I introduced a pal last night to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).

And she was predictably impressed.  Here are a few observations that came up for me, about the categorically rewatchable sci-fi/horror movie that keeps on giving.  (Yeah, I know I sound overly preoccupied with this movie, and that’s weird, but I’m just really into movies.  And John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is the same kind of classic for monster movie fans as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is for people who like Christmas movies.)  [THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS.]

1) It was fun watching “The Thing” with someone who was seeing it for the first time.  Not only did I have to stifle a chuckle at her cry of “That poor dog!” during the opening credits, but I also watched while she guessed (incorrectly, as most of us did) at which characters had been assimilated by the shape-shifting monster as the story progressed.  (I noticed something ironic last night that I couldn’t mention.  When MacReady delivers his short “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me” speech, all of the men he’s addressing are also still human … Unless I’m mistaken, Norris and Palmer are elsewhere.

Which brings me to what at first occurred to me as a … remotely possible plot hole in this otherwise perfect masterpiece.  If The Thing truly wants to escape Antarctica and prey upon the rest of the world, it doesn’t need to assimilate (or “Thingify,” as I like to think) everyone in the camp.  It only needs to overtake a single human.  (This would be the silhouetted figure that the dog first approaches; my money’s on Norris.)  Think about it … nobody stationed at Outpost 31 remains at the research station indefinitely.  They’d cycle out at the end of a shift of … six months?  Eight months?  Longer?  (And what about vacations and holidays?)  Sooner or later, they’d fly home.  And, having perfectly replicated a human’s anatomy, The Thing need only sustain itself until that departure by eating the same food the other humans were eating.  Then, as soon as it arrived at any other, warmer location on earth, it could attack life in its abundance.

But this morning I realized that my analysis here is faulty.  First, the humans were already getting wise to The Thing and its means of procreation — thanks to a pre-diabeetus Wilford Brimley wisely intoning, “That ain’t dog.”  Maybe The Thing was smart enough to realize the humans could effectively quarantine it.  Second, I am assuming in my criticism that “The Thing” is acting as a single entity.  Yet it shouldn’t act that way at all; this is the entire point of MacReady’s “blood test.”  While one incarnation of The Thing is safely munching on canned goods disguised as a human, a separate incarnation was sitting in storage, exposed — presumably only until the humans finally realized it needed to be destroyed somehow.  That iteration of The Thing needed to attack and duplicate Redding if it wanted to save itself.

2)  The Thing actually shouldn’t need to reach civilization in order to begin attacking all life on earth; it only needs to reach the Antarctic coast. If it enters the water and begins assimilating sea life (and why shouldn’t it be able to?), then it’s game over.  I said last night that “a fish can travel wherever it wants,” which my friend found pretty funny, but it’s true.  A Thingified fish (or its fish-Thing progeny) could arrive at any continental coastline.

3)  If The Thing replicates a human perfectly on a cellular level, then … might it be reluctant to kill anyone else, because it would basically be a human?  (Obviously, the film’s plot-driving antagonist has no such reluctance, but … still, think about it.)  If it perfectly replicates a human brain, right down to its cellular structures and chemistry, then wouldn’t it have a conscience and experience empathy?  My friend pointed out the reductionist nature of my question, though — it assumes that conscience and empathy can have only physical origins.

4)  The movie’s characters (and most viewers) assume that The Thing is “a lifeform” or an organism.  Is it, or is it simply “live” tissue?  Somebody on the Internet Movie Database message board pointed out long ago that it’s “just cells,” and that’s … literally true; the film even shows this via crude 80’s-era computer graphic.  Is it an “organism” if it is simply tissue that replicates?  Or is it no more a “lifeform” than a cancer, or tissue grown in a lab?

5) I honestly opine that the film is perfect, or very nearly so.  It is the paragon of sci-fi/horror movies.  And I’d put it on par with other films that I hold virtually perfect, like “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “Alien 3” (1992) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001).

6)  My friend reaaaally likes Kurt Russell’s hair in this film.

Okay, enough.  I’m sorry about this.  Hey, at least I’m not obsessing over comics tonight.

 

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And here is the latest thing that makes me feel old.

What’s with all the people in music videos looking so damn young these days?  Did they change the child labor laws?

There was a time when I was daily viewer of MTV (the sedate stuff on VH-1 was for old people), and I rocked hard, people.  It seemed to me that whenever I watched a video, I saw people who were my own age.

