This weekend offered a more dramatic example than usual of how Hollywood is running out of ideas. There are actually two new remakes in theaters now – updates on ’80s favorites ‘Footloose’ and ‘The Thing.’
The main difference between the two ‘Footloose’ features lies in the fact that one has Kevin Bacon and one, well, doesn’t. And there is a surprising similarity between ‘Footloose’ and ‘The Thing’: both have jaw-dropping visuals, with ‘The Thing’ offering up an impressive monster and “Footloose” offering up Julianne Hough. Both are guaranteed to make men ogle the screen like characters in a Tex Avery cartoon.
The new ‘Thing’ features a female scientist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as its star instead of Kurt Russell and is directed by a Norwegian with an unpronounceable name (for the record, it’s Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) rather than horror maestro John Carpenter. It’s still set in Antarctica, and the filmmakers do score some impressive snowy visuals from Canadian locations without lecturing viewers about the demise of the polar ice caps.
I don’t remember a whole lot from the Carpenter version, other than that a dog wound up a gory mess and that Russell looked like he could handle the freezing temperatures a lot better than Winstead, who in one scene here actually runs outside to wave down a helicopter without putting on gloves or a scarf. If you think that’s silly, then consider the fact that the monster here is an alien that looks like a cross between a crab and an ostrich and that the film isn’t so much scary as it is goofy.
The monster in ‘The Thing’ is actually an alien that crash-landed in Antarctica 600,000 years ago and has now been discovered along with its spaceship by a team of burly Norwegian dudes. Winstead’s character, a paleontologist, is called in to evaluate the find but winds up being ignored the whole time by the greedy head of the Scandinavian scientists. He gets one of his fellows to whip out a drill and cut through the ice encasing the alien in order to get a tissue sample, but he doesn’t expect the drill to actually touch the creature.
We know this is a Very Bad Thing because everyone in the scene gets really tense and because the idiot in charge heads up the drilling and sample retrieval while wearing just a pair of surgical gloves — no mask, scrubs, hazmat suits or anything like that. And soon after, the alien is left to thaw out while everyone drinks, dances, and tells bad Norwegian jokes.
Of course, it’s The One Black Guy who pokes around the alien storage room and is the first to see the critter leap back to life. And soon, the Thing is attacking everyone and using its evil alien cells to replicate its victims’ cellular structures – meaning it can look like anyone it attacks, causing everyone to distrust each other because no one knows whose body is going to explode next.
I’ll spare you the rest of the story, as the only fun to be had is when those explosions occur. Since it’s hard to make a human skull split open, reveal a giant alien jaw, and have a chest cavity pop open to reveal seemingly hundreds of elastic tendrils that can snatch and grab anyone in the vicinity, the effects often seem obvious rather than seamless. Each time the monster pops out of another body, it for some reason reminded me of the world’s fattest man exploding in ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.’
All told, the new ‘The Thing’ is too ridiculously over the top in its effects to satisfy all but the most ardent genre fans. But I will grant that some of those true-blue types burst into applause when its closing moments revealed an unexpectedly strong connection to the Carpenter film. If you love monsters, you might like this; if you don’t, you won’t. Either way, you know who you are.