The very first piece of “news” I ever heard about the new incarnation of THE THING was this: a dog being chased by guys in a helicopter wanders onto an Antarctic base, and eventually Things out, creating a game of Ten Little Indians as the alien within infects people, and nobody knows who’s who. My first instinct was, “Are you kidding me?” Some time after, I read that the people behind it intended it to be a prequel at the Norwegian base, with the same exact beginning. This elicited my same exact reaction. The longer things went on, the more the plot morphed into a telling of what happened at the Norwegian base before John Carpenter’s THE THING started. “Prequel” was the operative name of the game, as the director and producers assured horror fans they had studied Carpenter’s work, and had applied such attention to detail that the transition between the two films would be “seamless.” The two would pair together as perfect bookends, and fans would be thrilled to have the back story that set up Carpenter’s masterwork.
My response after seeing the film last night: I’m calling bogus.
From the very first scene of the film, it’s aping Carpenter’s. Though it doesn’t start off in space, the font for the opening credits is the same he used in 1982. And listen closely. That’s Ennio Morricone’s score with the synthesized heartbeats. A movie whose plot is about imitating superior products has done that within the first few seconds. But a few seconds later, this scene goes off the continuity rails. Fans of Carpenter’s version know that the Norwegian crew videotaped themselves setting thermal chargers and flags, and blowing the damaged ship free from its icy encasing. Not here, though. Here, a transport vehicle falls through a fissure and gets stuck, suspended over the ship. Where was this great “attention to detail” that would allow me to make a “seamless” transition? It’s less than 5 minutes in, the credits haven’t even ended yet, and already there’s a glaring mistake.
The real mistake was making this movie. I don’t even know how to write this review, because there’s no angle that hasn’t been covered. Do I discuss the obvious rip offs with scenes that are almost exact replicas, but are much less than inspired (a dog starts to chew through a gate, the lead locks two suspicious characters up in a storage shack,)? Talk about the changes they did make, and how awful they were (having a fight on the creature’s fully operational ship, which shows none of the damage from Carpenter’s version)? Mention the awful casting decisions (Mary Elizabeth Winstead is duller than dry toast, and the pilot guy isn’t nearly as cool as R.J. MacReady’s hat) or silly ensemble of characters (a head count produces 5 Americans, 1 Brit, a French girl and approximately 4 Norwegians in the Norwegian camp)? The complete lapses in logic (why on Earth does the Norwegian’s head scientist go 10,000 miles to America to bring in a paleontologist, when there’s an American camp about an hour’s chopper ride away)?
Or how about the creature itself? Carpenter clearly states the Thing is weakest when it’s out in the open, and will hide unless provoked into revealing itself. Not here, folks. This SOB is so aggressive, it casts aside the whole point of imitating life forms. And during the many times it does appear throughout the film, it’s all a variation of the same creature, with swaying tentacles and lots of teeth. Wholly lacking is the wildly inspired concept that special makeup effects artist Rob Bottin had, shifting the Thing’s appearance throughout the film to accommodate for each new creature it’s absorbed. And I won’t even go into the whole CGI argument, but to say this: Bottin’s work on Carpenter’s THE THING is the greatest special effects work ever put to film, and will never be matched, not even by fancy computers.
Or the title? I’ve read the people involved didn’t add a subtitle because they couldn’t devise one that didn’t sound silly and tacked on. Oh really? How about you didn’t change it because you wanted to sell it as a remake to folks who aren’t internet horror geeks? After watching, it’s obvious you desperately wanted to do this as a remake all along, but wanted to hold the cred you would lose in the horror community that would scream, “Oh no! Not another remake!”
You tell us how much you love and revere the original, and then replace MacReady’s hot needle to blood test with a chick checking out a bunch of dudes’ fillings. Carpenter’s flick was full of atmosphere and paranoia, even when the creature wasn’t on the screen. Here, they’ve merely turned out an action flick creature feature, an excuse to show gory stuff and blow stuff up. If ever a film didn’t live up to the expectations of its title, this is it.
Blame Universal, Eric Heisserer and Matthijs van Heijningen, who wrote and directed this, and then tried to sell a fan base on how much they respected Carpenter’s film. They foisted this on us as a back story, but gave us a far inferior version of the 1982 film, that’s an insult to its source. My thinking from first hearing about the prequel is just how creative they could have been with a wholly different series of events from those at American Outpost 31. With a creature capable of doing anything, and all the wild possibilities, instead they got lazy and mocked the older film. And they couldn’t bother to make the two-face look like the one MacReady and Doc found, or even find a similar looking Husky. And Huskies all look the same.
I could’ve had this report to you at about 3 a.m. Eastern time on Friday morning. But I chose to wait the 3 days until Tuesday, and pay six bucks on the special deal my local theatre runs all day. The more I heard about THE THING (2011) and the more clips and pictures I saw, the more hope I lost. I would have loved to have watched and been totally wrong, but there was no way this product was ever going to impress. I feel bad that I’ve interrupted NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Appreciation Week to post this review, but I felt I owed it to all of you who love great horror, and John Carpenter’s THE THING especially. If you haven’t seen it yet (and the weekend box office indicates you likely haven’t), don’t be tempted. Go outside, look up, and keep watching the skies instead. It’s cheaper, and you won’t be insulted by anything you see.