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The Thing (2011)



Released: December 2nd 2011 (UK)

Directed By: Matthijs van Heijningen

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton

Certificate: 15 (UK)

Reviewed By: Liam Griffiths

Before you start reading this review, I should probably outline the quite complex situation this movie exists within. John Carpenter’s 1982 classic ‘The Thing’ was itself a loose remake of a 1951 film called ‘The Thing From Another World’. That film, and by extension, it’s remake, were adaptations of a John W. Campbell novel “Who Goes There?”. With me so far? Good. Now, this is where it gets confusing.

‘The Thing (2011)’ was originally intended to be a remake of John Carpenter’s suspenseful, atmospheric masterpiece, but production was stopped after Universal Studios deemed a remake ‘like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa’. Eventually, the film was given the go ahead to resume production, but only if it underwent a script change, turning it into a prequel. So, as it stands, the 2011 version of The Thing is the prequel to a remake of an adaptation of a novel.

Once you’ve wrapped your newly liquidised brain around that tornado of nonsense, you should also know that The Thing (1982) is quite literally my favourite film of all time. I’ve seen it countless times, know almost every single line of dialogue by heart and take any opportunity I can to sing it’s praises. So with this attitude, I went into the ‘prequel’ fully expecting an abortion to take place. An abortion of quality. Of originality. Of cinema itself, even. The single-handed desecration of a cinematic treasure. Much to my surprise, however, it actually isn’t really that bad. Certainly not as offensive as I thought it might be, at least.

The movie, in case you’re unfamiliar with the story, follows a group of Norwegian researchers in the Antarctic, who discover the remnants of some kind of spacecraft under the ice. They also find an organic life form frozen in the surrounding ice, and draft in a group of American scientists (led by Ramona Flowers herself, Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to examine the remains. Predictably, things go rather awry when they find out that the creature isn’t actually dead at all, and is capable of replicating any living tissue it wants – ostensibly allowing it to impersonate any of the hapless crew at will.

It’s actually a perfectly acceptable horror film, it has every ingredient you need; an otherworldly threat, visceral gore and special effects, a group of indistinguishable characters to be slaughtered throughout and a few scares littered throughout it’s run-time. And, while it’s thoroughly forgettable and painfully mediocre, it’s not an absolute waste of time by any stretch of the imagination. If this film was called anything other than ‘The Thing’, I might have had less of a problem with it.

But, unfortunately, it does have that burden of being associated with a predecessor of a much higher quality than itself, and ultimately this is where it falls down to scrutiny. I think, more than anything, this movie is only guilty of one mistake; and that’s spectacularly missing the point of The Thing.

Gratuitously explicit CGI shots of the creature are both frequent and meaningless in a dramatic sense, usually cropping up exactly when you expect them to. Deciding to ditch the practical, computer-phobic special effects that made Carpenter’s version such an impressive event in cinema works very much to the films disadvantage, with consistently shonky CGI proving more hideous than the creature itself in many cases. Carpenter’s version was also an inferno of paranoia and tension – the long periods of inaction were so tense you could only just about bear it, and just when you least expect it things took a usually horrific turn for the worse. Watching Kurt Russell and his crew trade machismo (in the vain hope of drawing out the creature) was akin to watching a group of mice in the same cage as an invisible viper. That fatal blow could come from anywhere.
Instead of studying that handling of tension, Director Matthjs van Heijningen Jr. (who has only ONE short film under his belt before this effort) decides to take a much more traditional route towards an utterly daft climax, employing a number of cheap sting scares and some in-your-face action set pieces instead of a more measured, mood-setting approach. There are barely any scenes aimed towards building any kind of atmosphere (aside from a misguided spin on the classic and chilling ‘Blood Test’ scene) and characters are mostly non-confrontational with each other – almost the complete opposite of the 1982 version.

A lot of the thrill comes from the increasing discomfort of the slowly dwindling survivors, and the drama erupting within their group adds to that feeling of complete isolation and helplessness – but none of that is touched on throughout this film. Performances are fine, if not thoroughly forgettable in the long run.  The decision to put Winstead in a parallel role to Kurt Russell’s now legendary ‘R.J MacReady’ seems like a strange decision, even though I can understand why they would want to distance themselves from going toe to toe with the character.

Or, at least I could understand it if they didn’t decide to try and fill Russell’s boots anyway. I get that strong female characters are very much ‘in’ these days, but to see Winstead running around with a flame thrower, barking orders and bossing around a group of burly men she has no authority over seems very out of place here. It’s like they said to her, ‘Oh, don’t worry too much about conveying a believable character, just be a simpering wuss for the first few scenes, then just pretend you’re Kurt Russell for the rest of the film.
Still, fans of the original will still find some entertainment in spotting the many nods and winks littered throughout the film- from a fire axe that gets buried in the wall, to a very familiar two-faced corpse (both of which Kurt Russell and his team discover when they visit the Norwegian camp), Van Heijningen Jr. certainly flexes his familiarity with the original when it comes to references. Really though, this only makes it more disappointing that, instead of the worthy prequel fans deserved, he gave us little more than a very average, mostly forgettable CGI horror flick.

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