The Thing (2011): A Review of the Prequel with the Same Name as the Original that is Also a Remake

I’m still trying to wrap my head around The Thing (2011) conceptually. It is a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror classic, itself a remake of a 1951 classicier sci-fi horror film. It hits the same beats as the Kurt Russell 80’s movie, except that 2011 version is actually a prequel of the 80’s movie, so why it isn’t called The Thing: Genesis, or something, is beyond me.

So anyway this premake takes place just a few days before original-quel on a Norwegian outpost in the Arctic or Antarctic. The Nordic workers there stumble upon a spaceship; I’d like to to say “mysterious object” or whatever, but it’s a spaceship. A little farther away they also find the titular Thing in question, which appears to be an alien that exited the craft and froze in the ice. They call in a team of expert alien biologists who are American because who wants to see a movie about only Norwegians? The brainiest of the biologists also happens to be a physically attractive white woman in her mid-20’s, which is rare for the horror genre. Without going into details, because who would want this little gem spoiled?, the alien breaks out and causes havoc in the outpost.

What makes the eponymous Thing super scary is that it can mimic any organic life-form, though it seems to prefer dropping its various, borrowed human facades for gross-looking many-limbed things that awkwardly crawl and scream at intended victims. They make a big deal about it not being able to copy inorganic stuff, but it seems to have little difficulty manufacturing clothing, zippers and all. Not sure why the alien wouldn’t just stay hidden until everyone died, instead of revealing it’s bug-limbed, toothed-vagina face, but it is an alien intelligence, after all; his people may not have access to Splinter Cell video games for covert ops training.

The main strength of the 80’s version was the pervasive ambiguity and mystery. Kurt Russell & friends do not discover a giant UFO trapped in arctic ice, but just an enormous, saucer-shaped hole. It was an impressive shot, and engendered a much more ominous feeling than the spike-hallway-filled dark spaceship we are exposed to in the prequel. We also never see the alien’s “true” form, or learn anything about it at all, which leads to really deep (for an 80’s horror movie) questions like “is the alien violent, or is it the nature of the humans it has possessed?” etc. The film was actually based on the 1950’s novel Who Goes There?, and it was the 50’s, so everything was secretly about communists. The whole anyone-might-be-the-alien dynamic is also carried out with much more effect in the older film. Paranoia drives the action, and makes the ambiguous ending a real treat, and famous in certain circles. The 2011 version doesn’t do too much with it, since people die every 3-5 minutes, and when they die they all turn into squealing monster things, giving the audience little time to wonder. Also, the alien is sort of mean from the get-go, so the whole human nature discussion gets thrown out into the cold.

Speaking of cold, the John Carpenter movie made a big deal out of the environment being freezing. A snow storm strands the protagonists inside the confines of a small research station. Stepping outside requires full masks and layers and grappling hook ropes. It builds tension. In the 2011 version, people step outside with their coats hanging open and their hoods down…so, yea, the environment isn’t so forbidding 5 days earlier.

The acting in general is average. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, back in her target weight after being fat for Scott Pilgrim, portrays our heroine ably, I suppose, but the role is paper thin, shallow like a day-old rain puddle. But hey, she blows up multiple aliens without fear, so the women’s rights people will be pleased! Joel Edgerton, whom I really liked in Warrior, plays the obligatory sort of romantic interest. And then some foreign guy plays the Paul Reiser from Aliens greedy person who is evil and seeks profit and money even after the helicopter explodes and he’s stranded forever in the Arctic. Because basic survival is great and all, but that alien could make money! The other characters are all Norwegian and have no lines….but they may have been good actors.

This is the part where I would review the film’s technical aspects like cinematography, score, etc.; however, this is not a film, but a mere movie. But don’t look away, there are special effects! The John Carpenter version was a big deal at the time with its monster models, and the newer version ups the ante with CGI, and really showcases the monster’s absorption/morphing powers much more cleanly. The newer version’s chimeras are certainly grislier and grosser than its predecessor’s. It is a double-edged sword, though. We see more of the monster and its various gross incarnations, but familiarity breeds no horror, as they say.

The Thing (2011) basically hits the exact same beats as the previous film, blood tests and all, but seems to do everything more shallowly. The movie does reveal a little bit more about the antagonistic alien, but that only results in diminished horror and cliche alien spaceship interior shots. I know aliens are aliens, so they think different and all, but who designs spaceships with pitch-black hallways and spike ceilings? Granted, humans go crazy with car design, but we don’t replace seats with lava pits and steering wheels with barb-wire nipple clamps, you know? Actually, the nipple clips don’t sound all bad…

I’d like to say the film is good for a few scares and gross outs…but it sort of isn’t. The Thing (2011) is bland and un-enjoyable. The last scene ties everything into the beginning of the 80’s movie, and that’s a cool little gift for the fanboys, but it doesn’t quite justify the entire 2-hour investment. Skip it.

 

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