The Thing isn’t a disaster.
It doesn’t betray the spirit and tone of John Carpenter’s masterpiece, nor the Howard Hawks original. Its special effects choices marry well with the practical work done by to perfection in the early 80’s by Rob Bottin. Those were the biggest fears about the project. Considerable ones, as if any of the above weren’t true this would be a film with a massive target on its back and something whose existence was a scourge against all things good and worthy.
With that said, it’s not great either. Though it dovetails very neatly into the 1982 classic, Matthijs van Heijningen’s ‘prequel’ is as much a remake as it is anything else. Which is odd, since it makes every point to connect the dots to a film with the very same name. The prequel to The Thing is called The Thing. Does that mean if this is a hit there will be a sequel to the Carpenter film also called The Thing?
Don’t worry, this won’t be a hit.
For those unaware, the Carpenter film is also a remake and an adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s ‘Who Goes There?’, filmed in the sci-fi heyday with James Arness as The Thing from Another World. It tells the story of a group of people stuck in a claustrophobic and remote location pitted against an alien threat. What was more straightforward in the early incarnation became an exercise in tone, pacing, and creeping dread in the 1982 film. Additionally, the body horror and grisly violence was cranked to the max. It was a flop upon release but it has done nothing less than emerge an undisputed genre classic and a rare film that hasn’t been sullied by age (aside from some questionable stop-motion during the climax). Though there have long been rumors of additions to the canon aside from a few decent Dark Horse Comics it was was always one of those properties most likely better left untouched. From music to performance to effects to the distillation of the famed Agatha Christie “and then there were none” staple, it’s almost perfect.
This new film is all about what happens to create the predicament the American outpost endures in the 1982 film, focusing on a nearby Norwegian base who discovers a massive and ancient alien craft and whose decision to retrieve the passenger of the craft leads to carnage aplenty. It’s an interesting reverse engineering with the filmmakers doing capable work establishing the scenario which would ultimately have a Siberian Husky charging through the frozen tundra with a helicopter in pursuit as the film ends. And where the Carpenter film begins. Unfortunately most of the smart decisions happen in service to the earlier film rather than giving this film a life of its own. There’s not a set piece or moment that doesn’t feel similar to the original and none of the characters are interesting and iconic enough to not make a fan of the original feel served.
Worse, the film is saddled with an uninspired prologue and a climax that has so little punch that it felt as if it was leading towards a more rewarding climax that never comes. The big confrontation is as anticlimactic as any in recent memory and it harkens back to the 1990’s where sequels seemingly always dropped the ball in terms of ending well. As a result, the film’s somewhat strong midsection fades fast in the memory. It’s a shame too, because from minutes ten to about seventy it’s pretty effective.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead tries to be a suitable action heroine as the American paleontologist and voice of reason who is brought to Antarctica to assist the Norwegians with their discovery but she more often than not exists to be there to further along the exposition rather than providing anything meaningful. Her deductions come fast and he ability to figure out exactly what the creature is and how it does it cheapens the conceit. And there’s very little energy in her performance, as if the idea of casting a female lead rather the expected blue collar male one was enough to warrant the decision. It’s lazy and though she’s not bad there’s never a moment where her survival matters. In fact, a few slight adjustments in the climax could have benefited the film immeasurably. There are a few colorful characters and the rapidly growing talent that is Joel Edgerton tries to enliven matters but there’s not one character here that comes close to matching the work of Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, Richard Masur, and the rest of the 1982 cast. They look the part, and the language issue isn’t much of a concern but it’s impossible not to want more. Regardless of the company line, this film is riding on a rather sizable legacy. It can’t be just decent. There’s just too much potential. That said, Eric Christian Olsen, an actor who seemed way out of his depth here does pretty solid work.
It’s not a prequel as much as it is a lamprey, trying its best to nuzzle up to greatness and get a little goodness on it. As a result, the best way to enjoy the film is as a capable “monster on the loose story”, which it is. The special effects are often excellent and the film doesn’t shy away from the icky stuff as the titular creature absorbs, mutates, and twists its way around the base. Most of it is CGI but in its defense, it’s CGI meant to emulate the weird and creepy aesthetic of the original. The designs are good, and when the creature is given a little bit of a stage to perform it does a respectable job of it.
But the tone has none of the dread it needs. The music is a very odd fit whenever it veers from the Ennio Morricone themes from the original. Somehow the pain of how the creature wreaks havoc on its victim’s entire sense of self, it’s not here. This movie is actually The Thing: it’s been sent from beyond to serve as an impostor to gain entrance. At its best the film is a mediocre gateway to one of the best genre movies ever made. In actuality it’s a lot like its namesake, a thing that replicates and assimilates something more pure. And like its namesake it’s lacking a few key components to pull off its goal under scrutiny. It’s not horrible, but it certainly isn’t any sort of a reward for fans creating the ultimate slow-burn franchise in genre history.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars