Though everyone involved with the production claims The Thing is not a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name, it’s pretty clear after seeing the movie that this serves dual purposes as both prequel and remake. Set three days before the events of the Kurt Russell classic (which we reviewed on the Not Just New Movies Podcast, by the way), this version tells the story of the discovery of the titular creature and reveals how it was unleashed.
In winter of 1982, Norwegian scientists discover a massive spacecraft buried in the ice in Antarctica. Lead scientist Sander Halversen and his research assist enlist the help of American paleontologist Kate Lloyd, who travels with them to the site and aids in the discovery of an alien body trapped in the ice. Halversen demands a tissue sample (tsk, tsk), and after refusing to listen to Kate’s warnings, takes it anyway, awaking the creature from its 100,000 year slumber. The “thing” can take the shape of anything it touches, and as it slowly makes its way through the camp killing everyone one at a time, it leaves the remaining survivors paranoid and increasingly suspicious of each other.
For as much reverence as these filmmakers claim to have for Carpenter’s movie, they failed to learn one of the most important lessons exemplified by that film: sometimes computer graphics are no match for classic practical effects. Carpenter’s The Thing was made in 1982 and, for the most part, those effects still hold up and are freaky as hell. For every scene of effective CG here, there was a misfire reminiscent of Dwayne Johnson’s awful animated face in the final minutes of The Scorpion King. If you’re here solely for the gross-out factor, then you may have found your match; there are some pretty gruesome effects (many that feature two heads melding into one hideous body), and there’s no shortage of nasty tendrils bursting through people’s chests.
Most of the problem with the movie being this strange hybrid of prequel and remake is that it robs the film of any sense of drama. We know exactly how it’s going to end – stay after the first few credits for a quick lead-in to the ’82 flick – and as soon as this version of The Thing moves inside the Antarctica station, we slowly start to realize that it’s essentially recreating every scene from its precursor without enough variation to make it an interesting film on its own. That’s the difference between something like this and Matt Reeves’ Let Me In: while ostensibly an American remake of the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In, Let Me In has just enough deviation to justify its existence. Reeves attached his own sense of atmosphere to that movie, so even though a lot of the same things happened, it still has a bit of a different feel than the original. Matthijs van Heijningen’s take on The Thing just feels like a boring rehash of what came before, with the occasional easter egg (there’s the axe in the wall!!!!!1!!!) to theoretically satiate fans who know Carpenter’s flick inside and out. Nice try, but I’m not buying it.
This isn’t an offensively bad movie, it’s just impossible to compare it favorably to the classic it so blatantly rips off. Kurt Russell’s character from ’82 has been split into two characters in this version: Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the scientist, and Joel Edgerton as the helicopter pilot. (The fact that Russell was both makes that movie even more badass.) Winstead is a bit more lackluster than I would have liked; I was hoping this would be a career launchpad for her, but unless it pulls in some big numbers at the box office, I don’t imagine this will open any leading lady doors for her any time soon. Edgerton barely shows up and clearly suffers from “too little to do” syndrome. He’s proven himself as a solid actor (ahem, Warrior), but it’s pretty obvious his character is an afterthought. With the exception of the ridiculously over the top Halversen (played by Ulrich Thomsen), who spouts lines like, “We have to rely on science” with a straight face, no one else in the cast does anything warranting comment.
There are more flames here than in any other movie, perhaps ever. (That’s including films like Backdraft and things of its ilk.) Flamethrowers never run out of fuel, and it seems as though there are ten of them lying around the station for no good reason other than to be picked up by our characters. For a movie set in Antarctica, the characters don’t ever appear to get cold, going so far as to regularly wander into the supposedly freezing weather outside without even covering their faces. The movie falls prey to typical Hollywood plot holes (why is everyone driving around outside if other characters claimed they disabled all of the vehicles earlier? Why did that single grenade cause an explosion the size of Rhode Island?), but that kind of stupidity is par for the course in a movie like this.
As if you couldn’t tell by now, I won’t recommend this to anyone. The Blu-ray of Carpenter’s film is pristine, so there’s no excuse not to watch that one instead. It’s better crafted, has meaningful suspense, and contains good performances. The 2011 version is like watching the ’82 movie in a dirty mirror: the entire concept is backwards, and though most of it looks similar, upon closer inspection you’re just seeing a dirty reflection. Until next time…