The Thing (2011)
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jørgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Røise, Stig Henrik Hoff, Kristofer Hivju, Jo Adrian Haavind, Carsten Bjørnlund, Jonathan Walker, Ole Martin Aune Nilsen
(out of 4)
You two-faced bastard!
Given the exact same name as John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing
(2011) is a prequel that intends to give a detailed account of what happened to the Norwegian camp before the menacing, shape-shifting alien creature invades the American base and starts fighting Snake Plissken and a pissed off Keith David. I’m not sure anybody that’s a fan of The Thing 1982
really cared to know (and if you’re not a fan of one of the greatest horror films ever made, then you suck). But Universal, like all studios, likes cash, so here we are again back in 1982, where American vertebrate paleontologist Kate Lloyd (listening to Men At Work on her headphones) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to visit the Norwegian research facility in Antarctica, because I guess no paleontologists exist in Norway. What follows is a by-the-numbers monster flick whose greatest strength is not the horrifying creature that kills off the researchers but the geeky thrill you get by recognizing all the puzzle pieces put in place for the first film. It’s a fun game to play, but it’s not enough.
Scully searches for Mulder.
Our research team is mostly Norwegian, headed by glory-seeking Danish scientist Dr. Halvorson, with some Americans and Brits thrown in. A giant spaceship is discovered in the ice along with the frozen remains of its single survivor, which is brought back to camp. Soon after Dr. Halvorson grabs a tissue sample of the alien, the thing escapes in an all-too-familiar jump-scare effect, the first red flag in a movie that shouldn’t be so lazy. The multi-tentacled creature picks off its first victim, which leads to a familiar autopsy scene, leading to a familiar lab/microscope scene where Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) figures out what the audience already knows coming in, that the “thing” can perfectly imitate anything it digests. The one new element thrown into the story involves the alien’s inability to assimilate and copy inorganic material, which eventually leads to a scene where Kate is shining a flashlight into people’s mouths, checking for fillings. Compared to its counterpart in Carpenter’s flick, where MacReady is testing everyone’s blood, the effect here is underwhelming, especially when you consider that nothing interesting comes from it. The rest of the film has the thing running around in the open taking out Norwegians, not a fan of hiding inside imitations for too long. The result is that the subtitles you see on your screen fade away so that the English speakers can finish out the movie, which takes Kate and Carter (Joel Edgerton) back to the alien spacecraft in a ho-hum sequence meant to ape Alien (or maybe even Cowboys & Aliens). It’s a little baffling why a creature from another world would have wasted its time trying to consume every human around it if all it really needed to do was fire up its fully functional spacecraft to escape. Equally baffling is how somebody can hide from the Thing in the slim corridors of its own ship, when the movie has already established that it can change into whatever it wants, or even split apart into little creepy-crawly things. I did get a kick out of the ships power source, though – it’s made out of shifting Atari sprites (perhaps meant to evoke nostalgia for the 80s kids?) which had me wondering if the Mooninites’ ship from Aqua Teen Hunger Force used the same contraption.
The Thing 2011 has a few decent scenes of carnage – the best one is the creation of the two-headed monster-thing that MacReady and Dr. Copper eventually find and take back to their base. The problem is, there isn’t enough of the kind of carnage that pushes the envelope of shock. There’s nothing here that measures up to the spider-head or the chest-chomper of the 1982 film. The creature effects we do get to see are mostly CGI, and the little bits of practical effects are no match for anything Rob Bottin created. What surprises me about the CGI effects isn’t that there are so many of them – that’s a given with the state of movies today – but that they still aren’t very realistic. Just take the creature’s “final form” here and compare it with the one from the ending of The Thing 1982 and you’ll see exactly what I mean. And other than an interesting effect involving a face that splits in half, the rest of the Thing’s manifestations aren’t very diverse – it’s giant teeth in torso, spider limbs, fast-moving tentacles, and little insect-like things over and over again.
Don't touch it! That's for Kurt Russell.
But more importantly, there’s no mood here, no feeling of isolation. Some paranoia exists, but that’s built into the story; as for tension, it’s hard to locate. For me, comparing The Thing 2011 to Carpenter’s version is unavoidable – it’s impossible to judge this movie in a vacuum. Like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, it knows the notes but not the feeling (to paraphrase Roger Ebert). There’s no sense of who any of the characters really are, and no real feeling of dread that pervaded the first film. There’s just something lacking in it – be it atmosphere or a sense of urgency; something feels off, right down to the creature’s behavior. The Thing 2011 is ok for a monster film – almost 30 years later the premise still holds up – but like the shapeshifting monster of the title, this is just a mere imitation of the real thing.
– Bill Gordon
Hmm... the DVD must have fingerprints on it.