The John Carpenter version is one of those rare remakes that is superior to the original. Infintely so, even though I'm sure there are dedicated b-movie originalists who adore the 1951 black and white schlock and will argue to the death in favor of its schlocky genius.
They will be wrong. Remakes are all about context. To be remade as in the late 70s and early 80s, is especially in sci-fi/horror, is to have been born in the last golden age of your genre. Even after the big, brassy, majesty of Star Wars, this was the era of sci-fi as art film, commercially-sized. Like Alien, whose trailer should be in the MoMa permanent collection, and whose titular creature does not even appear until half way through the movie (making all the more scarier). Or Outland. Or Altered States. Or, in the pure horror realm, An American Werewolf in London.
These are all masterpieces, a word not lightly used by me. (Except for maybe Altered States.) The sheer quality of these movies was something I always felt like I knew, even as a kid, and not just because I was six years old when I saw Alien in the theater, or a few years later when I saw a double feature of American Werewolf and Outland. (Both true!) I have gone back and seen all of these movies again recently, curious as to whether they loomed mythically large in my mind by virtue of youthful viewing or were genuinely great. Turns out that they seemed great because they were.
Even The Thing, with it's bloody puppetry and practical effects, held up entirely. Or maybe it held up precisely because of those effects. The limitations made the film focus on generating fear mostly from atmosphere and character psychology, and the pointed use of the occasional gnarly head-turned-into-a-crab-monster.
Fangoria centerfold gnarliness aside, what really comes through in the movie is the lonely, claustrophobic, frozen waste of the Antarctic research station where Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, et. al. find themselves stuck with that thawed out shape-shifter. More dangerous than the monster almost is the cold and isolation, things that are rarely conveyed well in film. But The Thing does just that, by alternating between gore and quiet in such a way that films no longer understand, or have the patience for.
Which is why I do not have high hopes for The Thing re-remake, or prequel as they're calling it. The trailer is all about scares, jumps, and people being dragged off into the snow. The emblematic sequence of John Carpenter's The Thing is the least kinetic, when everyone is tied up, waiting to find out who among them is not really them at all. It's scariest when the heated needle sizzles into the blood harmlessly, because it means we still don't know who's human. And when the poor humans do find out, there's nowhere for them to go. Because the final enemy is outside. Which is why the end of The Thing is so great.
Anyhow, this whole jag about The Thing's atmospherics was mostly meant as an introduction to these photos of Antarctica:
Via BibliOdyssey, woodcut illustrations from Ulisse Aldrovandi's Monstrorum Historia, a work of natural history by an Anabaptist heretic who didn't believe in the Trinity but did believe in this dude:
As with all seventeenth century science, Aldrovandi's field notes overlap at times with AD&D Module X4. If only he had been able to nail down AC, hit points, etc., the world would not have been forced to wait three centuries for Gygax's Monster Manual with its awesomely inferior cover and illustrations. According to Linneaus, Aldrovandi was the father of natural history. He created Bolognia's pioneering Botanical Garden. How is there no exhibit on Aldrovandi at the Museum of Jurassic Technology? Maybe there is. I haven't been in a while. A long while, come to think of it. These woodcuts make me want to go back. More:
So says Inc. Magazine, of all places, in this interesting article about entrepeneurialism in Norway. I saw this awhile ago, forgot to read it, then just came across it again. The gist: Norway, with its cradle to grave social welfare system and higher tax rates, has stronger entrepeneurial growth than the tax-cutting, business paradise America. Huh. So, one might ask, is this writer daring to suggest that thirty years of reflexive anti-tax dogma with little supporting evidence might not actually be right? That certainly doesn't square with the well-known of Obama trying to transform our great freedom-loving land into some kind of Continential socialist hell hole? Well:
...there is no statistical evidence to prove that low taxes result in economic prosperity. Some of the most prosperous countries—for instance, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and, yes, Norway—also have some of the highest taxes.
Norway, which in 2009 had the world's highest per-capita income, avoided the brunt of the financial crisis: From 2006 to 2009, its economy grew nearly 3 percent. The American economy grew less than one-tenth of a percent during the same period. Meanwhile, countries with some of the lowest taxes in Europe, like Ireland, Iceland, and Estonia, have suffered profoundly. The first two nearly went bankrupt; Estonia, the darling of antitax groups like the Cato Institute, currently has an unemployment rate of 16 percent. Its economy shrank 14 percent in 2009.
But that stuff we knew already. (Despite that you would never see even so much as a mention on CNBC, et. al.) What is more interesting in the story is how the attitudes of wealthy businesspeople in Norway are so vastly different than here. Which makes all the difference. They simply don't mind the taxes, which pay for social services that make their labor easier to employ, their market easier to exploit, and improves the lives of them and their customers. "I could live in the tax-free in the Cayman islands," one CEO says, "But I don't want to live in the Cayman Islands. I want to live here."
Nor do Norwegian magnates see taxes as a disincentive -- because they're not. They in fact point out that their mixed economy enables start up business because it allows people to take risks and strike out on their own without worrying, for example, about health care. The writer even directly asks Inger Nicolaisen, a scrappy Norwegian beauty product magnate famous for hosting the Norwegian version of The Apprentice, why taxes didn't discourage her from growing her business. It's a proxy question for the narrow-minded American attitude towards business as all bottom line. And the answer is obvious: "I'm an entrepreneur. It's in my backbone." Sounds like the entrepeneurial spirit Americans are supposedly famous for.
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.