James Spader was one of the first “movie stars” to realise that TV was not only a more sensible and dependable way of making money, but kept your name out there for movie producers. “Boston Legal” and now “The Blacklist” are hugely entertaining even if, occasionally, you get the feeling that he’s coasting a bit, but just before he made the switch to TV, he pumped out a few lower-budget films like this. Or his movie career was on the skids so he decided to resort to TV. Who knows?
One of my favourite things in movies is when a college professor’s lecture is used to give an incredibly basic introduction to the plot of a movie, even though in the context of what he’s doing he really ought to be saying something a bit cleverer. Spader is Professor Julian Rome, and as he’s telling us all about languages and communication, he gets this email from one of his students:
MESSAGE: I want you right now
So he’s a bit of a bad lad, is the impression we get (when we discover he lost his NASA job thanks to a scandal involving a student, this is confirmed). Anyway, he’s dispatched to the South Pole due to his expertise in cryptography, or something (honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me) to analyse a signal that is being transmitted from a mysterious something hidden in the Antarctic ice…
The base he uses is part of some experiment in hydroponic farming, so he’s surrounded by other scientists, including the student he lost his career over, Kate, and an assortment of stereotypes, including character actors extraordinaire Roy Dotrice and John Lynch (plus former 100m Olympic champion Carl Lewis). So there’s this going on, then the ice surrounding the “thing” starts to thaw. Can Julian crack the code? And did the women scientists really have to wear one-piece bikinis to do their experiments in?
For a movie set in an Antarctic base, with aliens in it, this tries its hardest to be as unlike “The Thing” as possible.. It’s kind of “The Abyss”, with a smidge of “Alien”, then “The Thing” comes more to the fore at the end. But, even though it wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s really quite good! Julian’s transformation from sleazy douchebag to hero is well-handled, and that’s helped by having an actor as good as James Spader in the role. He’s great, and John Lynch plays a fine villain too (I’m not spoiling anything, he’s as obvious a villain as you’ve ever seen).
It’s tense, and although they do what I call “the House ending” twice (main character hears a snippet of conversation which triggers the real solution in his brain) it’s an interesting twist on a bunch of well-used sci-fi and horror tropes. There’s a plot hole or two, and the title is completely inappropriate (no-one hunts the alien, and the alien doesn’t really hunt anyone) but I’d definitely recommend it. For a SyFy Channel movie, which it turns out this is, it’s bloody fantastic.
Rating: thumbs up