John Carpenter’s The Thing, an adaptation of John Campbell Jnr.’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, is widely accepted as a modern horror classic. At the time of its theatrical release, it performed poorly, mainly due to being opened on the same weekend as another alien movie, one that portrayed them in a more positive light: it was none other than Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extra Terrestrial. However, over time it gained a cult following, spawning comics, a novel adaptation of its own and even a video game. This week, it gets the ‘remake’ treatment, although it’s being touted as a prequel. So it’s with great skepticism that I viewed this, as the majority of horror remakes tend to be poor and sometimes even tarnish the reputation of the original. Thankfully 2011’s The Thing is thoroughly enjoyable, but, probably unsurprisingly, isn’t a patch on its predecessor.
In 1982, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by scientists Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) to join a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across a crashed extraterrestrialspaceship buried beneath the ice of Antarctica. They discover the frozen corpse of a creature that seems to have died in the crash 100,000 years ago. After taking it back to their base, the unthinkable happens: it breaks out of the ice coffin that it has been encased in for centuries. The team eventually capture it, and set it ablaze. The resulting autopsy reveals that the alien can perfectly imitate human cells, which ultimately means it is perfectly capable of creating a duplicate of any of the team. As the paranoia level rises, the group become hesitant to trust each other, whilst trying to find a way to contain the alien as well as destroy the source of the problem. But when friends may be horrifying, murderous foes, it’s a task that is going to take more than a few bullets…
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, last seen in the geeks wet dream known as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World but can be also seen in Final Destination 3 and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, leads the acting pack here, and does her best Ellen Ripley impression to no avail. What’s interesting to me is the original Thing had absolutely no women in it at all, and yet we have a female leading the cast here. Coincidence? I think not. Regardless, she just about manages to pull off a leading role, but it’s hardly convincing. Looking wide eyed with a blank stare in many of her scenes, Winstead has a long way to go until she can be taken as a serious leading lady. That said, the rest of the cast are about as memorable as last weeks microwave dinner. Until the last act, I ended up dividing them up with the simple catagories of “Bearded Norwegians”, “Americans” and “Everyone else”. Seemed to work pretty well. Oh, I remember Lars. And Adebisi from Oz.
One of the most memorable aspects of the 1982 version was the groundbreaking effects. They were created entirely by hand, with the lead designer working on them seven days a week for over a year, continuously. The effort put in was visible on screen, as even today they hold up as grotesque and realistic. With modern remakes comes modern techniques, and the alien is, for the most part, computer generated. These effects range from the ‘slightly impressive’ to ‘Scorpion King bad’, and never really come close to those seen in the original. Again, it was another thing I didn’t expect, but it would have been nice. There is one particular monster design which is a little disturbing, but we don’t see enough of it. Typical.
Relying on ‘jump’ scares for the horror, it could be argued that The Thing totally missed the point of the 1982 version. I know, it’s a prequel, but if it wants to be put in the same boat as that classic, then their content has to be compared. The horror came from tense build ups and a sense paranoia and isolation, whereas here it relies on conventional ‘jump’ scares. That’s not to say some scenes aren’t tense: the ‘checking for fillings’ scene is sure to get you on the edge of your seat, but it disappointingly sinks back into a conventional monster movie far too often. The third act verges on the ridiculous, and is a prime example of my point. Fortunately, the jump scares are effective, and work more often than not.
It takes a while to get going, but when it eventually kicks in, The Thing is an entertaining horror that has enough identity of its own to not be classed as a straight up remake. The effects are passable, but not a patch on the original, and the cast don’t particularly shine. Nevertheless, it’s a worth a watch, but if you’re looking for a real horror treat, then I highly recommend John Carpenter’s masterpiece.