The Thing (prequel): Perfectly complimentary to the John Carpenter classic

Deadly Movies Reviews | The Thing (2011)

Who Goes There‘ the 1938 novella by John W Campbell Jr has a had a huge impact on horror movie history, inspiring the likes of ‘Alien‘ and being directly interpreted in ‘The Thing: From Another World‘ (1951) and It’s 1982 remake John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing‘. Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr adds his 2011 interpretation, but be under no illusion, this is an unashamed prequel (and love letter) to Carpenter’s movie.

This is a story teased out from the limited clues left behind by Carpenter in 1982, it is the backstory to what happened to the destroyed, infamous, Norwegian outpost. If you don’t know what that last sentence means then you should really rethink buying a ticket to this movie.., It 100% relies on your knowledge and enjoyment of it’s predecessor. So after 29 years fans get get to see the discovery of the crashed alien space craft, the creature stuck in the ice, the thing’s first human victims, and the chain of events that lead to that husky arriving at the feet of Kurt Russell and friends at the United States National Science Institute Station 4. The success of this prequel is completely dependent on how important the answers to these these questions are to you.

The film attempts to meticulously piece the missing pieces of the puzzle together, and you have to take your hat off to the production design, which, replicates the elements of the Norwegian base seen in Carpenter’s movie with an exceptional eye for detail and continuity. Fans will see how that red axe became stuck in the wall, they’ll meet the frozen radio operator who took his own life with a cut-throat razor, why that big block of ice is empty, how the partially assimilated two-faced corpse came to be, and yes.., You’ll see that husky being chased by a chopper (and lots more references and winks). It’s in this, the prequel elements, where the movie succeeds.

Where it falls down is the slightly odd decision to remake certain aspects of the original movie (adding to the confusion in some media outlets that this is a remake). When not being a prequel, ‘The Thing‘ fills its narrative with plot points and set pieces drawn directly from Carpenter’s film, and at times there is a definite feeling of deja-vu, which is really unfortunate. There are autopsy scenes, corpse burning scenes, flame throwers, helicopters, and even a reworking of the infamous blood-test scene. In short the characters here seem to have the exact same motivations as Carpenter’s characters. It’s a shame that more wasn’t made of the cultural tensions within the base between the Americans and Norwegians. It would have been an interesting commentary on mans’ distrust of difference, not just alien, but foreign too.

The effects laden set-pieces range from totally forgettable and lazy (the Thing attack in a helicopter and subsequent crash) to genuinely creepy and gory (the two face assimilation sequence). The special effects team work really hard to replicate the wonderfully disgusting 1982 practical effects by Rob Bottin, but the affect is certainly lessened by the relience on CGI, which simply doesn’t look as visceral, no matter how gross-out. Interestingly, the practical effects that are used were designed and performed by creature feature specialists¬†Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr (the guys in the Alien suits since 1986). Sadly too, the film’s cinematography (whilst highly adept) fails to convey any concept of the period setting, in short, you never feel like you’re watching a story unfold in 1982. The 1980s Universal logo at the beginning is a good start, but isn’t really followed through.

The Norwegian character actors are solid and sport some particularly awesome beards and Mary Elizabeth Winstead does her best Ellen Ripley impression. Winstead, who is a very likeable actress, avoids any kind of screaming damsel in distress, but does lack the gravitas of Kurt Russell’s Mac. Interestingly, Ulrich Thomsen who plays the “finding of the century” obsessed Dr Sander Halvorson seems to be directly drawn from the Dr Arthur Carrington character in ‘The Thing: From Another World‘, which is a neat touch.

The ending has been described by some as a fanboy handjob.., but what’s wrong with that I ask? I wanted to see this film tie directly into Carpenter’s, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’d like to see a special edition blu-ray feature where you can watch the two films back-to-back with this ending spliced into Carpenter’s beginning.., now that’d be a real fanboy handjob. And that is where this prequel is a decent movie, it links well into Carpenter’s film. It’s a real joy to revisit the original afterwards to look out for all the visual references. So yes this is a good movie that is far from a disgrace to Carpenter’s much lauded seminal monster piece, but one whose enjoyment is completely reliant on its famous forefather.

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One thought on “The Thing (prequel): Perfectly complimentary to the John Carpenter classic

  1. Jack Davis says:

    A thoroughly enjoyable read. Well done!

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