In 2011 Universal Pictures released a new movie version of John Carpenter’s ultra classic horror/sci-fi film The Thing. When the initial announcement came out a few years prior that Universal was looking to remake the movie, fans and the press collectively asked first – why, when the 1982 film is so exceptional, and second – what can a remake bring to the story that Carpenter hadn’t in his version?
Any consideration of revisiting John Campbell Jr’s original short story ‘Who Goes There?’ or the 1951 film ‘The Thing From Another World’ at this point is pretty much moot. John Carpenter created such a dark and thrilling version of the story that any remake discussion must consider his film to be the start of the canon.
Why remake a movie? The standard answer is money. Studio execs jobs are on the line for every movie they greenlight so the safe bet is on a remake rather than original concept. Of course remaking the best sci-fi/horror film ever made has it’s pitfalls, namely it can’t be remade with the expectation it will be better than the original. And before you say the 1982 movie is a remake, keep in mind that if the original film was made prior to 1975 it doesn’t count. Why doesn’t it count? Because we said so!
At some point someone involved in the project at Universal came to the conclusion that a remake was a bad idea given the fanatic fan base Carpenter’s version still has. So the only alternative was to either make a sequel or a prequel. Well a sequel was considered for awhile. A screenplay was even written for it and is readily available on the web. Click here if you want to read it. It’s not terrible but not great either. Problem with a sequel is there’s no way to pull it off without undermining the ending of Carpenter’s version, which is without a doubt the best open ending in horror film history. So what’s left but a prequel; and what do you base a prequel on? Well the Norwegians of course, because everyone is just dying to know how they found the ship, unfreeze the Thing, and all die horrible deaths. I know I haven’t been able to sleep for the last 30 years not knowing this. [Insert copious amounts of sarcasm at any time during the last sentence]
So what’s the verdict on The Thing 2011?
Well the movie is good. The movie has a decent story line. The movie has o.k. special effects. The movie did a pretty good job with continuity (a few major issues excepted). The movie holds up on it’s own… until you realize it’s a prequel.
Listen this review isn’t going to bash the movie simply because it’s a prequel or a remake. I’d review Episodes I-III of Star Wars or I Am Legend (2007) if that were the case. No, this review going to be critical because the film made several serious mistakes in what was otherwise a smart and fun horror story.
We all the know the story in Carpenter’s The Thing. If you don’t, then move out from under the rock you’ve been living under and go see the movie right now. The 2011 film tells the story of the alien ship discovery and the destruction of the Norwegian camp. Simple right? Not really. The prequel handles the little continuity details well but creates some significant problems with the big stuff.
The state of the Norwegian camp when MacReady and Copper arrive in the 1982 film is expertly reconstructed in the 2011 film. Every detail is accounted for – the explosion holes in the building, the location and state of the dormant thing they find, the ice block, etc. All done very well.
What isn’t handled well is the entire plotline involving the alien ship. Some may think this nitpicky but it isn’t. We can all imagine the conversation that lead to the choice to show the ship outside and inside, Two development executives, a screenwriter, maybe a potential director. All discussing how they stay true to Carpenter’s film while offering something new to the audience. They kick around lots of ideas but continually end up back in the same place – we wanted to see more of the ship back in the 80s when we saw the film as kids, so that’s the WOW factor we can add to this film. Can you see it? Picture it? Hear the discussion?
Only problem is it still doesn’t work. Carpenter’s version showed the ship under the ice. Showed them plant thermite charges and blow the ice layer over the ship. Shows them waving to the camera while standing around the ship. Showed a map of where the crash sight is…in the middle of nowhere.
The 2011 film didn’t address any of those things properly. In fact it seemed to just gloss over those details for the sake of making the screenplay easier to fit together. The crash site is right next to the camp? There is an underground cavern where they can access the ship with no problems? They don’t blow it up to get to the ship, because um they don’t have to, so it’s blown up to try and kill the Thing?
For all the work put into the little details it’s unfortunate they chose to ignore major continuity concerns so they could fit the narrative into a predesigned outcome.
Next issue. Visual effects. Creature effects. CGI. This blog will forever argue that non-digital or computer generated effects will always look better than full CGI for anything biologically related. The monsters in the 2011 film look cool and they certainly were creative in their design, but they also look like CGI. It’s cheaper to do CGI for monster effects and saves a lot of time on filming, sure sure, but watch the 1982 film and tell us those monsters don’t look awesome. Slimy, wet, juicy, nightmarish. You can see the liquid whatever squirt off them when they pop. See the residue on the floor when they move. The spider head is uncanny.
|1982 – Look how juicy and wet that sucker is!|
|1982 – Not juicy but definitely standing in the same room as the actor.|
|2011 – Looks cool but obviously CGI.|
|2011 – Again, looks neat but is clearly computer generated and way too clean. If two heads were merging together don’t you think a little blood would get on the floor?|
|2011 – Another digital monster. Looks neat graphically, but no blood, no fluids, no juices. I mean the guy split open for cryin out load!|
|1982 – Ah here we go. Super juicy! Slimy, and the tentacles are slowly slithering across the torso, taking their time as is discussed in the film.|
You don’t get this with the 2011 film. Instead you get some cool looking monsters that don’t look real in the setting. You also get way more monster scenes. And yes, that can be a bad thing. The tension built in between scenes is kinda what sells the notion of a monster that can clone people. You don’t know who is the monster. The 2011 film was able to throw a lot more monster into the film by virtue of CGI, so any tension built up between scenes is lost too quickly. It’s kinda like blowing your load too early when you’re really enjoying everything.
Finally, Americans. Really? Just shoehorn in some characters who have absolutely no reason to be at a Norwegian base in Antarctica. Stop. Before you say anything think this over. Antarctica is a very sparsely populated continent. there are a number of national research bases there, but all enter and exit the continent through McMurdo station. You really think if several Americans were working with or for the Norwegians it wouldn’t be mentioned in the 1982 film? Again, an addition done purely for narrative requirements and to make the film more marketable to US moviegoers. Face facts, the movie would have crashed had the entire film been subtitled in Norwegian.
Wait, wait, wait. So that’s a lot of words but what’s the point? This…
Movie is decent (not great) if you forget it is a prequel to Carpenter’s film. The movie falls apart if you treat it as canon. So there.
Q: Should I see it?
A: Yes. It is a sci-fi horror and there aren’t enough of those films made. It’s also fun and fairly decent film, if you treat it as a stand alone.
Q: Good date movie?
A: Sure, just don’t tell your date it’s better than the 1982 film. You’d be surprised how many people are part of the secret ‘Carpenter is god’ club.
Q: Purchase or not?
A: Fry’s has the blu-ray on sale for $4 right now. At that price just about any movie is worth buying. Or you can click on the picture above and buy it from Amazon.