americans, a mix of scientists, pilots, and workmen, are surprised by a lone husky, racing across the snow, being pursued by a helicopter whose occupants are shooting desperately at their prey. The dog makes it to camp, and the Americans, in self-defense, kill the pursuers.

This sets off a whole terrifying chain of events where it turns out that the helicopter guys were the last surviving members of a Swedish team working several miles away, and the dog is a horrible shape-shifting monster from outer space. There's lots of blood and goo and, most importantly, paranoia as the Americans try to figure out who from their team isn't who they seem to be. It stars Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley and it's a lot of fun -- not without flaws, but fun.

This current 2011 version, also called "The Thing" is actually a prequel. It tells the tale of the doomed Swedes who found the alien in the first place, and what happened to them in the few days preceding the 1982 version. Good idea, huh? Not completely necessary, but still a fun concept.

Yeah, right. Tell that to the fans.

From the first whiff of this movie's pre-production, the pressure has been on. "If they're going to call it 'The Thing,' it had better be, shot for shot, just as completely awesome at the original. Nothing less will be acceptable!" This is the rallying cry I've heard again and again, and then, when the movie was finally available for critics to screen, these same fans wailed to high heaven.

"Too much CG, not enough practical effects!" As if John Carpenter wouldn't have used computer graphics if he'd had them available to him.

"The movie looks too slick." That's because it's not a 25-year old VHS tape that you found in your mom's basement.

"There's not as much nuance and psychological terror in the new movie." Nuance? The 1982 version has a guy's head pop off, sprout legs, and scurry across the floor. That's subtle.

The problem is that these fans, much as were the fans of last week's "Footloose," are looking at the original through rose-colored glasses. I love the Kurt Russell "Thing," but it's a B-movie. It's supposed to be a B-movie. It's not high art, though it does achieve moments of greatness. It's probably a little better a movie than this new version, but the level of adoration it's garnered is completely unbalanced.

As far as the plot of the new movie itself, it's pretty similar to the original. I did wonder how they were going to make a sci-fi horror film for American audiences with everyone speaking Swedish, but those clever Hollywood guys figured out how to stock the cast with English speakers. An American researcher, along with several pilots, are called in to help after the Swedes discover an alien spacecraft buried in the ice. A few yards away, frozen in a 100,000 year-old block of ice, is the supposed pilot of said craft. Unrecognizable in the ice and snow, the scientists move it inside the camp for storage and examination. The ice thaws and all hell breaks loose.

I can't say much for the cast of "The Thing." They are all inoffensive and relatively unknown, but I doubt any of these performances will live the test of time. That's one thing about the original -- Russell, Brimley and Keith David are all very good.

That said, as far as scary monster movies go, I've seen way worse. I enjoyed the movie -- I was scared -- I didn't know who the monster was half-the-time. What else do you want? I went to see a movie called "The Thing," and, aside from a problem with connectivity at the end, I got what I paid for.

And to the fans who complain that this new movie doesn't live up to the unattainable glory of the 1982 version, I say this: roll down to the video store, pick up a copy of "John Carpenter's The Thing," and quit complaining.

Grade: B

"The Thing" is rated R for language, violence, gore and sci-fi scares.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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