Despite sharing the exact same title, The Thing is not a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 film. Nor, for that matter, is it related to Howard Hawks’ 1951 film The Thing from Another World. It is, in fact, a prequel to Carpenter’s film, taking place three days earlier and telling the story of the ill-fated Norwegian science team stationed in Antarctica. Provided you’re familiar with this story, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to figure out what happens. Carpenter’s film began with men in a helicopter shooting at an Alaskan malamute that actually wasn’t a malamute but a shape-shifting alien creature capable of absorbing and imitating other life forms; this new movie, on its most basic terms, is about how the creature came to be a dog. I admit that that sounds incredibly uninteresting, but there really is no other way to put it.
Adapted from the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., The Thing has plenty of gory monster effects for us to gawk at helplessly, especially now that computers have taken the place of practical makeup effects. It has its fair share of pop out scares, although a lot of the suspense is missing, in large part because there’s no real sense of mystery; there’s nothing about its nature or even its very existence that can surprise us, simply because Carpenter’s film already told us everything we needed to know. The only logical step would be to go back even further and examine how and why the creature left its home planet in the first place. But where’s the fun in that? Half of the reason these movies are so frightening is that we don’t know where it came from or why it ended up on Earth.
The story begins when an American paleontologist named Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by a Norwegian scientist named Sandar Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to join his team in Antarctica, which found a crashed extraterrestrial spacecraft deep within a frozen cave. They also found a vaguely insectoid creature, seemingly dead, embedded in ice. Under the orders of Halversen, who is clearly driven more by conquest than by actual scientific research, the creature is extracted and taken back to the lab for testing. A drill is used to get a tissue sample from the huge block of ice, which drips away slowly, almost menacingly. It isn’t long before the creature dramatically breaks loose, bringing everyone into a state of panic. Sharp tendrils grab the first victim from underneath the camp, and we watch as this creature, whatever it is, begins the process of absorbing its prey before being torched alive with a gasoline can and a flare.
But that isn’t the end of it. Kate looks at a sample of the victim’s blood under the microscope; she not only finds cells belonging to both the victim and the creature, both still very much alive, she also finds that the creature’s cells can latch onto and transform themselves into the victim’s cells. It can mimic a life form at a cellular level. This means, then, that any or all of the people at the research station may not be what they seem. But how can Kate know for sure? Let’s just say that what they ultimately resort to is a woefully inferior variation of the tense blood testing scene in Carpenter’s film.
Many characters are introduced, but almost all of them are about as disposable as teenagers in a slasher film. Although this may appropriately play into the story’s inherent nihilism, it becomes problematic when the intention is to depict isolation and paranoia. Mental states, especially the more primal and terrifying ones, are only convincing if we’re actually made to care about the people involved. The one character with even a shred of personality is Kate, but even then, she’s little more than a pale imitation of Lt. Ellen Ripley of the Alien films. This becomes especially apparent when she arms herself with a flamethrower and, like the MacReady character in Carpenter’s film, spends a lot of her time torching the alien creature. The most prominent supporting player is Joel Edgerton as an American pilot named Carter, although he isn’t given all that much to do besides walk around with a wary look on his frost-covered face.
But what the movie lacks in character development it more than makes up for in style. With its bleak winter settings, its dark corners, and its disgustingly convincing special effects, it looks and sounds really good. My favorite shot is one in which the creature, having just revealed itself in terrifying fashion, scuttles up to an unlucky scientist and melds with him. One of the results is an elongated head, each half showing the face of a different person. Talk about a split personality. Many critics were unkind to Carpenter’s film upon its initial release, although it has since gained a following and has earned its place as a horror classic. It’s hard to know for sure, since cinematic tastes and attitudes consistently change, but I have a feeling 2011’s The Thing will not fare as well twenty to thirty years down the line.
John Carpenter’s 1982 classic “The Thing” was in fact a remake/re-issue (for those of you who didn’t know) of the 1951 film “The Thing From Another World” but Carpenter’s film proved to be a far superior and much more faithful adaptation of the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. Well, it seems like the success of Carpenter’s film had almost inspired a sequel, and even a mini-series; however, director Matthijs Van Heijningen … more
*1/2 out of **** "The Thing" opens with the discovery of a flying saucer that has - since it has gone unnoticed and undiscovered until now - been buried under deep depths of Antarctic ice. It is found when some Norwegian researches are making way across the icy landscape by snowcat; only to fall right into the darkness of what lies beneath. The film has been marketed as a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film of the same name, which in itself was based on an earlier movie … more
Among the most irksome of common cinematic misconceptions is the notion that John Carpenter's horror/sci-fi exemplar The Thing is a remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World. Despite Carpenter's blatant homage to his admitted idol (manifest in an opening title lit ablaze in imitation of its predecessor's), these are very different adaptations of John W. Campbell's inspired novella, Who Goes There? - of which Carpenter's is the more faithful and ingenious by far. … more
After the success of a videogame based on the original film, rumors of a sequel arose many times but never came to fruition, with creative differences between Universal and John Carpenter cited as the main reason. It was oft-speculated that Carpenter made a deal to write and produce a sequel provided he got to name has director. But when he opted to name himself director the studio balked and the project fell apart. In the aftermath, rumors of a miniseries on the SyfY channel arose along with the … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.