Review: The Thing
PLOT: A group of Norwegian scientists and a small handful of Americans discover an alien being in the Antarctic. While getting ready to try and uncover the mysterious beast’s origin and history, it escapes from its icy tomb to wreck havoc on the unsuspecting victims. The monster is able to shape shift into the dead, and fool the others until it’s time to strike. One by one it attacks the living, only to create a frightening animosity towards those left to die. In other words, it is kinda like that John Carpenter movie from 1982.
In 1982, JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING gave audiences faith in the word “remake” with his horrifying take on the 1951 sci-fi classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Carpenter’s scary tale escalated the suspense and the claustrophobic fear of being trapped and not having anybody you can trust. It is to this day one of the best examples of science fiction terror ever put on film. And now, Universal presents a prequel of sorts with THE THING. Yes it has the same name, but this is not Carpenter’s masterpiece, it is however an exciting horror filled thriller that just can’t quite live up to the superior 1982 version.
In the prequel, we are introduced to a couple of Norwegian scientist searching for some kind of signal in the Antarctic. They are moving cautiously through the heavy snow that surrounds them. Soon, they come across what appears to be a spaceship that crashed just below the ice and snow above. Not only is this a great introduction to a dangerous and frightening world, it may be the most thrilling sequence in the film. Yet mere moments after the discovery, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. returns to familiar ground with not only the atmosphere of Carpenter’s classic, but the score and look as well.
In many ways, there is little difference between this and Carpenter’s feature. The isolated men have to decide who to trust and how to go about making those alliances before having their head turn into a giant spider of sorts. Each film has a bit of a slow burn although it seems that the 1982 version spends even more time creating suspense throughout. That is where the two films differ. Nearly twenty or so minutes into THE THING (2011), we witness this beast escape from the ice it was covered in. Once out, there is precious little time spent that doesn’t involve this inhuman beast. Carpenter’s film still pushed the humanistic fears skillfully with a few more layers and a better script.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stands out as Kate Lloyd, one of the few Americans involved in the discovery. She gives a strong and grounded performance as a graduate student at odds with the man in charge, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who only wants her there for her expertise and not for her interference. Once the group comes to the realization that this “thing” can become any one of them, they are picked off rather quickly. Again, we are faced with the dilemma of who can you trust. The power struggle between Kate and the Dr. and even the other men (with one other woman) involved with the project is just as important as what happens when these poor people are taken over by the alien intruder.
The best thing about Winstead’s performance is that she is not used as a sex object. She is not a girl who only runs up the stairs screaming just to narrowly escape the villain. And most importantly – while you could call her this film’s “Ripley” – she doesn’t feel like a cheap imitation of Sigourney Weaver in ALIENS or Linda Hamilton in T2. Winstead is a talented actress who keeps the audience invested thanks to her honest performance. It was also nice to see her work with another very talented actor, Joel Edgerton who proved his clout in this year’s WARRIOR. He is also quite good here as an American pilot.
This modern take on THE THING still conjures up much of what made John Carpenter’s classic stand out. Thankfully, many of the effects here are practical although it is not without some questionable CGI issues. Yet as much as it tries to connect to Kurt Russell and the gang, you have to question whether this film was necessary at all. However, right after the film ended the idea of going home and checking out “part 1” seemed like a good one. Once you see the snow capped frozen land with Marco Beltrami’s creepy score reminiscent of Ennio Maricone’s haunting theme from ‘82, it is clear that the filmmakers at least tried to get this right. Perhaps they were a little closer to making JAWS 2 as opposed to ALIENS, but this is nowhere near the disaster it could have been.
This new take on THE THING is a gripping bit of horror entertainment that should excite audiences for its October release. In fact, it may inspire those who haven’t seen the 1982 version to make it a double feature of sorts. Either way, this is a well cast, atmospheric piece that rates a hell of a lot better than some of the previous Carpenter remakes… I’m talking to you THE FOG. Stay for the end credits if you really want to get yourself in the mood for JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING afterward.
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