The Thing prequel is solid, but doesn’t match Carpenter’s original
If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing and you enjoy horror films, you’ve been missing out. Moment for moment, all elements weighed, it’s arguably the greatest horror film ever made (and to those who’d argue The Shining, shut up and go play with your Kubrick action figures).
The premise is simple: an isolated Antarctic research team discovers that there’s an intergalactic intruder in their midst, one that can horrifically absorb a victim and replicate its form. It’s not a clean process, if you grok what I mean. The film is a classic tale of paranoia: Trapped in the claustrophobic confines of the ice station with no escape in sight, the rapidly dwindling members of the team turn against each other—in between being gruesomely assimilated. Carpenter’s version featured top-shelf creature and gore effects done right (none of that CGI stuff), a propulsive, evocative Ennio Morricone score and a cast of solid actors who breathed life into their characters.
So when Universal announced that they were gearing up for a prequel, all sorts of fan-boy outrage broke out. Was the outrage justified? Of course not. Overall, the project was approached (by the folks behind the surprisingly good remake of Dawn of the Dead) with a sincere dedication to serving Carpenter’s vision. They do a solid job. Not great, but solid.
This time around, we go back to the Norwegian research station that served as ground zero for the creature’s wake-up call after being discovered just outside a derelict flying saucer encased in ice for hundreds of thousands of years. A pretty paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is brought into the mix to explain to the scientists what’s going down at any given moment. And then … Well, if you’ve seen Carpenter’s version, there’s really nothing new added to the mix. Aside from a hot chick. Which makes sense, since there’s no man currently working in Hollywood who can fill the snowshoes of Kurt Russell’s MacReady, you might as well go with a pretty face instead.
There are a couple of narrative missteps that keep the pieces from fitting together flawlessly, but overall the quasi-remake enters the uncanny valley by replicating (much as the creature does) Carpenter’s version. And while the climax gets in a little over its head, and the CGI starts getting a little rushed, it compensates by neatly segueing into Carpenter’s version.
Of course, it also lacks the human spark that made the original so special, but it serves as a nice teaser for the new DVD re-release—flirting with the iconic moments without giving anything away—so that a new generation might be tempted to indulge.