Of all the prequels, sequels, remakes and “reboots” that have flooded cinemas in the last few years, a “prelude” (as Universal is calling it) to John Carpenter’s 1982 campy classic is one of the few justifiable projects. The original “The Thing” is a timeless example of how fantastic a horror movie could be without the use of CGI which is ubiquitous today. Carpenter’s film is filled with excellent camera work, palpable, unrelenting tension and Kurt Russell being the quintessential Kurt Russell of the 80s.
Unfortunately, the new movie, directed by first-timer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is a weak prequel, at best, and rarely frightening at all. Carpenter’s film opens up with a mystery and only hints at answers during its expository scenes. Not only does this make it a compelling story, it leaves itself open to explanation via a prequel which, in better hands, may have been a terrific companion piece.
“The Thing” imagines what must have happened immediately before the start of Carpenter’s film. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by a secretive scientist, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), to investigate an unnamed discovery in Antarctica. Kate, Sander and Sander’s assistant, Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), are brought to a small Norwegian research camp via helicopter, piloted by Sam (Joel Edgerton).
Once at the site that has caused so much secrecy and concern, Kate realizes that what the team found is an alien ship buried in the ice and snow. Near the craft there is some type of alien life form that has been frozen in the ice and Kate estimates it has been there roughly 100,000 years. Even though Kate warns Sander about messing with the creature, he does so anyway which inevitably leads to it escaping and wreaking havoc on the camp and its inhabitants.
The film is not a complete disaster, but it definitely suffers from a number of problems. As a director, van Heijningen Jr. shows his inexperience through poor pacing, staging and sense of anticipation. At no time do we as the audience feel truly scared about what this creature can or will do. We have seen countless times alien creatures which seem indestructible but which we eventually destroy. There is no new territory being covered so the film feels unnecessary at best.
In an unfortunate twist, the film’s greatest strength is also its biggest hurdle to success. The production and set design teams have done a superb job of recreating the sets from the original film, but this only draws greater attention to the fact that this new version is vastly inferior to Carpenter’s work. The comparisons are inevitable and the 2011 film loses hands down.
What is also amazing about Carpenter’s film is the impressive practical effects used to create the monster. The makeup and animatronics are and outstanding achievement, so when van Heijningen Jr. and his team use a strange mix of practical effects and CGI, the result is just a jumbled, distracting mess that only highlights how fake everything looks.
“The Thing” is not horrible (it’s certainly better than many films being released), but it could have been so much better. Luckily, it doesn’t tarnish the original and that’s what is really important.
“The Thing” runs 103 minutes and is rated R.