Friday, July 15, 2011

Here's THE THING...

Now, I absolutely love Carpenter's The Thing. I'm happy to say that I saw it opening weekend back in 1982 and it stands as one of my favorite theater-going experiences. Not to mention that if you get a bunch of horror geeks in the same room arguing over what the greatest horror film ever made is, The Thing just might win. Well, at least most of the time.

I rate it as the second greatest horror film in the history of history. And no...The Shining isn't the first.

But it seems that there's a bit of a ruckus over
Universal's upcoming prequel (due October 14th). Imagine that. A lot of folks have taken to the message boards to air their personal outrage over the studio's audacity in trying to reinfranchise their original investment.

They're howling that Hollywood needs to quit remaking existing properties and invest in new and creative visions. And I usually agree. I can count off on one hand all the successful remakes of great horror films and still have a middle finger left over to acknowledge the rest. But the last time Universal gave someone the funding to create an exciting new monster mythos was...

...well, damn. John Carpenter and The Thing. Ouch.

The Thing is, the movie originally tanked at the box office...three million opening weekend. Yeah, weird to think that most folks seemed to hate the movie when it came out.

But here's why I'm not disturbed by this move. Universal has been sitting on this property (let's just step back and admit that Universal is a business, first and foremost) for near thirty years.

But over the years, their investment has been re-evaluated by critics and the public and has become one solid property for building a franchise on (now sit back and imagine where solid writers could go with the mythos by The Thing IV).

So it’s kind of reassuring that they’ve held off as long as they have. But here we go...

Rolling into this, they had four options:

1. Remake.
2. Make a sequel.
3. Do a prequel.
4. Throw away more money on another attempt at rebooting The Wolfman.

We won’t talk about the fourth option.

I sort of cringe over the first option, and I’m glad more level-minded folks at Universal felt the same way. Not saying that the studio would have went the Platinum Dunes route (and to Universal's credit they did deliver with the remake of Dawn of the Dead), but Carpenter’s The Thing was lightning in a bottle. Trying to rehash the same material is setting out with failure as the best case scenario.

As for a sequel...seriously, does anyone that loves Carpenter’s movie really want to be told what happened between Mac and Childs? It’s a great ending (although admittedly probably a big reason for its initial failure...that and all the doggy abuse). And a sequel means you have to top everything from the original.

So a prequel is the best option, for the fans and for the studio. It can exist as its own entity while leaving Carpenter and writer Bill Lancaster's vision untouched. Essentially, it’s playing around in the same mythos, but doesn’t touch the iconic characters. And if it’s a success, a franchise can be built that continues on without co-opting the Carpenter/Lancaster narrative.

Call me naive, but I’m trusting Universal on this one (despite The Wolfman, which at least was a noble failure). Their track record hasn’t been all that great lately, but I get the vibe that they’re traditionalists. Which is welcome. I'm pretty sure that they're doing everything they can to avoid alienating the fanbase on this one.

And as someone that cut their horror teeth on the Universal monster movies of the black n’ white era, that means some- thing to at least me.
I'm not saying that it's going to be better than Carpenter's version. Because it won't. It won't even be as good.

But at least I get the impression that everyone involved in this project seems to respect the material they're working with. So if it's only half as good as Carpenter's, then it'll be better than most studio horror films. And that right there is something to be excited about.

Sad, I know.

But The Thing is...

...there's still a lot of traditionalists that would argue that Hawks' version of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" is still the best. Go figure.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Okay, straight up? On the face of it, Sucker Punch is mostly indefensible. If you want to take it on the surface.

Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. I have no problem with strippers packing big guns being used as exclamation points between explosions. I’m still breathing, right? Especially since this doesn’t pretend (too much) to be high art…this is Zack Snyder being given millions of dollars just to unleash his id on the screen.

And apparently, Snyder’s lowbrow id is influenced by a lot of cinematic influences and genres that I happen to enjoy. There isn’t too much story involved here. Just enough to serve as cutscenes that link the video game mayhem that took to calling itself Sucker Punch.

So let’s go back in time for the faux noir 1950s. What we have here is a thinly veiled Sailor Moon character (called Baby Doll, because what’s the point of unleashing your id if you’re just gonna try and disguise what makes it tick?) committed to the "Institution For Criminally Insane Girls in Short Skirts and Fishnet" by her evil stepfather, so that he can get his grubbies on her inheritance. And make her take the fall for his pervy deeds which led to the death of her naïf sister.

All this setup is played out in an opening gambit that is an ambitious exercise in highly stylized melodrama. It plays it well, setting the tone and backstory in broadstrokes that left me curious how the project would have looked if played entirely that way.

And then…

Well, things happen. Under the threat of impending lobotomy, Baby Doll accesses a part of her brain that allows her to set off in an epic quest to score four items (and an ambiguous fifth) in order to accomplish her mission. Let’s call that mission Freedom. Which serves as an excuse to get Baby Doll and her leggy posse to jump around in all sorts of visually-stunning set-pieces that span time and genre.

So we’ve got some giant stone samurai. A dragon and a B-25 bomber engaged in a dogfight. A trainload of killer robots. Zombie Kraut steampunk soldiers. Exploding zeppelins. And asskicking girls highwire-dancing through fireballs and hails of bullets. And other stuff.

Lots of other stuff.

Yeah, it’s cosplay wrapped in an 82 million dollar budget, borderline femslash. If you don’t know what cosplay or femslash is, then you probably won’t get Sucker Punch. Maybe. Maybe it doesn't matter. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. But it is what it is. This is auteur theory at its most outlandish, one man’s last dip in the slowly draining Hollywood dream pool. No art is created in a vacuum, and Snyder lets all his influences hang out here.

On one level, it can seem like pretty subversive stuff, albeit subverting the subversive. The bevy of beauties are dressed up in fetish fear and put through empowerment moves. It's not entirely clear exactly what Snyder's intent is...on one hand, we get hot chicks lapdancing to his Svengali cackle. On the other, we have Snyder wrapping up his heavy-breathing narrative in such a way that can be read as a two-fisted fuckfinger salute thrown in the face of Hollywood convention. This is one happy ending that takes some serious thought to wrap the head around. If you want to put that much thought into it.

Visually, it taps into the neo-retro stylings of Sin City and Sky Captain and the narrative affectations of Moulin Rouge. If this sounds like it’d make for a confusing stew, it does. If you give what’s happening onscreen too much thought. If you do want to think about it, there's plenty of subtext to play around with. It's just not neatly wrapped. Scantily wrapped, to be sure, but with deceptive layers of cartoon paper and strings that lead to weird places.

But mostly, it’s two hours of letting yourself be strapped to the theatre seat, eyelids pinned back as Herr Doctor Snyder pokes at your lizard brain with a sharp stick. If that sounds sexy, then you can get your money’s worth here.