THE THING (15): On General Release Friday 2nd December
John Carpenter’s The Thing was at the time of its release in 1982 an underrated masterpiece, a terrifyingly tense and paranoid horror about an alien that could assume the form of anyone it came in contact with and a triumph of special effects. 2011’s The Thing is a prequel to the ’82 original and reveals what happened to the original Norwegian outpost that uncovered the parasitic shape-shifting monstrosity in the first place.
As in the first movie, it begins slowly, introducing us to palaeontologist/Ellen Ripley impersonator Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), rough and ready solider Carter (Joel Edgerton – sort of like Kurt Russell’s MacReady from ‘82 version without the effortless cool) and unscrupulous scientist Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen). That quickly changes when they arrive at the Antarctic research station where they excavate and thaw a frozen alien body which subsequently breaks free and goes about snacking on crew members like they were humanoid pieces of popcorn chicken.
One of the things that made the original great was a persistent sense of tension: The Thing could be hiding in any one of the crew members ready to spring out and devour them. Here, it’s often so obvious which one of them is the creature and all sense of paranoid dread is lost. The station is also so heavily populated that beneath their beards, it’s hard to tell who’s who much less develop any sense of attachment to them, and because we know in advance that the Norwegian station was wiped out, they’re reduced to inevitable squishy walking snacks for the creature.
The special effects are effectively gruesome but they’re not very imaginative and seem content to offer variations on the mutated horrors of the original (a walking torso with spider legs this time, not just a head ). Oddly, the slickness of the CGI renders the monster less grotesque than the rubber faced nastiness in John Carpenter’s version; there was something so inherently wrong about Rob Bottin’s creations that they stand up even today.
Frustratingly, The Thing offers up no answers to the questions posed at the end of the first movie. What kind of life-cycle does the creature have? What’s its ultimate goal? How did it get here in the first place? The last question is touched upon when they visit a large spacecraft, but it’s an unwelcome and unnecessary tonal distraction.
Like the 1982 original, the 2011’s The Thing has consumed and devoured its host but can only offer up a mutated copy that lacks the former’s intelligence or shock factor. It’s by no means terrible. There are moments of jumpy horror and tension, but it’s at best a serviceable imitation of the original, even down to that film’s best scenes.