The Thing

The Comfort of Trailers

The sameness of the characters means The Thing has already won. 
Reported on 5th of December, 2011

I think I mentioned how certain great films ruin cinema forever, and it occurs to me that Evil Dead 2 is one such example. Not that people copied the frenetic style and non-stop gag after gag pace; not even Mr. Sam Raimi could do that. No, they always copy the stupid parts, and in this case, it was Mr. Raimi’s willingness to admit that The Evil Dead, while pretty good, just needed a quick do-over. And with the extra fifty bucks some idiot gave him, he may have called it a sequel, but in making it, he just strapped a camera to a 2X4 and remade 1 as the masterpiece we know as 2. Thus the requel was born. And no, I’m not sure if anyone has come up with that port-manteau before, and you know I’m not going to check, in case it was copyrighted by the people who are bringing you the remake of Citizen Kane, written, directed and starring Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow, told in chronological order, from one perspective. And no that isn’t a real thing; I send it thusly into the zeitgeist so that it might become one. Future you, you’re welcome. Also, don’t cross the street on October 11, 2035. Or you’ll get bitten by a zombie Gwenyth Paltrow.

The Thing

25 January 2012 @ The Brighton Odeon

$4.50 or, if one must be prosaic, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Speaking, once again, and as I often do, of time travel, I formulate yet another carrycoat, more relevant to our age: the premake. Like the hateful Episodes 1-3 (it seems that terrible films can also ruin cinema forever), it’s not enough that we simply remake the film exactly the same as before as a sequel, we now have to make the exact same film, only that happened before the first. It’s a given that we live in such an anxious age that we’re so terrified of not knowing what’s going to happen next, we now have to know what will have had happened in the future with robots that are somehow more technically advanced in the past. Next. And yes, it’s worse that you do know exactly what I’m talking about.

I know what you're thinking: You had me at 'I built a time machine to kill Cameron Crowe before he caused "You had me at" jokes. Also for Elizabethtown'.

And so I was explicably off to The Thing (to clarify: hereafter we will refer to the 2011 The Thing as TT, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, as JC’s The Thing, as in WWJCTTD). I was stuck in Brighton Odeon’s dreaded theater 8, where somehow all the seats are too close and too far to the right of the screen, but I was grateful: I wasn’t watching Hugo (and no, that’s not getting old. You’ll find that post yesterday’s Oscar nominations, I’ll be using that reference point for a long, long time). TT, for all its faults, and they are numerous, still contains moments of genuine tension and thinking things through, and even fairly decent digital and practical effects. There’s something appealing to me, as to pretty much every one, about rules. This is an interesting aspect of science fiction and horror films, that they create (the good ones anyway, even though Evil Dead 2 is one of the good ones and has no rules whatsoever. I didn’t say I liked rules; I said I liked rules. Keep up). Zombies need to be shot in the head, and if you get bitten, you turn. Vampires are burned by the sun, unless they become all sparkly. If you make a tolerable film early in your career, you will be allowed to work forever and so on. And if that means that Mr. Spike Lee will do a premakequel of Fearless Zombie Killers of Vampires, set in the 2012 version of 1984 that took place before 1973, so be it. Or so will have had been it.

Rules provide us a structure that we so desperately lack in real life, which is why we have sports. And you thought it was just to annoy me. So we might call this The Zombies Make More Sense Than Reality Rule. Aliens (and God knows will get to that) bleed acid, impregnate humans for male birth and so on. Once the rules are established, characters can get into trouble, and then out of it, which is, well, storytelling. The Thing (not TT or even JC’s The Thing, the actual creature) likewise has this potential, one which the latter took full advantage of, and one which the 2011 half-remembered reflection of a dream of someone who fell asleep watching the JC’s version on late night TV gets right once in a while. These bits of business, that the thing can copy human beings, except for non-organic matter, leading the erstwhile Ms. Mary Elizabeth Winstead to start searching for filings in people’s teeth. The fact that some people might be human and not have fillings (they’re Norwegian after all), isn’t a contradiction, but actually adds to the character’s doubt, and thus, yes, in a post-Hugo world, tension.

