Ladies and gentlemen, I approach this post with much gratitude and more than a little trepidation. Firstly, on the occasion of this, our 600th contribution to date, a huge ‘thank-you’ from myself and partner-in-crime Colin to all the faithful visitors who have been with us since Picturenose started, back in August 2007. It’s been so much fun so far, but there is still plenty more that we want to do with the site – we only hope that you want to keep it with us. Seriously, thanks.
But now, business must intrude, and here comes the trepidation – namely, The Thing (2011), Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel/companion piece to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) which, if you have followed the site at all during the past four-and-a-half years, you will know is, in this reviewer’s opinion, just about the best horror film ever made.
So, it’s safe to say that when news first reached me a sequel-remake-prequel to Carpenter’s film was on the cards, deep joy was not my immediate reaction. Subsequent news of changing writers and reshoots didn’t exactly help, either, but, thank God, it is my pleasure to report that Heijningen Jr. has, in taking the prequel route (which, let’s face it, was the only logical way to go) managed to make a film that, at the very least, does not taint the memory of the original and stands up as a fairly decent fear flick in its own right. Seriously, and I hope you will agree with me here, when one considers just how bad this could have been, anything better than appalling is a blessing, and The Thing is certainly much better than that. Phew.
Of course, before it looks like I am getting carried away, let it be quickly known that this is nowhere near as good as the first film, overplays its hand badly in more than a few ways and will, I believe, ultimately be consigned to the cinematic-oddity category rather than a long-standing companion to Carpenter’s masterpiece.
For those who don’t know the original plot, a brief summary (which is just as well, because I feels as if I have summarized this film sufficiently now) – in 1982, an all-male Antarctica research camp is disturbed by the arrival of two wild Norweigans, who have followed a husky dog across the frozen wastes by helicopter and very much want to kill it. They don’t succeed in their aim and both die, but the dog survives, and that is where the fun starts – an investigative trip to the camp from whence the visitors hailed reveals a desolate, burning wreckage, a man who has cut his own throat and wrist and the discovery of the singularly weird bodies of two men who appear to have ‘melted’ into each other. ‘My God,’ says Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) to MacReady (Kurt Russell), ‘what the hell happened here?’. Well, they are about to find out and, now, so are we – Heijningen Jr.’s film follows paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is brought on to a Norweigan team that has discovered a ‘structure’ and a ‘specimen’ buried in ice that is at least 100,000 years old. Ambitious, driven scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (Eric Christian Olsen) is the leader of the largely Norwegian team, which is about to be attacked by a terrifying intruder…
Carpenter’s film worked so very well for so many reasons, but not least of these was its elements of surprise – of course, van Heijningen Jr. and screenwriter Eric Heisserer cannot be blamed for the fact that most of the film’s viewers will obviously know where this is heading, it is a prequel after all, but the creative team could still have chosen to conceal quite a bit more than they have revealed. Back in 1982, no one had seen the like of Rob Bottin’s amazing Thing special effects before and, because there was no CGI back then, the design team was completely reliant on model-matte work and sophisticated stop-motion techniques. This made the monster (which was shown far more sparingly than in the new film) somehow more organic and much more terrifying than when it appears (which it does far too frequently) in the prequel.
Secondly, it is fair to say that the acting range displayed by most players here is, without being deliberately unkind, somewhat limited. I mean to say, if Lovecraftian monsters began attacking me, I think I would display a little more emotion than fraught breathing and vaguely shocked expressions, which is just about all that Winstead seems able to manage.
And yet, and yet…there are still some decent, suspenseful set-pieces here, not least of which comes when Lloyd has to face off virtually the entire team, think quick as to some way of discovering who’s who, and decide who needs to be separated. The Thing, you see (in a worthy innovation) cannot duplicate non-organic matter, spitting out such things as fillings when it takes people over, so it’s time to open wide. In addition, the script manages the none-too-easy task of lending proceedings as much credibility as possible, even if the full, apocalyptic scale of the menace that the alien represents is communicated with much less subtlety than previously.
In the final analysis then, yes, it’s worth a view, no, you will not enjoy it as much as the first movie but, to be fair, van Heijningen Jr. and team should be thanked for remaining as faithful as possible to Carpenter’s original and introducing a fresh vision which, while it will never gain the cult status of The Thing (1982), does not deserve to be dismissed out of hand.