I should preface this review by disclosing that John Carpenter's The Thing; his 1982 remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World -- both adaptations of the 1938 short novel, "Who Goes There?" -- is one of my favorite horror films ever, by anyone in history, period.
It's an out-of-the-park combination of a supremely suspenseful script -- the story of a group of Americans at an Antarctic outpost who have to deal with a deadly, shape shifting alien that can imitate any life form -- combined with a director at his peak (Carpenter, if you hadn't guessed) both technically and creatively.
Basking in cinematographer Dean Cudney's glowing, textural lighting and chilly compositions, the deal is sealed by its utterly groundbreaking, Lovecraftian visual FX by then neo-master Rob Bottin; the bulk of which hold up incredibly well to this day. Bottin did things practically in 1982 and his body snatching, interstellar beast still blows minds in ways this century's embrace of CGI has rarely achieved.
But the presence of CGI isn't really what really hamstrings the 2011 incarnation of The Thing. Nor is it the film's intentions, which are fairly pure. It's not a remake; even though it kind of is (the only official sequel to Carpenter's film is a surprisingly good 2002 video game). Ostensibly it's a prequel movie and as such, this Thing somewhat qualifies as a new life form.
But, in essence, this incarnation is also Episode I -- a backstory for a great film that was better left to the imagination. The Thing is way better than The Phantom Menace, but that's a low bar.
Predicated on what happened to the Norwegian scientists who first discovered a wrecked alien craft, and whose fate makes for one hell of a creepy scene in the original, we meet Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young, attractive American paleontologist who is hired by an old, domineering Norwegian douche, Dr. Sander Halverson (Ulrich Thomsen) to assist his team of researchers, who have discovered "a structure" in the ice outside their Antarctic outpost.
Soon enough, Kate is surrounded by Norwegian sausage and a pair of American pilots, Carter and Jameson (Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as they come to learn that the frozen extraterrestrial they've yanked in a solid block from the crash site might have been better left alone.
Stylistically, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. does his best, with some great cinematography by Michel Abramowicz (Taken) to help emulate the cold atmosphere of the original right down to the trademark "Carpenter" font in the opening credits. The look is appropriately period, recreating the world and the visual touches in a way that lets fans of the first film know the makers of this one are fans, too.
Ironically, Heijningen, in mimicking the tone and certain scenes so closely, overlooks what really made the original work so good. Here the slow building tension is replaced with more action while the insidious paranoia is diluted by unremarkable characters.
Working from a script by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), it's the inconspicuous characters that really suck the tension from a concept in need of every drop it can get. Personalities as memorable as those of the original: MacReady, Fuchs, Nauls, Childs, Windows -- they even had weirder names than the Norwegians -- are replaced by interchangeable Swedes ("They're Norwegians, Mac") who get a bad case of dead before it's possible to care. This flick needed interesting characters in spades to overcome the forgone conclusion of its ending, one that does indeed lovingly tie up the loose ends that lead up to a better, almost 30 year-old film.
Yet still, it's not terrible (and I kind of wanted to hate this on principle). As much as it may be a pastiche, had I seen this divorced of the original I'd have probably been pretty impressed. While the FX themselves are merely passable the creature design is pretty killer. Its sense of phantasmagoric evil is brought to bear when a characters face, or torso, or forearms burst asunder, splitting into disparate, pulsing nightmares of biological incongruity.
While most of the cast spend the film looking incredulous and worried, Edgerton and Thomsen stand out due to their inherent presence. Winstead is hamstrung by a lack of it, but in reality none of these characters feels remotely tangible.
Had The Thing been able to absorb that element of its host, it could have fooled me.
I'm pretty sure that Footloose was the last movie on my list for a remake, right alongside Roller Boogie and Breakin' 2. Movies about people dancing, needing to dance, being thwarted from dancing and coming together against all odds to defeat the anti-dancite forces are lame. Sorry. I realize that I'm disparaging a diverse genre full of quality films with one dismissive moonwalk. Notable exception: Saturday Night Fever.
And, my God, was Footloose full of '80s people and dancing. Do you have any idea how badly that undermines a film? It's too funny to take seriously. Musical montages of dated music set to acrobatic and/or generally Caucasian choreography became a stereotype of the decade. I'd seen 1984's Footloose innumerable times on HBO to learn this. I just don't get people who need to dance. But if they don't do it well, at least it's hilarious.
Fortunately, writer/director Craig Brewer does it well.
Bomont, Texas is a small burg populated by whom you would expect it to be: pious, hard-working adults and bored, rambunctious teenagers. When the son of the local preacher, Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) dies with four his friends in a car wreck following a dance party, the good reverend and the Bomont Town Council institute a strict curfew for the town's minors, and an outright ban on dancing.
Three years later, enter Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald), a Boston expat forced to live in Bomont with his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and Ray McKinnon) after his mother dies of leukemia. A fish out of water, Ren makes the best of it, getting a job at a local mill and trying to do right by his extended family.
Ren quickly makes a friend in Willard (Miles Teller) an amiable hick who helps him acclimate to his new home, while making an enemy with Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger) the stock car driving boyfriend of the Reverends daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough) whose attention Ren immediately attracts.
Chafing against the rigidity of the town's anti-fun laws, where even loud music is verboten, Ren endeavors to show his newfound friends that the freedoms of youth should not be abdicated to the dictates of the church or the whims of their elders. Let's dance.
With Footloose Craig Brewer, a considerable directorial force since he broke out with Hustle and Flow, crafts a film that remains true to the tone of the original while imparting a cinematic prowess that elevates it. This is the better version of Footloose.
His game updating of the script (with original writer Dean Pitchford) transposes the characters into the contemporary -- now Ren listens to Quiet Riot on an iPod -- while re-imagining the first films memorable set pieces. The tractor race is now a demolition derby with old, school buses; Ren's factory dance is more of an expression of rage that is much better choreographed. It's a straight re-make that stays true to the tone while generating its own unique atmosphere both visually and musically. Many of the original tunes return here, updated with a sense of reverence. Whether you liked them to begin with is another matter.
Visually, Footloose is a near feast. The saturated, wonderful compositions by Brewer cohort Amy Vincent (True Blood) often beautifully frame the proceedings -- taking a few cues from Saturday Night Fever's look during the dance sequences -- creating a warm, rich palate that tangibly renders every sun dappled vista and gyrating hip. Like Black Snake Moan, you can almost smell the sweat.
His cast is generally fine, which still rises to the level of the original. Wormald as Ren, carries the film ably enough though his look -- something like Johnny Depp circa 21 Jump Street -- adds a certain sense of the generic. The same for Julianne Hough, who looks, distractingly, like a younger Jennifer Anniston. Both deliver decent, yet unremarkable performances, perhaps because the sense of déjà vu undercuts them despite everything the film does to distinguish itself.
While Dennis Quaid is quite good as the Reverend Shaw, his can't overcome John Lithgow's great performance, which was the best thing about the first film. Instead, the stand out here is Miles Teller, as Willard. Teller's funny turn is all his own while being a finely detailed homage to the late Chris Penn's performance.
I'd like to think that if anyone could re-make a generationally iconic film for a new generation it would be Craig Brewer. That's the only reason for this Footloose to exist. But, at the very least, Brewer has done something few makers of even fewer re-makes ever have. Improve on the source.
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