Film: The Thing
UK Release date: 26th March 2012
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Jonathan Walker
Running time: 99 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovered an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Once unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaked havoc, making its mark in one of the strongest horror movies of the last thirty years. Arguably John Carpenter’s finest hour, The Thing is a certified classic of the genre. Which means (rather disturbingly) it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came a calling. The filmmakers are keen to remind us that this isn’t a remake, that their movie depicts the events leading up to Carpenter’s original. While this is most certainly the case, it’s hard to believe that The Thing didn’t start life as a ‘re-imagining’ of some kind; such are the similarities between the two films. Whether or not you take the filmmakers for their word is up to you, but one thing’s for sure, Heijningen sure has a job on his hands if he’s going to convert the masses.
John Carpenter’s original (itself a loose remake of the 1950 classic The Thing From Another World) is remembered for a lot of reasons, one of which being the all male cast led by Kurt Russell. In fact it’s hard to believe now, but that was also one of the reasons cited for its lack of success at the box office. The Thing is a 2011 horror movie though, which means it’ll want to try harder to appeal to a larger demographic. Token scream queens best serve modern horror movies, and even though The Thing sidesteps traps set by horror movie cliché, it still feels the need to balance the sexes. Enter Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a successful palaeontologist who joins a Norwegian scientific team that has discovered an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice. When an experiment frees the supposedly dead alien - a shape-shifting creature that can turn itself into a perfect replica of any living being - Kate joins forces with the crew's pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing them one by one.
The most satisfying elements of Carpenter’s original are still in place, with Heijningen tuning in to the requisite sense of claustrophobia. It’s the paranoia of not knowing who your enemy is that works best in The Thing, and with such an effective premise, it’s hard not to love this workmanlike prequel a little. The filmmakers have a lot of fun incorporating elements of the first movie into their picture, lapping up the opportunity to explain how things came to be in the 1982 offering. Even minor details (like the axe in the wall) are given worthy explanation.
Rob Bottin’s special effects were of course sublime, especially when you take into account the age of the original film. His gloriously gory work goes some way to explaining why Time magazine described Carpenter’s The Thing as “horrific”. The look of the monster was shrouded in secrecy, with Carpenter insisting no photographs be taken during production or in post-production. Carpenter’s creation (with a little help from screenwriter Bill Lancaster and Bottin) was certainly worth the wait, but with the advent of CGI, you would expect Heijningen’s team to make it look real easy. In the opening act at least, they struggle to convince in the manner they should. Perhaps it was my love of the original that made me so critical, and to be fair, things do improve as the film goes on. Some of the monster effects in the second half of the movie are spectacular, with the ravenous spider mutation proving especially memorable this time out.
One of the biggest problems with the 2011 prequel is that it sticks too closely to the original formula, even finding time to riff on one of Carpenter’s most celebrated scenes, that being the legendary blood test sequence. In adhering so earnestly, the filmmakers don’t answer as many questions as they could. Which is a shame, because we still don’t really know where the alien came from. Expanding the universe of the series is largely ignored in favour of imitation and breakneck thrills. Which is all well and good for an undemanding audience, but Heijningen doesn’t hold a candle to Carpenter at his prime. The characters are largely forgettable too, with only Winstead (for being a girl) and Edgerton (for looking a little bit like Russell with his beard) stamping their footprints in the snow.
Considering the quality of your typical Hollywood cash-in though, Heijningen’s prequel should be considered a rare success. Taken on its own terms, The Thing is an action packed thrill ride with a startling premise and grisly effects. Taken as a prequel to Carpenter’s movie, it’s an inferior clone of what has gone before. Thankfully though, few films live up to the quality of the 1982 original, and Heijningen should be applauded for not screwing it up royally. So maybe we should finish on the words of Palmer as he watches Norris’ head grow legs and try to walk away, “You gotta be fucking kidding me”. I kid you not. Check it out…