From the producers of Dawn of the Dead comes the chilling prelude to John Carpenter’s cult classic film. When paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) travels to an isolated outpost in Antarctica for the expedition of a lifetime, she joins an international team that unearths a remarkable discovery. Their elation quickly turns to fear as they realize that their experiment has freed a mysterious being from its frozen prison. Paranoia spreads like an epidemic as a creature that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish in this spine-tingling thriller.
The Thing (2011) 7.5
eyelights: the connections with the original. the subtitles.
eyesores: the weak suspense build-up. the lackluster CGI creatures.
“That’s not a dog! Start the helicopter now!”
29 years after John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing‘ and 60 years after ‘The Thing From Another World‘, Universal decided to return to the well with ‘The Thing’. Also inspired by John W. Campbell’s novella ‘Who Goes There?’, this new movie, unlike the others, is actually a prequel to the story – in particular to Carpenter’s film.
It takes us back to Antarctica, in the winter 1982, to follow the events that lead to the infiltration of a parasitical shapeshifting alien lifeform at an American scientific outpost. The setting is a Norwegian scientific outpost not far from there, who have unearthed a large UFO and found an extra-terrestrial encased in ice.
Excited about this discovery, Dr. Halvorson and his assistant hurriedly enlist the help of an American paleontologist and fly her to the site to assist in the removal and autopsy of the creature. But ice cannot contain this lifeform and soon the American and Norwegian crews are caught in a struggle for survival.
Honestly, when I heard that this movie was coming out, I was left unmoved. For starters, given the title, I thought that it was a remake – as though we need three movies based on the same story. Afterwards, I kept hearing that it was sort of a remake, but also sort of a prequel. The ambiguity was uninspiring.
It’s only when a friend of mine, who is a big fan of the Carpenter film, said that he was also reticent at first and ended up enjoying it, that my curiosity was finally piqued. He said that he found it interesting the way that they tied both films together. I put the picture on my radar; when I found it cheap, I bought it.
My expectations were tapered going in. Having been a major critical and commercial disappointment already stacked the deck against the picture, but having just seen both of its predecessors in the days prior (and finding a lot to like in each), made it even less likely that this one was going to make the grade.
And yet, as it turns out, ‘The Thing (2011)’ is actually not half bad.
- For starters, it’s terrific that the filmmakers decided to connect as many dots as possible with its predecessor. They apparently studied the film in-depth to properly reverse-engineer the prequel so that it could become a companion piece to Carpenter’s film.
- ‘The Thing (2011)’ works from both perspectives: without having seen the 1982 predecessor and having seen it. The filmmakers made it mysterious enough that new audiences will have reason to grip their seats and they answer enough questions that old fans have something to sink their teeth into.
- The plot makes sufficient sense that you can just sit back and enjoy it. Even simple details like isolating the outpost from radio contact (thereby preventing any outside interference or plugging any potential information leaks) are covered relatively well.
- The cast is uniformly solid. There are no stand-outs and there are no laggards either.
- The opening title, burns into the screen just as the first two films did. It’s so bloody cool and iconic that it would have been foolish not to do it again.
- Marco Beltrami’s score begins with hints of Ennio Morricone’s brilliant music from the 1982 picture, introducing the same ominous bass pulses into the beginning and end of the prequel.
- I love that a sizeable chunk of the picture is in Norwegian. It only makes sense contextually-speaking, so I was very pleased to see subtitles on the screen. Naturally, it didn’t make sense that most of the characters could speak English so well, but I guess a middle-ground had to be found to try to make the film commercially viable.
(heh heh… that worked!)
- The prologue, which finds the Norwegian explorers trying to find the source of a beacon under the ice, fall into a chasm as the ice breaks beneath them. There they find the UFO. I don’t know… to me the idea that the ice would suddenly crumble like that seemed silly, absurd even.
- Aside for the tribute bass pulses, Marco Beltrami’s score is more traditional. I wish it had been more atmospheric, like Morricone’s was – that had truly nourished the vibe.