Now these videos are inhabited only by people who look young enough to be my kids. And that makes sense, because … they kinda are young enough.  (Yes, I realize the video below for The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” was made 18 years ago, but that’s beside the point.)  If the performers in a video today were in their very early 20’s, then they’d be about the right age, if I’d fathered kids when I was 26.

Furthermore, some astute commentators pointed out online Monday night that 2019 is the year in which the original “Blade Runner” (1982) was set.  The opening title card names “November, 2019” as the time when all things Fordesque turn angsty and existential and killer-androidy.  Am I … older than Harrison Ford’s character? I am six years older than Ford was when he made the film.

Now I just feel weird.  Why do I write these blog posts, anyway?

[Update: Today I am learning that “Akira” (1988) and “The Running Man” (1987) also set their stories in 2019?! That’s ironic, given that the future we’ve come closest to is that of 2006’s “Idiocracy.”

I wonder how people in our parents’ generation felt when 2001 arrived, if they’d happened to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in theaters in 1968.]

 

I’m prodigally wrong about all this, but still.

There’s a pretty cool article over at Signature about commonly misused words.

I refuse to believe that I (and countless others) have been misusing the expression “the prodigal son” for my entire life. Yeah, I get that its Biblical significance is that this was a dude who went out and lived a decadent life, but was received lavishly and thankfully by his father when he returned. When the good son sort of objects, their father explains along the lines that “someone who was lost has been returned to us.”

But I thought that the term’s popular modern usage was different — and that it denoted someone who was extremely successful (even if that contradicts its Biblical meaning).

It’s also a key metaphor and a key line at the climax of the greatest science fiction film of all time — “Blade Runner.”

TYRELL: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you. You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize!

ROY: I’ve done questionable things.

TYRELL: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!

 

 

 

A review of “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) is indeed a worthy sequel, even if it cannot equal Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 original film.  (And this is absolutely understandable — I opine that Scott’s dour, challenging “Blade Runner” is arguably the greatest movie of all time.)  Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t — but I sufficiently enjoyed this movie to rate it a 9 out of 10.

There is a lot going on here in terms of plot.  I won’t be specific about what I liked and what I didn’t like, because I want to avoid spoilers.  (There are definitely some surprise plot developments, and this is a relatively recent film that fans have waited no fewer than 35 years to see.)  But I’m happy to report that “Blade Runner 2049” satisfies by being a direct and logical follow-up in terms of character, plot and setting.

I do think that this would be a stronger standalone story if it had included the material that was relegated to the online short films that serve as its companions.  (You can find all three of them at Open Culture right here.)  The first one, “Black Out 2022,” is probably necessary to understanding the feature film’s story and ought to be required viewing.

The visuals were vivid and arresting, the action sequences were generally satisfying, and the acting across the board was quite good.  Harrison Ford was predictably perfect.  Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks are suitably intense and make terrific bad guys.  (I’ve always loved Leto’s work — even his criminally underappreciated, spot-on interpretation of DC Comics’ “The Joker.”)  And Carla Juri nearly steals the entire movie with her mesmerizing performance in a supporting role.

What I liked best about “Blade Runner 2049” was how surprisingly well it captured the … vibe, I guess, of the first film — its existential angst and the surprising tragic nobility of its characters.  Simply put, this film got the feeling right.  For me, this was best evidenced by a poetic subplot between the characters played by Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas.  It’s great dystopian science fiction — a fusion of troubling futurism and genuine human emotion.  And the mood was greatly enhanced by an evocative score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

There are were a couple of things that I didn’t like — they were plot points that I won’t detail here.  The pacing also felt too slow, at times.  (This is a long movie, at two hours and 44 minutes.)  And the the climactic fight scene felt just a bit claustrophobic and awkwardly executed.  (It’s a far cry from the epic feel of the original’s rainswept rooftop confrontation.)

I’d still cheerfully recommend “Blade Runner 2049” to fans of Scott’s film.  I’d caution them to sit down with it with as few expectations as possible, though, and to just enjoy this second chapter on its own merits.  It’s mostly great stuff.

 

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“An Ode for Fellow Replicants,” by Eric Robert Nolan

(Dedicated to Philip K. Dick)

What if the Internet is an android’s dream,
And we are the electric sheep?

Dick would know at once
Our artificial people:
Every boy a Roy,
Every girl a pleasure model,
Trying to pass as real,
Inwardly concerned with their design:
“Morphology. Longevity. Incept dates.”

On Facebook,
“More Nolan than Nolan”
is my motto.

If I, in my genuine moments,
Could greet my jpeg face
Hiding in his electronic words,

He’d go offworld or die,
After all,
“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

(c) Eric Robert Nolan 2016

 

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