The latest adaptation of John W. Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” has its share of good scares and decent enough performances, but it spazzes out toward the end. The Thing achieves certain weirdness but winds up being an admirable yet ultimately disposable experience.
It was a great idea to take John Carpenter’s brilliant 1982 version of the story, also called The Thing, and stage a prequel to it. Fans of Carpenter’s masterpiece might recall that film’s beginning where a couple of crazy Norwegians show up at an American scientific outpost in Antarctica and frantically shoot at a seemingly harmless dog. Kurt Russell’s chopper pilot eventually winds up at the Norwegian camp where he sees some scary things—and brings something back.
This film tells the story of what happened to those Norwegians before Russell and friends had their lives so rudely interrupted by that Thing from another planet that enjoys absorbing and replicating humans and animals.
Again … this is a good idea. Simply remaking Carpenter’s film would’ve resulted in something that couldn’t possibly be as perfect as the ’82 film. Carpenter was at the top of his game, and Rob Bottin’s special makeup effects are now legendary. It’s virtually impossible to compete with what these men did.
Even though the story is a prequel, this version of The Thing does draw much from Carpenter’s vision in its look and sound. Therefore, in a way, first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is a bit of a copycat. Like the Thing monster, his film has absorbed the Carpenter flick and tried to replicate its tone.
In some ways, the movie is very much like Carpenter’s. In others, it’s just not the same.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, essentially a less intense variation on Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies. Kate’s an American scientist who winds up hanging with the Norwegians at their camp where they are about to excavate what appears to be an alien life force from the ice. When the Thing breaks out and starts wreaking havoc, Kate’s weapon of choice is, of course, a flamethrower, much like Ripley before her.
The film basically follows the same path as Carpenter’s, with the Thing absorbing various members of the team, and the viewer being left to guess who has been infected. As with the Carpenter film, the team attempts to root out possible infected men with a pivotal scene that results in violent mayhem.
Since 1982, this thing called a computer has infiltrated movie special effects. Carpenter and Bottin used traditional, practical effects in their film, coming up with such movie awesomeness as the spider head and that razor toothed mouth that bites the doctor’s arms off.
Heijningen Jr. integrates CGI into some pretty decent practical effects. In fact, I wish he had just stuck with practical over computer, because it looks like some pretty good ideas got polished up and ruined with gigabytes. The final Thing monster incarnation is hilariously, terribly bad, featuring a key actor’s giant face in its middle.
The coolest thing in the movie happens during the closing credits, where Heijningen finds a way to link his film to the ’82 movie. I won’t give anything away, but it was neat enough to almost make me forgive the asinine final Thing monster incarnation. Almost.
Winstead is a decent enough performer, although the screenplay’s attempts to make her a brainy, important scientist are silly. Apparently, her character was flown all the way to Antarctica at great expense to help excavate the monster. Her actual tasks performed include nodding before somebody starts a drill. The rest of the time, she just sort of stands around looking worried.
The Thing is better than most other recent attempts to revive ’80s horror icons like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. It’s just not good enough to be considered a worthy endeavor, and I imagine it will be the last Thing movie for the next 30 years or so.