Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

Again, part for my research. Because on its own, I probably still wouldn’t have seen this movie. Why? Because it’s a remake of a classic John Carpenter movie. Yeah, I know, it’s technically a prequel, but I’ll get to why that’s a load of bullshit in a minute. Suffice it to say that anybody who believes they can surpass John Carpenter at what he undeniably does best will inevitably fail. Not a single one of the properties Carpenter first turned into solid gold managed to be any good in the hands of someone else. It’s almost like John Carpenter is one of the best directors this planet has ever seen and most people in the business lack his immense talent for suspense, atmosphere, pacing, shot composition, lighting, camerawork and direction. Weird, right?

But back to the actual remake… sorry, prequel. Obviously we know where this idea came from to make this movie a prequel. The original basically begins on a reverse cliffhanger that would perfectly lead into another movie about the events of the first Antarctic research facility. The problem with making a prequel to The Thing should technically be obvious at exactly the moment that particular thought enters your mind: You already know what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to end. We see the aftermath of this movie right at the start of the original, everybody dies except two people (spoiler alert) and all the attempts at containing the Thing are fruitless endeavours (spoiler alert, the second) because obviously, the Thing is still around in the original, which chronologically speaking, takes place after this prequel. Obviously. Have I said “obviously” enough? Because everything about this production is so transparently, glaringly evident as to why it was a complete waste of time and money to produce this picture.

It’s basically a shot-for-shot retread of the original, right down to the fact that the dogs bite the dust first. There’s an analogue for every single character from the original and almost all of the story beats are copied wholesale. The two helicopter pilots are clearly stand-ins for Kurt Russell and Keith David. There’s a nerdy guy, two scientists, a dude who likes dogs, the radio communicator, a couple of clowns and Tormund Giantsbane. The problem with this is that almost all of these people lack character. They’re not memorable in the slightest, I can’t even remember most of their names. They’re largely indistinguishable from each other and as a result, I couldn’t give a damn about them when the Thing eventually devours them.

Speaking of the creature itself, what a massive let-down that is. It’s way too aggressive and confrontational, happily revealing itself in front of armed characters without even the slightest hint that its secret is in danger of actually getting out. In fact, the very first reveal that one of the humans is the Thing happens also to be one of the instances where it actually sabotages its own efforts to get to civilization. But this probably didn’t occur to the filmmakers because they thought they were clever to make the audience think one character was the Thing when in fact it was exactly the other one sitting across the initial suspect. Oh what a brilliantly set up diversion you put into your movie that completely undermines the motivation of the monster. That was sarcasm, in case you didn’t get that.

It also seems like all the transformations are vastly less creative than in the original. They sort of try to replicate the creep factor of the spider head by having the Thing have detachable arms that independently run around, but it happens so frequently that it lacks the inherent iconic properties of the original. And otherwise it seems to have a weird fetish with human faces, which unfortunately means that the uncanny valley is visited with uncomfortable regularity, due to the underwhelming CGI special effects that got plastered over the magnificent practical effects made by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.

Another problem is that the movie bends over backwards to be an homage to the original so that a large amount of screentime is devoted to the Thing in the form that carries over between movies, meaning the dude with the two faces melted together. From a “lore” perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Thing to walk around like that at all, but from a fanservice perspective, it makes complete sense. Similarly, suddenly there’s a character running around with a flame thrower. A character who has no idea what’s happening and in any sane world would have zero reasons to be carrying one around.

This is probably the biggest problem of this production: It wants to be fanservice first. Almost immediately the people there figure out the nature of the Thing, in a rather anachronistic way when contrasted with the original, meaning that they have high-tech microscopes whereby they can directly observe the Thing imitating living cells, as opposed to Blair having his computer simulation running on that shitty old computer of his. Similarly, talk of a blood test to figure out who’s actually human happens eerily quickly and comes out of nowhere. Though it’s later abandoned for the single new addition it has, which is the fact that the Thing can’t replicate inorganic material such as teeth fillings or splints and screws left in the body after surgery. There’s also a scene with a malfunctioning flamethrower, detained people escaping from their “cell”, the burning of a recently infected person sitting against a wall who hasn’t turned completely yet, etc, you get the idea.

The one thing that isn’t in the original is the fact that the Thing runs back to its ship and is followed by a few people so that the final confrontation can happen on the alien spaceship. But even that is undone by the fact that our protagonist somehow enters the ship by falling into a shaft on it somewhere. Mind you, this is an intergalactic vessel that has to keep a crew alive in outer fucking space, so at the very least you’d want to make sure the damn thing is air tight, which it apparently isn’t. The design of the ship is, as is characteristic for bad science fiction, a mess of corridors, protruding bulges in walls and pointless shafts everywhere.

Meanwhile you can almost hear the movie straining against the tight corset it put around itself, trying to end properly so that nothing contradicts the events of the original. Right down to the cute way it ends with another helicopter arriving at the camp out of nowhere so that the two Norwegians from the original can go off and hunt down the final carrier of the Thing, the dog. Meanwhile it forgets the fact that there’s this snowcat right beside the crater of the alien ship along with a burned Thing next to it, both of which are absent from the original. Never mind that the crater only shows up at the end when the Thing tries to escape, when in the original we can clearly see that it has been blown open by dynamite, because we see that happening on the tapes the crew examine after raiding the Norwegian research station. See, I can be a pedantic fanboy and call out all the shit this movie did wrong despite trying so damn hard to appeal to people exactly like me, who believe that John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best goddamn movies to ever grace our eyes. It’s a boring, superfluous remake that walks like a prequel and neither manages to be engaging on its own merits, nor to succeed in its attempt at being a treat for fans of the original. Next time someone wants to make a prequel to The Thing, why not make one that actually answers some questions about the Thing. You know, where it came from, why it landed on Earth to begin with, if it wanted to invade in the first place or if it was just an accident. Maybe the species on the ship itself was attacked by the Thing and was forced to land on Earth for some reason, maybe the Thing has no shape of its own and really just is some kind of virus or something. All of these things would’ve been more interesting to explore than to basically make The Thing again, only in an inferior fashion.

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