Even at a right angle, tolerable. For 2011, of course.

Even at a right angle, tolerable. For 2011, of course.

The problem, as is so often the case, is my time machine. In films, it’s fine to go back in time to do exactly the same thing twice (As Carlos Santayana warned: ‘Those who know the net gross of the past are doomed to try to recapture it set in the further past. For future grosses.’ I’m enjoying myself way too much with this), but in real life we are completely unable to go back to 1991 and prevent Aliens 3 from ever being made. I know what you’re thinking: You had me at ‘I built a time machine to kill Cameron Crowe before he caused “You had me at” jokes. Also for Elizabethtown‘.

This is a potentially embarrassing story, but it may explain a lot (I did say it was potentially embarrassing). Like when the five year old me cried discovering that the Pet Rock did not, in fact, do anything except be ironic, there was some 1980 book that was trading in on the whole Alien thing, which I, unlike you, actually did see in the theater, without a guardian (and yes, I’ve always looked 42. The only advantage to this is turning 43). Wanting, like so many of us do, to replicate the feeling of being totally terrified, I bought this book, the title of which totally eludes me, which claimed to ‘begin where Alien left off’. It did in the temporal sense having technically been published after Alien came out, but having no aliens, taking place on present day earth, and just kind of sucking, otherwise did not.

But think of that: ‘begins where Alien left off’. Not without giving Mr. James Cameron his due, that’s a great idea: the Aliens come to future earth. In 1979, CGI didn’t exist, so a film like this was not financially feasible. In present day, we have CGI, but no time travel to take us back to when studios would actually make a film that took place after the one we just made. Even in 1986, when the excellent, and in many ways superior Aliens came out, Mr. Cameron had to make due with rear-projection and four, that’s right, four alien suits. But it’s the future now, and we can seemingly afford to show whatever we want (thanks largely to Mr. Cameron), which leads us to simply show everything. Except nudity, of course, which would entail showing everything.

Without the benefit of time travel, we make the baffling Aliens 3, and the equally dull Aliens v. Predators films, which can have scenes of thousands of aliens overwhelming a Mayan temple for the trailer, but not a movie that would logically have such a scene in it. Unless you count the making of documentary with executives sitting around talking about cool it would be if we had a scene where thousands of aliens overwhelm a Mayan temple for the trailer (see: ‘a-scene-where-ism‘). This leads only to another question: is it worse that they’re out of their minds on coke and hookers (out of their minds on coke on top of hookers) or that they aren’t?

In the place of Things or Lots of Aliens, we get the inert version where we know exactly how everything ends (the Swedes chasing the dog, Darth Vader saying, ‘Noooooooooooo!’ and so on). From a temporal perspective, this creates more problems than it solves: in the universe of JC’s The Thing, no one on the mainland knows that there’s an alien ship crashed in the Antarctic. In the universe of TT, taking place before the story, Americans come to the Norwegian’s rescue (placing this in the genre of Save Me, Whitey Save Me, where white people are saving, well, much whiter people. Given the fact that Norway has virtually no crime, social equality, great cinema and access to natural resources, shouldn’t they be saving us? The answer from a Hollywood film perspective is no, because they don’t speak English. Except that they actually all do. What can I say? Coming from an English speaking country means we don’t know this), so now, the outside world does know about the crashed alien ship. Likewise, the upcoming Prometheus, the upcoming prequel of Alien actually made by the hack that future/past Mr. Ridley Scott became/always was, will have to explain how humans discovered the aliens and just forgot to tell anybody. It seems that just because the past future has more advanced technology than the future past, doesn’t mean they have telephones. Or common sense.

I acknowledge that I like my films about the undead running amok in a 2046 feather tannery based on Jane Austin’s The Wasp Factory to be realistic, but I can forgive some illogic in story-telling. No, this requel of the premake thing is about something weird, what I guess we’ll call the comfort of trailers. Now I despise trailers, and have made concerted efforts to arrive just as the hateful Orange ad starts (or in the US, the hateful THX mascot, whose body I imagine riddled with very well acoustically rendered bullets each time. I suggest you do the same). I am reminded of the last great trailer, for that of The Matrix, which simply had Ms. Carrie Anne-Moss whispering to Mr. Keanu Reeves; ‘do you want to know what the matrix is?’ And you know what: we did. It’s as if they believed making a good movie meant the trailer wouldn’t actually matter. The gall of it.

