As a rabid fan of arguably John Carpenter’s greatest movie, the news of a follow up was legitimately bittersweet news. While the opportunity to lay my rapidly expanding pupils upon more variations of cinema’s most versatile monster was too much to pass up, following up the 1982 classic simply had “bad idea” written all over it’s goopy, undulating forehead. However, news that the movie would be a prequel and that the majority of the creature effects would be done practically was greeted with a massive sigh of relief, but much like one of the duplicated victims, things were about to change for the worse…
Thanks to producers who originally claimed they wanted recapture the essence of the original and then recoiled when the effects made them worry that the film would be “too 80’s” (fucking Hollywood, man…), the movie was confusingly marketed as kind of a reboot – would things would go downhill from here…?
A chance incident involves the members of a Norwegian research centre to end up nose to nose with an alien spacecraft that crashed into a Antarctic glacier around 100,000 years ago. Obviously, this discovery is huge, so boss-man Dr. Halvorson and his assistant Adam Finch gives paleontologist Kate Lloyd an offer to help examine the mysterious find and so the group, including helicopter pilots Sam Carter and Derek Jameson, buzz off to Thule station, in the middle of an icy wasteland to make history.
Not only do the beardy staff of the Thule have access to a massive flying saucer, but back at the research centre – encased in a block of ice – is the craft’s pilot, who doesn’t plan to remain a thing-cicle for much longer.
Escaping and dragging one the staff into it’s spidey maw, the alien creature is finally subdued with fire but during the predictably slimy autopsy they find out that the alien wasn’t trying to eat it’s prey but wanted to absorb and duplicate them instead. This sets off alarm bells in Kate, who finds evidence that one or more of her colleagues may very well be alien imitations with intentions to claim the entire camp. One guy tears open like a pinata full of tentacles and brings down the only chopper they have, another person sprouts a mouth in the middle of their chest and goes on a rampage and very soon trust becomes very thin on the ground and fingers are pointed, lines are drawn and gut gnawing paranoia becomes the order of the day.
While Kate desperately tries to find ways to find out who is who and what is what, she’s not only thwarted by her alien opponents, but also human members of the cast who don’t think she should be calling the shots. We all know this is going to end with a dog fleeing a helicopter in the snow – but how did we get there? Time to find out.
I mentioned before that I’m a long time Thing fan, so when I first when to see the 2011 version I was under no illusions that this would be an inferior retread. However, instead of settling in for a rousing sci-fi/horror extravaganza, I started treating the whole movie as a walk-through instead – almost like a reconstruction as to what happened at the Norwegian camp instead of seeing it like an actual film and it sort of worked. Finding out who exactly stuck that axe in the wall, why that dead guy decided to open up his wrists and neck like a tin of beans and where the body of that two-faced creature came from was fun, geeky trip – but when you treat the movie the way you’re supposed to, things tend to fall apart.
For example, the introduction of women characters into the franchise oddly ends up negating a good portion of any tension the film desperately needs. One of the reasons the original worked so well is because the all-male cast of characters created a movie where the usual exhibition of male testosterone was turned inward to create a group of normally manly men reduced to paranoid wrecks by this ultimate example of identity theft. In short, they were more vunerable for being the same sex as they’re all coming at the problem from a simular mind set. This inversion of old-school horror tropes is ironically torpedoed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s spunky lead – while the inclusion of capable women in horror is something I’ve always welcomed, here it actually proves to be somewhat a detriment as Kate’s smarts end up inadvertently upending the entire movie. Not only does it dilute Carpenter’s initial lancing of toxic masculinity in a high pressure situation, but Kate’s thesis about the Thing not being able to replicate piercings of tattoos kind of ruins he whole gag – what is the point of The Thing if you can spot who’s who simply by sight. Maybe this wouldn’t be so damaging, but on top of this it’s almost always painfully obvious who the Thing is – something that’s not exactly helpful when you’re trying to generate paranoia.
None of this is Winstead’s fault, of course and the movie does actually tease the concept that Halvorson is willing to usurp her due to her being an American woman, but despite her Sigourney Weaver style performance, you never really embrace her or the rest of the cast as you did the members of U.S. Outpost 31. Still, the movie does utilize them decently and the fact that the cast is made up mostly of unfamiliar Norwegian actors does go a little way to make things slightly unpredictable (quick wave to a pre-Game Of Thones Kristofer Hivju) and the movie also neatly plays with the divide that grows between the Norwegians and Americans when shit starts to go truly desperate. However, too many plot hole start to mount up that disrupt the flow of the film – if your clothes are torn to shreds if you’re attacked and duplicated then where are people getting replacement clothes when it happens outside the camp?
Anyway, The Thing’s greatest sin is still to be covered (aside from it’s title frustratingly being “The Thing”, of course) and that’s the switch from the practical creature effects from ADI that actually where filmed, to literally having replacement CGI plonked over the top of them. This would put the nose out of place of any horror fan worth their salt, but when you consider that the ’82 Thing was one of the greatest showcases for rubber and silicone that’s ever existed, it’s frankly unforgivable and the digital creatures – while serviceable in a pinch – simply doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s a shame, because it’s actually a legitimate joy to see new designs for cinema’s most versatile creature and a high point of the movie is seeing how that dual-faced corpse came to be (honestly creepy) and witness it stomping around and stalking a quivering Joel Edgerton.
There’s been a few other tries to keep The Thing going in some form or another (anyone else familiar with the great Dark Horse comics series or the kickass PS1 game) but this slick prequel is sadly quite a by-the-numbers affair that never seems to be able to be anything other than just more of the same old Thing…