John Carpenter’s The Thing has been scaring audiences since 1982. It’s one of those classic horror/suspense films that was executed perfectly, giving it the ability to span the stretch of time and technological advances. The idea that a prequel would be made nearly 30 years later caused many to raise their brows both in doubt and in excitement. Being both a huge fan of the ’82 version and (in my own humble opinion) a fair critic, I was one of those brow-raisers — excited to see what could be achieved with CGI, but incredibly concerned with the level of respect, realism, and continuity that would be shown toward its namesake. This is one of those times when my intuitions are unfortunately confirmed.
American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is made an offer by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to come to Antarctica and assist his Norwegian geological research team on a curious and top-secret discovery. What she finds is a mysterious spacecraft—and a creature of unidentified origin—that have been buried under the ice for at least 100,000 years. Despite Kate’s apprehensions, it is made clear that she has little say in the matter after they decide to bring the chunk of ice with the alien back to their research station to test its DNA. The creature’s subsequent escape is compounded by a microscopic look at its cells, each one devouring the normal cells and then emulating their appearance. With any one of them now potentially an otherworldly intruder, the process of separating the humans from the non-humans begins. If one of them escapes, it could potentially mean the end of mankind.
Sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? It probably sounds pretty familiar to those who have seen The Thing of ’82. I should just say this now, if you’ve never seen The Thing and think it sounds pretty interesting, then please, see the ’82 version first. I know our 2011 flick is technically a “prequel,” but you’d be doing yourself a favor. The original special effects are still quite jarring even now, and the intensity of the suspense is incredibly thrilling.
With that out of the way, let’s break it down a bit. This time around the cast is a little more well-rounded in a variety sense of the term. The ’82 cast was completely male, but this time we are given two women, American characters, and Norwegian characters. The idea of sisterhood plays out in an interesting way, but not many alliances are formed based solely on nationality. That was both refreshing and unexpected, especially considering the decade in which The Thing is set. The lack of heavy foreshadowing (which seems to litter every “suspense” and “thriller” movie these days) actually allows you to enjoy the paranoia that builds as the characters struggle to trust one another.
The cast in general does a pretty good job using subtlety to get certain feelings of paranoia and suspicion across. Overall, not one really stands out above the rest. That is mostly due to the characters being far-less-than-ideally vivid, thanks to director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and writers Eric Heisserer & John W. Campbell Jr.
The most disappointing aspects of The Thing concern the (what I imagine to be) homages to the ’82 version. There are so many scenes that are excruciatingly similar to its predecessor that they feel more on the verge of plagiarism than an honoring of John Carpenter’s excellent work. In fact, most of the film is nearly a play-by-play of the ’82 version, though a pale shadow at that. For those who’ve never seen The Thing, it won’t be a big factor in their movie-going experience, but those long-time fans may be drawn from their spell as their minds begin to compare the 1982 scenes with their 2011 counterparts. Another great downfall of this film is unfortunately the special effects. Nearly every encounter with the alien is heavily laden with CGI. It’s just clunky enough that your mind will constantly whisper to you, “This is computer-generated,” which is more than enough to break your suspension of disbelief. This time around, the “thing” is fairly unconcerned with being as stealthy as it is in the ’82 version, and spends most of its time in its true form. Basically, once you’ve seen the alien the first few times, it loses the horror that it was created to instill. Yet again we have come to an aspect that leaves you die-hard fans with a bad taste in your mouth. The temperament and intentions of this 2011 “thing” seem very different than the ’82 “thing”, especially since this is supposed to be a prequel to it. The ’82 alien was just as (if not more) horrific as this new one, but it seemed to want to mimic our protagonists more out of a need to survive by keeping a low profile. It was only when it was in danger or nearly discovered that it revealed itself and reigned terror on the camp. This time it seems more bent on annihilating the survivors one by one with survival and escape as after thoughts. Even the ending feels pretty choppy, though we are given the first few scenes of the ’82 version to try to tie everything together. It not only felt rushed, but felt like the writers and director were trying to convince us that The Things‘s tout as a prequel was genuine (despite the unoriginal scenes and continuity issues).
All in all, The Thing is a film that has enough gore, thrills, and suspense to make horror enthusiasts happy for a pre-Halloween fright. If that’s all you’re searching for, then The Thing will get the job done. But those looking forward to an epic prequel to one of the best horror films ever made will be sadly disappointed. John Carpenter’s 1982 film is nearly perfect, and as we’ve all seen many times before on the silver screen, perfection is almost always impossible to duplicate. Though this one doesn’t hold a candle to the 1982 remake (yes, there was a 1951 original called The Thing From Another World), The Thing is entertaining enough for a cheap thrill and a chance to have your girlfriend cling to you like a monkey on a cupcake.
I give The Thing 3 “head-spiders” out of 5.