In an expression of full disclosure, I will admit that John Carpenter’s The Thing ranks as one of my favorite films of all-time. Jaws and Goodfellas sit atop the list, but I could make the argument that the 1982 update of the 1951 classic The Thing From Another Planet sits amongst my top 5 of all-time.
With that stated, I have to admit further than I was not excited about the 2011 updated prequel directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen. George Lucas has already raped my youth by destroying the Star Wars franchise and Lucas and Spielberg actually had me cheering against Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So let’s just say that updating or revamping anything that held a special place in my heart has failed me in recent years.
Still, I walked into the screening of 2011’s The Thing with a cautious confidence. New trailers surfacing over the past few weeks spurred my interest and with fingers and toes crossed to a point where I could almost hear bones crack, I was ready when the adrenaline rush ushered in goosebumps down my arms as the theatre lights began to dim.
The film takes place at the Norwegian camp in the Antarctica that was referenced at the beginning of John Carpenter’s classic. The terror begins when two scientists crash their snow vehicle into a snow abyss that reveals to them an alien spacecraft. Lucky for the scientists, they have access to two American paleontologists (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Eric Christian Olsen) who agree to assist with the thawing and examining of the alien creature that was found frozen with the ship. Unphased by any quarantine protocol (didn’t these guys see Alien?), the scientists attempt to access the creature when…BLAM!....the alien comes to life and begins its reign of terror.
I will let the rest of the story play out for the viewers, but you can be assured that the alien does what we came to relish in the 1982 version by morphing into various human entities which makes it near impossible to determine who is human and who is alien. This will throw the outpost members into a wave of distrust similar to the pivotal plot point of Carpenter’s vision.
There is a lot of the same with a lot of minor differences with the update. The isolation factor of a remote frozen outpost in the Antarctic is still key and there is definitely a feeling of claustrophobia involved in the setting. The alien is more up-to-date, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. CGI has taken over from good ole puppet and special effects and although there are some brilliant scenes with the alien in mid-morph, I couldn’t help but wish for the practical effects of the original. A couple of scenes were over-CGI’d (is that even a phrase?) and took me out of the movie even if just for a moment.
I had small issue with the actors in the 2011 edition as well. In the Carpenter edition, I knew MacReady, Childs, Palmer, Nauls, Blair, Gary. But in the new edition, they all just seem to be ‘there’. I didn’t remember their names, or more importantly, any of their personalities or quirks outside of ‘that’s the helicopter pilot’ or ‘that’s the guy who likes dogs’.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. does try hard to tie the two films together and I suppose I can be persuaded to giving him some credit, but his talents can hardly match the look and feel of 1982’s classic. For instance, I never got the feel while watching the new cast walk around that they understood exactly what they were up against. There wasn’t any sense of urgency or, for that matter, emergency. It all just kind of ..happened. It also seems slower as it inches towards the known conclusion. The plot meanders with the occasional blast of a wowing special effects scene.
Comparing the two films is inevitable, but it is unfortunate that the writers didn’t try harder to create something ‘different’. There are still the cold, underground tunnels, still just flamethrowers as the go-to weapon of choice to fight their foes (grenades take place of dynamite), and there is a realization and test that hardly compares to the blood sample tension of 1982.
On a whole, I was disappointed in The Thing. But I guess I kind of expected that. It had a lot to live up to and just didn’t come through with anything more than a few ‘moments’. Still, it wasn’t a complete waste. And I sure as hell do wish it well so that a third film can be completed sometime in the near future completing a trilogy with Carpenters event film dab-smack in the middle. I just hope that a third film ventures into territory not already covered and offers a fresh look outside of updated CGI.