Remake? Prequel? Both? There has been plenty talk leading up to the release of The Thing, regarding what fans of John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece should expect. These fans would likely view a straight remake as an abomination, while a properly executed prequel would be devoured voraciously, as it has been nearly 30 years since the release of Carpenter’s film. So how does 2011’s The Thing hold up? The story is undoubtedly a prequel, however the heart of the film feels like a remake. Apparently when you are stationed in Antarctica and are being chased by a monster, there are only a handful of things you can do. The Norwegian camp in the prequel experience nearly the same horrors and problems that the American camp experience in Carpenter’s film, bringing into question if the prequel is just an exercise in redundancy.
The story follows a group of scientists and workers as they discover the site of a alien craft that crash landed on earth thousands of years ago. In addition to this monumental discovery, it also seems that the extraterrestrial pilot of the craft had tried to escape, only to be perfectly preserved in ice. Upon taking the specimen back to their base, the group quickly learn that the alien being is not in fact deceased, and has a certain proclivity for killing humans. Add to this the quaint ability to assimilate and replicate organic material (ie. humans), and you have one of the most loveable cinema monsters to ever grace the screen. Actually that was just bravado on my part, the creature from The Thing has been haunting my dreams since I watched Carpenter’s version as a young teenager.
The Thing starts off in an appropriately creepy fashion, with a great opening sequence leading to the discovery of the creature. In this opening sequence alone, the film manages to communicate the lonely isolation of the frozen continent, as well as the awe of discovering an alien being. Unfortunately, it is all downhill from this point. Two major factors which made the 1982 The Thing such a classic were the incredible creature effects, and the paranoid atmosphere in the camp that slowly built up as the fractionated group of workers fought for their individual survival. The new film did not capitalize on the previous success of these techniques.
In the new film, the creature shots are almost entirely CGI, while Carpenter’s film relied on tangible creature models/puppets. The creature in the new film can look very impressive at times, but like a lot of CGI, looks unrealistic and more like a video game monster that is clearly not physically in the room with the actors. In turn, the viewer is somewhat removed from the horror due to the inconsistent reactions of the cast to their non-existent monster during filming.
The film also completely misses the mark on the stifling isolation and rampant paranoia that should have dominated the atmosphere. It’s hard to feel scared for the characters when ample time is not allowed to pass between action scenes. At one point the film makers manage to split the camp into two factions, which could have been quite interesting, but this idea fizzled out before it even went anywhere.
In the end, the new film may be a prequel on paper, but after viewing the film it is without a doubt a remake. The characters go through many of the same motions as the camp from Carpenter’s film, and when there is a new plot device it usually fails to impress. This film also feels much too ‘Hollywood’. Hair blows in the wind, characters run and jump off something dangerous just in the nick of time, and at one point there was even symphony music, I found this a little odd in a film about isolation and horror. Fans of the original should really avoid this remake, unless curiosity is too hard to overcome. However, if you haven’t seen the original, then my guess is that this is a decent popcorn movie, albeit completely forgettable.
NOTE – If you absolutely positively are dying to see a great creature film, then check out Splinter (2008). The action isn’t as good as The Thing (2011), likely due to budget constraints, but the film as a whole is a lot better in my opinion.