Well here I am again. Another anticipated horror flick under my belt, but this time it’s up against one of the all time classic scifi-horror films ever made: John Carpenter’s 1982 THE THING. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. picked one helluva film as his feature film debut!! Taking on Carpenter’s THE THING is the equivalent of an unknown, little experienced filmmaker taking on Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE. Of course I’m talking about THE THING (2011). Let’s just get out of the way what all of you are most curious about: No; THE THING (2011) is not as good as Carpenter’s film. Not even close. Not even in an alternate universe. Carpenter’s film is a bonafide classic, a groundbreaking film in practical effects, and one of the best films of the 1980’s (I put it in the top three). There. We got that out of the way. Now can we just review this version of THE THING based in and of itself? We can try.
Back when THE THING was first announced and long before a cast or crew was assigned to it, it was originally gonna be a remake. But someone over at Morgan Creek Productions took their head outta their ass long enough to realize what a bad move this would be. So the remake became a prequel. The 2011 version ends, we’re told, where Carpenter’s film begins. Okay; I’m game. I’d love to see the story of the alien being discovered in and then dug out of the ice. But what we end up with is a film that’s extremely hard to label (but I give it a shot. Read on). From the opening scene we get the very familiar two-note bass line that Carpenter made famous in his film. Okay, I thought, he’s paying tribute to Carpenter’s awesome soundtrack. I’m down with that. But then other elements start emerging. The dog trying to chew its way out of it’s holding pen; the group gathered around in the rec room being tested to see who’s not human; the flamethrowers; etc. It got to the point where I started questioning whether I was indeed watching a remake instead of a prequel. Or is it a re-imagining? What the hell’s going on here?
Let’s skip forward and talk about the plot. We join a Norwegian team out at an Antarctica research site as they pick up a strange signal coming from deep in the ice. They follow the signal and discover a spaceship that’s been buried in the ice for over 100,000 years. But the even bigger discovery is the body of an alien encased in an icy tomb not too far away from the crash site. This leads the head of the team, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen, who was in this year’s SEASON OF THE WITCH), to America to recruit Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist, to overlook the safe recovery of the alien body. A few days later Kate is being whisked to the edge of the world by American copter pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton, this film’s “MacReady”). Then suddenly things go really fast: They travel out to the crashed ship, they find the ice-encased alien, and before you can say “oops,” they dig up the alien and bring it back to camp.
This beginning part had me satisfied that I was indeed watching a prequel. We were getting the perspective of the Norwegians and their discovery of the spaceship and alien body. But it all seemed a little rushed, almost like director Heijningen was anxious to get back to the base camp and unleash the alien. Once back at the camp THE THING (2011) suddenly feels very familiar as the alien escapes from its icy tomb and begins to take over some of the Norwegians. Kate unravels the alien’s plot pretty quickly (way quicker than Wilford Brimley’s Dr. Blair) and the camp erupts in paranoia. The entire middle part of the film is essentially a remake of Carpenter’s film with everyone accusing each other of no longer being human, of them assembling to “take a test,” of said test ending badly, and with a lot of flamethrower action. A LOT of flamethrower action. Please, faithful readers, if any of you have ever worked at an Antarctica research site, let me know if the use of flamethrowers was an everyday activity. I really wanna know.
Anyway; the middle of the film kinda lost me because it was really hard not comparing it to Carpenter’s film. I was trying folks, but Heijningen and writer Eric Heisserer (yup, the same guy who was brought in to rewrite parts of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake) was just shoving a comparison in our faces. And as I mentioned above, no; this one couldn’t hold a candle to Carpenter’s film. The paranoia in the camp felt forced whereas in 1982’s THE THING it was an organic part of the film. The acting was strong among the entire cast even though some of the characters were poorly and lazily written. The character of Dr. Sander Halvorson was exactly the same as Paul Reiser’s ‘Carter Burke’ character in ALIENS. But I did like Winstead’s Kate. She’s a strong, intelligent female character that isn’t used for her sexuality. She’s not the love interest for any of the other characters. Kate is simply the protagonist and she happens to be a woman.
Then we get to the third part of the film and we suddenly switch back to “prequel mode”. The climax of the film takes place not at the base camp, but back at the alien ship. So at least they attempted to give us a new ending. The problem is it happens all too fast. We see too little of the interior of the ship and the final battle with The Thing is over very quickly and is very anticlimactic. This led me to a theory, so stay with me. THE THING was originally gonna be a remake and there was probably a treatment already written. When the studio decided to back away from doing a remake and do a prequel, they simply re-wrote the first and third parts of the film and left the middle (which is from the original remake script, I’m guessing) alone. So what we end up with is a “Premakequel”. That’s right everyone; you read it first here at Wreckhouse Magazine … premakequels are gonna be the next big fad (god help us)!! This switching between prequel and remake modes gives a pretty uneven feel to the overall film. I liked a lot of individual elements in THE THING (2011), but overall it felt choppy.
And yes; I’ve been avoiding this part … the special effects. If you think for a second that the filmmakers here were gonna use practical f/x, then you just ain’t paying attention. The film and creature is unfortunately about 90% CGI and 10% practical (this might be a little generous). There are no “Holy Shit” moments like in Carpenter’s version (hell, his version was one big “Holy Shit” moment). The CGI is well done in some scenes and pretty cool looking, and then in other scenes has a SyFy-quality. Once again, uneven.
Oops; wrong Thing!!
So here we are folks. I’ve rambled on enough about this one. How the hell can I summarize my above ravings? In a word, uneven. The story shifts between being a remake and being a prequel, the CGI is well done in some scenes and poor in others, and some of the characters are well written while others are stolen wholesale from better films. But at the end of the film I have to say that I found myself kind of enjoying this one. I didn’t hate it, that’s for sure. I don’t think I’d spend the money to see it in the theaters again, but it’s good enough to warrant a rental from Netflix or Qwickster or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves this week. I’ve heard and read a lot of critics saying that the film is boring. Well I didn’t think it was boring, and if it felt slow in some places I’d place the blame squarely on director Heijningen. His cultural background is notorious for making slow-moving genre films. Fellow Dutch filmmakers Tom Six and Dick Maas both make slow moving genre films.
THE THING (2011) is not a horrible film and is definitely not one of the worst films I’ve seen this year (far from it). It’s an uneven film that forces you to compare it to Carpenter’s classic, and in that respect it just can’t win. If there was no 1982 THE THING, than this version might stand and hold up a little better. But you know you’re gonna see THE THING (2011) and make the comparison yourselves, and I encourage you to do just that. Just wait until it becomes available for rental. And be sure to watch through the end credits; there’s a nice surprise for ya.
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls (mainly CGI)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer