There are films that will always be with you which help you remember your growing up and how you began to define yourself; for some they had The Omen, some had The Excorist, some The Shining and others had The Thing. Now, 29 years after John Carpenter's original remake of the b-movie, his 1982 classic gets the prequel treatment.
Before this goes any further, you should know that the 1982 movie is in my Top Ten Of All Time so this rarely-wanted and much-anticipated prequel has a lot to live up to. And for a brief fantastic part of it, this modern "where it all began" origins story pulls it off to the same degree that Carpenter created with his claustrophobic tale of invasion of the smallest scale ever.
Straight out of the gate, you feel on familiar terrority with the much-plundered Spielberg 101 tale-telling-technique since his Jaws and Jurassic Park master classes - scary intro, followed by character introductions leading into build up to big crescendo finale. Now, if you have the skill to bring those characters into your audiences immediate memory enough for them to care about and root for, then this technique is a no-brainer, as when they begin to fall into immanent danger they want them to see it through to the end credits. First-time big screen director Heijningen Jr. unfortunately does not posses this particular skill and neither does the writer Heisserer (Final Destination 5, the recent remake of Nightmare On Elm Street... need we say anymore?). For each clever nod to the original produced, they fall foul of several predictable modern horror cliches that dissipate any pent-up suspense they may have conjured up.
Alot of this is the over-reliance of CGI to help push the story forward and create the scares. Although the original had great state-of-the-art-effects for the time, the small cast, the paranoia, the accusations, the human errors and the single claustrophobic location, all created to make an absorbing "who's next?" movie that on first viewing had you guessing right up to the "you've got to be f*cking kidding me!" ending. Here, it's pretty obvious who's been exposed to the thing so the emphasis switches onto the how rather than the who for the seasoned viewer.
It's strange then that the makers have addressed details that have been poured over to such an extent that fans will tick off their mental check list - axe in wall, block of ice extracted - that they have then had such a blatant disregard for THE major questions raised by the 1982 version - the huskie escape, the body with the razor cuts to the wrists and throat, the thing's intent or story - to the point where any geek points gained are nullified. Back to Spielberg, his Close Encounters.. Special Edition showed the inside of the alien craft to which he and audiences alike hung their head in despair afterwards and here the makers make the same mistake - along with taking the small scale environment which evokes paranoia and expanding it in the hope of increasing the thrills. This does not work sadly.
As said at the beginning, there is a 15 minute segment that literally sits along with the original for sheer nail-biting suspense that sees a fantastic twist on the originals "blood test" sequence, but that's not enough to make this a classic unfortunately - just another average-to-good night out at the flicks. For those of you who don't know the original, that just may be enough. For the rest of us, a wasted opportunity will sit in the back of the throat.
UK release date: 02.12.12