In order to fairly criticize the 2011 film “The Thing,” it’s worth noting that the film isn’t the first to tackle John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story “Who Goes There?” In 1951, Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks brought the titular alien creature to life in the classic chiller “The Thing From Another World,” and in 1982, “Halloween” director John Carpenter remade that film as “The Thing.”
Carpenter has stated that his remake was inspired by Campbell Jr.’s short story, but also drew from the 1951 adaptation that supposedly frightened him as a child. While sharing the same storyline of an alien that replicates human life wreaking havoc upon an Antarctic outpost is similar, Carpenter’s film was stylistically and tonally its own separate beast.
That’s where director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s 2011 prequel to Carpenter’s film, also titled “The Thing,” really falls apart. The 1951 incarnation was an enthralling creature feature, while Carpenter’s film was a moody thriller rife with both tension and the director’s subversive nature, but Heijningen Jr. directs his picture as if he’s reinterpreting Carpenter’s vision as a shoddy Syfy Channel-worthy remake of the 1982 film.
However, this film follows the characters inhabiting the Norwegian research facility that is briefly mentioned and seen in Carpenter’s film. The scientists at this particular site were the first to come in contact with the creature, and the first consumed by its shape-shifting ways.
Led by spunky scientist Kate (“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the crew at the Norwegian site slowly begins to disappear in elaborate CGI-induced bloodbaths as the creature awakes from its slumber following a botched escape attempt on Earth.
Winstead, along with “Warrior” star Joel Edgerton, try to provide the film with some semblance of acting prestige, but the truth is that the action and dialogue being presented on screen is far too boring and flat for either actor to do anything interesting with it.
Despite a few well-placed jump scares, the film never reaches the silent tension that drips from Carpenter’s “The Thing” and settles for being just another gory horror film. Even the 1982 film’s excellent score by Ennio Morricone is reworked here to little effect by composer Marco Beltrami.
Other than signaling the start of a supposedly tension-filled sequence or moment of sudden dread, the score here remains unremarkable and ultimately forgettable as it soundtracks the awful CGI effects that torment the film’s leads.
The effects are what bring us to a point that fans of Carpenter’s film will understandably be the most contentious towards. Carpenter’s film was a showcase for pioneering make-up effects artists such as Rob Bottin and the Academy Award-winning Stan Winston of “Jurassic Park” and “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” fame.
Gone are those squirm-inducing creature tentacles and multi-headed alien beings, as they are replaced by exaggerated CGI creations that are as unimaginative as they are cheap. This all suggests that perhaps some more time and effort could have yielded far more terrifying results on the part of the team responsible for these lackluster effects.
The failure of Heijningen Jr.’s film is puzzling, especially since the production team Strike Entertainment was behind this and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake, which “300” director Zack Snyder was capable of turning into a distinguishable and entertaining action film that only lacked the potency of the original.
Even if Heijiningen Jr.’s vision for the film wasn’t to produce an almost carbon copy of Carpenter’s, it’s certainly turned out that way. In fact, this film could almost be seen as an advertisement for Carpenter’s, as many key sequences of this version of “The Thing” are meant solely to predict memorable moments from the 1982 film in the most unsubtle of ways.
In particular, the credits roll as a brief scene of the final Norwegian survivor searching the remains of the outpost for the creature with a helicopter rescue pilot plays out. This all leading to the reveal that the creature has now shape-shifted into the form of the outpost’s resident dog, a wolf-like Alaskan Malamute.
This survivor climbs into the helicopter, pursuing the creature with a loaded gun, with fans of the 1982 film knowing this will lead right to that film’s opening sequence. What’s most unsettling is that this chase footage looks as if it may have been lifted directly from the opening of Carpenter’s film.
Moments such as these may lead many to ask why they even bothered with a remake, which is what it should be called, as most of the film appears to be directed toward an audience that already loves the original film. This is mostly because it takes too few liberties to truly distinguish itself in an effort to engage a younger crowd that may have no prior knowledge of Carpenter’s original, and may be ripe for an introduction to “The Thing” mythology.
Regardless, this version of “The Thing” is probably best suited as its haunted maze counterpart at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights attraction this year. The film has all the same predictable scares and production values of one of those mazes, and even when it grasps for the same sort of clinching final moment that Carpenter seemingly pulled off with ease, it leaves you with just about as much resonance.