But this is another period to which we cannot travel. No, we live in a time where more and more is being shown in the trailers, made worse by the fact that you can actually see them online. Well, after you wade through an advertisement for a service that places ads in front of what are in fact advertisements themselves that is. Trailers that show everything culminated in the otherwise forgettable The Double, which yes, I am allowed to comment on even though it hasn’t come out yet. I’m allowed to because I’ve seen the trailer, which includes everything: the end, the surprise after the end, and the surprised look on the faces of the executives when they find out that if you base an entire movie on surprises and then give them away, people will not see your movie. How the trailer manages to have more content than the film itself, I’ll never know. It has something to do with the T.A.R.D.I.S., I think. I’m not a scientist. It may also be all the subliminal penguin jumping-jack wah-oooooh-ga messages.


And so, like parents spawning kids to donate organs to their terminal older children, movies are, for worse and for especially bad, trailer donors. And this is your fault. Why? Because you don’t hate trailers, possibly for two reasons, or really just one that leads to another. Because you just don’t see as many movies as I do, 1) you’ll probably only see the trailer once, and never see the movie, which 2) means trailers, by virtue of their being the world’s most expensive short films, are in many ways the best part of the total experience. The reason you don’t see as many movies as I do is, of course, because they are terrible. What do you expect from films made for the express purpose of being good trailers?

This is the gateway reason to the third, which has to do with the new narrative. In a time when children can’t go to schools within 500 yards of suggestive advertising (this is in case their spleen becomes traumatized, and thus not viable for their older sister), it seems even the slightest unsettlement is too much of a risk. Movies like Hugo and the Twilight series are themselves devoid of tension, but this type of trailer makes the experience of going to any movie an experience likewise. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol probably wasn’t good (it didn’t help to get charged IMAX prices for digital projection, which will probably be another rant soon enough). But the trailer gave away pretty much everything, so I’ll never know. As you check off your list of what you’ve seen in a trailer, the only surprise is the order in which things happen.

And I get it; it is comforting. We want to live in a world without accidents. It’s fun. Well, not fun, but all the work that goes into preventing the possibility of fun certainly is. I don’t mind that I have to travel in a plastic bubble to the movie theater (until we find out that the plastic might be carcinogenic, of course. Or a child molester), but when I get there, I want to be scared and excited and cry and certainly not be bored. The new narrative, and again, I blame you, is like what therapists hear all the time. Not ‘I want to be happy, but I don’t want to change’, but ‘I want to experience excitement, but can we do without all the excitement?’

Like the baby that learns to avoid touching all the scalding hot baby mines I leave out, we grow old and learn to avoid disappointment. Which is fine if you don’t want to talk to the pretty girl; in that case, you can actually die. But in the case of films, you’re ruining it for me. Film is about risk, and I’d much rather see an explosive disaster like Margaret (I really do see anything, but I confess a weakness for films put on the shelf for three years) or Cowboys and Aliens or even Hugo (after which I was pissed, and yeah, that counts as feeling something) knowing that by doing so, a We Need To Talk About Kevin or even a Underworld: Awakening was coming down the pike. But as trailers lull you into the sense that it might be safe to experience the movie, we’ve let risk management seep into a place where it’s actually okay, and sometimes even beneficial, to be hurt. We don’t want to see a bad movie, so we just make the entire experience of seeing a movie average. Which is much, much worse than bad.

Look, I like the old-school practical effects.
That and it remembered the old school paranoia of Who IS Who. Nice.
Not only did a character think…
…but in a bizarre twist, it was a female character.
Total Profits
…after she was inexplicable weak-willed, of course. Thank God; we almost had to give up our misogyny.
Let’s split up. It’ll be safer that way.
If I just stare forward, this will guarantee there won’t be anything behind me.
The sameness of the characters means The Thing has already won.
Total Losses


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