The Thing 2011 (2011)

Okay, before you read this you should know something. I love John Carpenter’s The Thing. Often cited as my favourite movie (alongside An American Werewolf in London) it’s a 10 out of 10, perfectly crafted piece of genius. I’ve seen it dozens of times and still find it fascinating. I even wrote a sycophantic review of it here

So… a prequel.

Here’s the shocker – it’s not terrible. It’s far from awesome, but it’s not the abysmal hunk of aggravated turd I had expected it to be.

Set a few days before Kurt Russell killed his chess computer (with whisky) this story is an origins one, not for The Thing itself, but for the Norwegian camp briefly seen in the original.

Three Norwegians hunting a lone distress signal somewhere in Antarctica are surprised when they fall into a glacial ravine… and find a crashed spacecraft. The first thing they do is call for all-American girl and super-biologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help out the gruff and beardy Norwegians.

Within minutes of her arrival they take her to a second discovery – the corpse of the spacecraft’s pilot. Digging up the weird beasty, they take the ice-encased monster to their lab… and then have a party. Needless to say the “thing” in the ice isn’t quite as dead as the scientists thought and soon it’s loose, squiggly and really huggy.

For those who haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing I won’t spoil the surprise, but this alien being isn’t just a mass of wibbly bits and claws… it’s the ultimate predator on an extinction level scale.

What’s right with The Thing 2011? Well it sticks closely to the original, ensuring Thing obsessives like myself can tick off the references (although some things are missing / just plain fucking wrong).

Marco Beltrami’s score is very evocative, mainly because it steals liberally from / lovingly homages Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack from the original. The cast also do a reasonable job, although none of them have anywhere near the charm of Kurt Russell and Keith David.

Also, surprisingly, The Thing 2011 is genuinely tense at times, scary as hell at others and – in places – actually very sickening. A detached hand inserting itself into someone’s mouth will always be horrible, even if it is CGI…

Ah yes. The CGI. Time for the negatives!

The original was brilliant for a number of reasons, but a major one was Rob Bottin (and friends)’s special effects. Lacking decent CGI meant actual craft went into making physical monsters that moved, crawled, attacked, whipped, wiggled and caught fire. It was believable and more disturbing because of this. The effects work is still superb today, standing the test of time where so many others have failed.

I remember the creators of The Thing 2011 emphasizing how important the practical effects were and that they’d used them liberally, but the only time they actually applied them was on the corpses, lying about on the floor or workbenches. Considering the woeful Shark Night 3D used more animatronics than The Thing 2011 does certainly say a lot about their mentality.

What the overuse of CGI meant was a lack of subtlety. The Thing was not always subtle (defibrillator scene, the dog kennel etc…) but it was never as brazen as the prequel. It was about tension, not screaming monsters exploding through ceilings.

Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s direction is far too bright and slasher-flick like, and it lacks the necessary claustrophobia needed to emulate the original’s tension and desperation.

Every other minute a man’s face would split in half or CGI tentacles would Urotsukidōji itself around the screen, slapping people with CGI blood. The prequel is the aggressive bastard child of The Thing 1982 – all noise and violence and modern technology and none of the nuanced intelligence of the original.

Unfortunately, not only are the “creatures” computer generated, the actual CGI itself is pretty dismal in places. Opting for in-yer-face violence means you see everything, and it’s pretty rubbish at times. The helicopter scene is especially bad (I actually laughed, which is never a good sign) and some of it reminded me of – dare I say it – Resident Evil: Afterlife. *shudder*

Let’s be realistic, though. It’s not all about CGI, but about character and plot too.

Tragically the characters just don’t matter. There are so many and they’re mostly fodder. This is undoubtedly the fault of screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who is responsible for writing Final Destination 5 and the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. His career appears to be the poaching of other people’s genius, and his latest is distinctly unspectacular.

Heisserer simply cannot write characters you care about. There is an absolute lack of sympathy / empathy with anyone in The Thing 2011, and this was compounded by the epilogue that plays out during the end credits, which shows the fate of two characters you’d literally forgotten about! Although a required and slyly crafted ending, it proved without a doubt that the characters we’re utterly forgettable.

Talking of endings… oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. There was one unanswered question from the original that was also unasked – “what’s INSIDE the spaceship?” Well, according to Heisserer and van Heijningen Jr., apparently the alien ship is full of cliché and confusion. Sadly this ridiculous ending is absolutely absurd and upends the tone entirely. Unnecessary and – quite frankly – fucking awful, it is infuriatingly bad.

Overall The Thing 2011 is a needless but reasonable prequel, which thankfully doesn’t 100% rape the memory of the original. It is disturbing, brutal, scary and exciting… but also confused, ugly, packed with unsympathetic characters and coated in a layer of shoddy CGI. The Thing 2011 is not as angering as I’d expected, but that’s not really a recommendation.

Conclusion: see the original.

So, is there any chance of a sequel to the prequel? Well there was mention of a “Russian base” 50 miles away, so we’ll see if the box office allows for one. Let’s bloody hope not.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

2 Comments on “The Thing 2011”

  1. A. M. Esmonde says:

    Some good points in the review Dave – although in Eric Heisserers defence the original characters weren’t exactly lovable with very little background. I think and like the 2011 film as a whole its a homage that compliments Carpenter’s version.

    Possibly from repeat viewings of 1982 version the characters have really bedded in over the years. I’ve watched the 1982 version with a few newbies and they have problems keeping track initially of who’s who. After seeing 2011 three times, I missed Lars the second time around, even remembered his name so there’s hope.

    With regards to the brazenness of The Thing from a story perspective its in-keeping and it makes sense that it’s more active as to quote Mac “it wakes up, probably not the best of moods.” Also it’s possible it learns for the events in the Norwegian camp and is therfore a little more subtle and clever when it gets to the American camp, ” I don’t know. Because it’s different than us. Because it’s from outer space. What more do you want from me,” I didn’t write it but you’re spot on – the CGI is distracting. :)

    Keep up the great work – love the site.

  2. Sarah B DeMented says:

    I liked this a hell of a lot more than expected. I do agree with all of the points you brought up but found myself enjoying it regardless. Pretty forgettable but a decent horror movie as long as you don’t spend too long comparing it to the original!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.