If you’re a fan of the 1982 version of The Thing by John Carpenter, let me answer the one question you probably already decided for yourself; the 2011 The Thing, a prequel to Carpenter’s masterwork, isn’t as good as that earlier version. It is not terrible, however. It’s not even bad. Despite a middle third that tries to tell you otherwise, this film isn’t a tense, paranoia/horror thriller with grotesque monsters tossed in for good measure. It’s more of a monster movie with notes of a paranoia thriller thrown into the mix. It does what it does reasonably well, with some fantastic creature design, and that was good enough for me.
Read on for more on a prequel that shouldn’t have happened surprising me by being pretty ok.
The Thing (2011)
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Release Date: October 14
As I said before, this is a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and both are adaptations of the John W. Campbell Jr. story “Who Goes There?” Technically, they also owe a debt to The Thing from Another World, but that had a living carrot as an alien. The more we do to forget that, the better. Also, I’m going to be calling the ’82 movie “the original” a lot, and even though it’s not technically the original adaptation of “Who Goes There?” I’m still using this terminology, so fuck off. The film is set aaaalll the way back in 1982, when young paleontology grad student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is invited to a Norwegian research base by Dr. Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen). When she arrives, ferried by the gruff “I swear I’m not trying to ape Kurt Russell at all, honest” helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton), she discovers that the team has unearthed an alien spacecraft, which crashed a hundred thousand years ago, and the craft’s lone, seemingly-dead passenger. The alien turns out to be not entirely dead, breaks out, and begins picking off members of the crew and assuming their forms. Kate and the other have to figure out who is human and who is something else entirely. Everyone provides a basically decent performance, with no real stand outs in the crowd. I don’t get why Joel Edgerton is a big thing these days, but Kurt Russell, he aint. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a decent job as a snowed-in version of Ripley, but she lacks the raw badassitude needed for this kind of role.
Yeah, that’s kind of basically the plot of the original Thing. This is the film’s greatest weakness. I’m not trying to compare the two, as that wouldn’t be fair to this movie. The original Thing was a horror classic. The filmmakers here understood that they weren’t going to make a movie nearly as iconic as that, and that is a good thing. If you’re working with something with this storied a legacy, it’s already an uphill battle to make it your own. Unfortunately, the film takes a lot of cues from the original, in terms of plot. There’s the tense sequence where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character concocts and performs a tense, slapdash test to see who’s a monster and who’s not. We have sudden changes from friend to BLARGHLYARGHLY I EAT YOU. I could go on, but it would spoil a large part of the film. One thing I will spoil, however, is that you should stick around during the credits. There’s nothing after the credits, so you don’t have to stick around too long, but my fellow Thing fans out there will know it when it happens.
Where the movie chooses to make its own legacy is in tone, rather than plot. While the middle third retreads some familiar ground, with a tense group of shut-ins unable to trust each other as the alien menace picks them off one by one, the film evolves into what’s more of a straight monster movie than something closer to the original Thing. It works well, though director Matthija van Heijningen Jr. is clearly a little shaky in terms of filming action. Considering this is his first feature film, though, he does better than I expected.
I know what you’re all saying. “Alex, god damn it, we get it, now tell us about the things that are going to be running around eating and impaling people and looking like a vagina after a car accident.” There’s a lot of solid practical work here, I’m happy to report, and it meshes with the CGI work reasonably well. There are the occasional shots that could have used some more consistent lighting on a CG creatue, but it’s largely well implemented. The design itself, however, is the real star of the show. The creatures on display here, CG or practical, are on par with the designs in the original Thing. I’m sitting here grinning while I think about my favorite creatures. There’s a few in here that will throw you for a loop, in terms of design.
I’d like to briefly mention the score as well. It follows a familiar pattern of not being as good as the original’s score, but it’s reasonably effective regardless. The old theme shows up in the very beginning and at the very end, over the credits sequence I mentioned earlier. When they do bring it out, it works.
Overall, The Thing isn’t re-writing the book on horror the way its predecessor did, but it’s a surprisingly competent work that I absolutely wasn’t expecting. I’d recommend it for a solid matinee, or maybe a midnight movie with friends. Don’t go into it expecting the sheer awesomeness of the original, and you’ll have a good time.
Matthew Razak – By abandoning the “who’s the alien” tension and drama of the original (the 1982 film) for more of a monster movie feel The Thing simultaneously saves itself and disappoints. It’s actually a pretty solid monster film, with some great creature design that is scary, disturbing and stands up against the amazing stuff from the original film. However, by rushing through the mystery and suspense of determining who is an alien and who isn’t (the body count gets high really quickly) the movie ditches what makes the premise of The Thing so great. Of course there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that the film could have lived up to the original’s amazing build up of tension so I think that the filmmakers went the right direction taking the movie in a different direction. Smart, risky and it paid off for the most part. 70 – Good