FILM REVIEW: The Thing (2011)

If you have seen John Carpenter’s version of The Thing you will know just how much this new Prequel has to live up to.  You know what The Thing is, you know what it can do and you know how frickin’ scary it is.  You will either be very excited about this new film or be of the opinion that there is no point watching a prequel because you already know the outcome.  Either way you should scroll past the next paragraph where I’ll only be heckling newbies anyway.

[What do you mean you’ve never see The Thing?!  You’ve never seen John Carpenter’s absolute best film?  Ok… Ok, I’m calming myself down now, I’m gaining self control.  Pant.  Pant.  Aaaaand, we’re back.  Actually I really kind of envy you.  I would love to be able to sit down and watch this new movie with no preconceptions, no idea about what’s going to unfold and no idea how it’s going to end.  You’re in for a hell of a ride.]

Deep under the surface of the Antarctic a spaceship is found, and a body, frozen for a hundred thousand years.  Scientists are brought in under a veil of secrecy to examine the find, but things rapidly fall to pieces when the creature proves to be alive.  Bad becomes worse as its ability to infect and replicate its victims becomes apparent.  Now this isolated team are racing to destroy the shape-changing monstrocity before it can find a way to reach civilisation.  The trouble is, The Thing could be anywhere.  The Thing could be anyone.

In terms of overall quality I would say they have done an outstanding job.  I wasn’t expecting to, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.  It feels very much a companion piece to the Carpenter classic in terms of design and atmosphere.  I like the Norwegian viewpoint, the political tiptoe, the thrill of the find, and the characters are nicely sketched without falling into the usual archetypes.  The Thing(s) are largely computer generated with all the inherent errs and graces conferred by the technology – creature effects are smoother and capable of more variety, but the movement, virtual lighting and character interaction is sometimes just a little bit off.

The actors do a great job.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for a fresh lead: sparky, intelligent and determined; with just a hint of doubt and vulnerability; a stark contrast to the walking growl of Kurt Russell in the 1982 film.  The supporting cast are uniformally excellent: a veteran bunch of scientists and blue collar grafters with their own agendas and relationships.  There wasn’t a moment when they failed to convince.

The only question I really had going in to the cinema was ‘why do we need this film?’  The shadow of Carpenter’s version hangs long and remains vivid in my mind.  What could the prequel add to that near perfect story?  Like any sequel or prequel what the audience wants (or is perceived to want) is the same, but more.  What these new filmakers have done is to take the story back to see how The Thing was discovered, what led to the events in the earlier film; and they have used the visual clues Carpenter originally gave us as a structure to build on.   Script writer Eric Heisserer explained his process as follows:-

“It’s a really fascinating way to construct a story because we’re doing it by autopsy, by examining very, very closely everything we know about the Norwegian camp and about the events that happened there from photos and video footage that’s recovered, from a visit to the base, the director, producer and I have gone through it countless times marking, you know, there’s a fire axe in the door, we have to account for that…we’re having to reverse engineer it, so those details all matter to us ‘cause it all has to make sense.” (Wikipedia, cited as coming from an interview on – August 7, 2009)

Its a film built on reverence then, an homage as much as a prequel.  I can appreciate this.  Does it bring anything new to the table?  Not really.  We get more background, we see more of the creature and we get to see more of the ship that it came in, but there are no new revelations of its origins, no expansion of the mythology or greater world.  This is a shame, because there was plenty of scope to do just that.

Is it worth watching then?  That depends on what you want.  Approach it for what it is (a damn good monster movie, full of genuine suspense, body horror and chills) and you will have a great time.  Looking for a masterpiece or a new insight into Carpenters original and you will be a little disappointed.  Like The Thing itself its attempt to win you over comes essentially from duplication, and that is a flawed precept.  Genius is unique.


GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
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