- Kate, our protagonist, is easily intimidated: when Dr. Halvorson tells her never to contradict him in front of the others again (after she brought up the possibility of contamination), she shies away. She doesn’t defend her entirely reasonable position – not even to protect herself. It would have been commendable for her to consider the health of all the crew, but that she didn’t even consider herself is ridiculous considering that she is aware of the potential risk involved.
- Although some of the wigs the characters sport, the technology they use, …etc., is from the ’80s (with some noted anachronisms), this doesn’t look or feel like an ’80s film at all. I guess it’s normal, given that the filmmakers were trying to cater to a wider audience. But I would have been quite impressed if they had managed to emulate the look and feel of the original.
- The picture shifts between daytime and nighttime. But, and correct me if I’m wrong, shouldn’t it be nighttime all the time in Antarctica during the winter? To me this was a glaring issue with this picture. Having said this, the original didn’t do that either… Hmmm…
- The scientists decided to do an autopsy on the creature after having killed it. But they do it without masks on or anything to protect them. Um, except wrist-length plastic gloves. So their sleeves came into contact with creature’s innards, thereby likely putting them in contact with some type of infection. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
- The CGI doesn’t look good. While the filmmakers were smart enough to use practical effects for the creatures, they enhanced them with CGI. Although I’ve been wishing for something like this for ‘The Thing (1982)’, the CGI enhancements here are poor enough that the creatures don’t look real. They look more real than the creature effects in its predecessor, but that’s not saying much. This was disappointing.
- So this picture establishes that the Norwegians find the UFO and plummet into a chasm as it crumbles beneath them. So… what about the video that MacReady watched (in the 1982 film) of the Norwegians finding the UFO, a bunch of them on the ice in a circle, arms out-stretched? Why change that origin story (other than for cheap thrills)? Doesn’t that fly in the face of reverse-engineering the prequel?
- What is it with all these flame throwers? In the Carpenter film, you could simply write off that MacReady was an eccentric and that, having been a Vietnam vet, had stashed away some military equipment. It was weird, yes, but somewhat conceivable. However, in this one, they have multiple flame-throwers on hand. Why? I’ve looked it up and there doesn’t seem to be any practical use for these in Antarctica – let alone at a research outpost. Did the filmmakers think that maybe it was trendy in 1982? Or was it just convenient?
- When the Americans find the UFO in the 1982 film, there was no snowcat around. And yet, at the end of this picture, which takes place in the moments preceding the 1982 film, the scientists leave a snowcat behind at the site. Hmmm…
- This film establishes that the alien cannot reproduce non-living material, as evidenced by the fillings that were left behind after the creature absorbed one of the Norwegians. The ending of the 1982 film has had people wondering ever since if Childs was an alien or not. Carpenter says he isn’t, based on the fact that he doesn’t exhale in the sub-zero temperature like MacReady does. However, he also has an earring on, and the 2011 picture establishes that the alien couldn’t keep an earring on. This is a direct contradiction of what Carpenter established. So… which is it?
- The picture ends with Kate looking out of her snowcat, having barely survived the events. This is an interesting ending, because it’s grim and open-ended much like its predecessor. However, it doesn’t tie into the opening of the 1982 film. Thankfully, there’s an epilogue during the end credits that takes care of that – a nice touch. This way, both the filmmakers and the audience got to have their cake and eat it too.
Here’s the thing: this motion picture has neither the depth of the original nor the suspense of Carpenter’s iteration; it’s technically better, but it’s nowhere nearly as gripping as its predecessors. And yet it serves as a fitting prequel and as a good stand-alone film. And it’s entertaining enough.
So why wasn’t ‘The Thing (2011)’ a success? Who knows. But it should be pointed out that Carpenter’s picture wasn’t at the time either – it was resuscitated on home video and grew exponentially from there. So maybe Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s film will only truly find its audience in years to come.
In any case, at the very least, fans of the 1982 film should give this one a look: the thing is, its roots are unmistakable. fans should be pleased.
Date of viewing: Jan 7, 2015