Remake, reboot, prequel, sequel, premake, re-imagining – there, that’s got all of those irritating phrases out of the way, although there aren’t many movies that can claim to be most of those in one. Held in high regard amongst genre fans, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing (itself a retelling of the 1950′s sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World) is seen as up there with The Exorcist as one of those films that should just be left alone and not tampered with. Although The Exorcist has had sequels and prequels, none have come close to touching the majesty of the original and, at the very least, none of them ever tried to recreate exactly what had gone before, rather telling different stories around the singular premise of an exorcism. So does this entry bring new elements of monster madness to the table or do we simply dredge over old ground? Read on…
The plot is fairly similar to the 1982 classic; a group of Norwegian scientists have discovered what appears to be some sort of alien being frozen deep in the ice of Antarctica and enlist the help of American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to work out what it is. After the team leave the frozen lifeform to thaw out, it bursts out of its ice prison and begins to run riot around the camp, attacking the crew members and seemingly imitating them, although it can’t imitate metal or non-organic body parts. Kate figures this out after finding some teeth fillings on the floor and tries to warn the others, who naturally don’t believe her. As paranoia sets in, nobody knows who has been infected and with chances of escape looking thin, the creature looks set to take over the whole crew unless Kate can find a way to stop it.
So which of those annoying prefixes applies to The Thing? Well, it’s a prequel as the events that happen at the very end of the movie lead straight into the 1982 film (and very well done it is), but the movie plays out nearly the same as that film so it wouldn’t be out of place to call it a remake of sorts. All of the key plot points and scenes from 1982 are re-enacted so the fanboys can get all excited, but it really begs the question as to what this film is bringing to the franchise (as it is now) apart from… um… hang on, it’s coming… nope, can’t think of anything. There is a scene that hasn’t been done before involving Kate Lloyd falling into the creature’s spacecraft, but do we really need to see what its transport looks like? A pointless scene that only serves to separate the two main characters and clearly owes a debt to Predator 2.
And that isn’t the only nod to other sci-fi movie monsters here as there are obvious comparisons to the Alien films throughout, especially now that the creature seems to be more aggressive than before. The one thing (!) about the creature in the ’82 film is that it only reveals itself when threatened, preferring to stay undetected in its host body, but here the creature is quite content to go on the rampage and savagely attack before it can be found out.
But these gripes are fairly minor and not totally unexpected. The two main problems that let this film down are the really quite terrible CGI monster effects – again, not totally unexpected but there is more than a whiff of the finale of The Mummy Returns to a lot of the attack scenes – and the rather nondescript performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate. To be fair, she didn’t have a lot to work with apart from constantly warning people not to trust so-and-so, but there really was no other purpose to her character apart from being one-of-two females in a male-dominated setting.
The acting overall is fairly decent, with Stig Henrik Hoff and Kristofer Hivju – as Peder and
Jonas respectively – standing out as likeable characters, and Joel Edgerton (Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels) does his best Kurt Russell impersonation to pretty good effect, making him the character that the audience identifies with rather than the dreary Kate.
CGI aside, most of the scenes involving the creature are very well done and what appears to be the centrepiece attack scene – this film’s equivalent to the autopsy scene in the ’82 film – has a pretty startling jump scare and some decent gore. In fact the action scenes overall are pretty good, engaging and drawing you in enough to care about the major players.
Ultimately it all comes down to the simple question of “is it any good?”, and at the most basic level answer is “yes”. It is respectful of its source material – in this case the source material is Carpenter’s film and not the Who Goes There? novel or The Thing From Another World film – and blends into the universe set up way back in 1982 quite well. For those who bemoan that it lacks John Carpenter’s subtleties and magic touch, it must be noted that this isn’t a John Carpenter film – and is also director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s first feature-length movie. It is very flawed, and was always going to be, but compare it to the myriad of other heritage movies that are being re-jigged for modern audiences and it can at least claim to be one of the more entertaining ones.