American paleontologist Kate Lloyd is recruited by Dr. Halvorson to help him and his assistant investigate a groundbreaking discovery found near a Norwegian research station located in Antarctica. When they get there, they discover that the Norwegian’s have stumbled upon an ancient intact spacecraft buried in the ice that they theorize has been there for thousands of years. More importantly though, they also discover a life-form that they assume to be the ship’s pilot buried in the nearby ice. They bring the alien back to the base and Halvorson, against Kate’s objections, drills into the ice block containing the creature’s body so that he can get a biological sample.
But unbeknownst to the crew, the creature isn’t nearly as dead as they thought it was, just dormant, and after being given some time to thaw it quickly breaks out of its ice tomb and starts attacking and killing people. The crew tracks it down and kills it with a flamethrower before it can do any more damage, but after studying the specimen some more Kate realizes that the alien’s cells are not only absorbing, but also mimicking whatever it consumes, meaning any one of them could be infected and no one would know. Nobody initially believes her, or her insistence on quarantining, and are more concerned about trying to leave the base and get home. Or at least they are until one of the crew members attacks Kate and reveals itself to be the alien in disguise. Everyone is understandably freaked out, but Kate has a plan. After finding some bloody dental fillings in the washroom, she concludes that the alien can only imitate biological matter, and not anything artificial like metal. So now it’s up to the remaining survivors to do some investigation and dental examinations to determine who’s been infected and who hasn’t, so that they can prevent the alien menace from spreading to the rest of the world.
And it started off as a bug, and you just KNOW how much of a pain those bastards are to kill.
You know you’re getting old when you stumble across a movie and think “Oh hey! It’s that new installment in that franchise that I haven’t seen yet,” only to notice that the release date is from over a decade ago, and then come to the horrible realization that you’ve gotten to that point in your life when your sense of time has become completely shot. The realization admittedly caused a bit of a buzzkill to my initial excitement, but gosh-darn-it, I’ve been waiting (a lot more than I obviously realized) years to finally watch this movie, so I was determined to soldier on. And I’m glad I did, because while I knew there was no way it was going to live up to my enjoyment of the 1982 version, in the end this prequel still ended up being pretty fun (in a thematically consistent nihilistic sort of way), even though there were a couple of things I would have personally changed.
In many ways, this direct prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing is almost more of a faithful remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World than Carpenter’s version is. Like Thing From Another World not only does this film include the discovery of the spaceship and alien creature, and the removal of the alien in the form of an ice block, all of which was quickly skipped over in Carpenter’s tale. But it also includes its own version of the pompous, alien-obsessed, I’m-about-to-doom-all-of-mankind-cause-I’m-a-dickbag Dr. Carrington, this time in the form of Dr. Halvorson. Except I’d actually argue that Halvorson is even worse than Carrington, since he’s not only an arrogant know-it-all, but also seems more obsessed with fame and credit for the find than he is the safety of himself, the other members of the base, or even the whole of humanity, AND he proves himself to be a sexist prick to boot. So there’s really nothing at all redeemable about this guy.
Unlike Lars. Lars immediately burns all aliens on sight. We love Lars.
But that’s not even where the remake similarities end, because that’s just the first half of the movie. The second half, which pretty much includes everything after the alien escape, almost feels like a beat-for-beat retelling of Carpenter’s own version of events. You’ve got the one character that knows something’s wrong, but isn’t believed. You’ve got the alien reveal. The extreme paranoia sets in. Everyone gets grouped together to conduct an alien ‘test’. The paranoia gets worse. There’s ANOTHER big alien reveal. Chaos ensues, the remaining survivors have to hunt down the last “big bad” before it escapes, and in the midst of all of that there’s a lot of fire and several explosions while everything goes to hell in a hand-basket. Admittedly, it’s not a bad formula as far as plots are concerned, but if you’re watching this and you’ve already seen Carpenter’s version (and really, why would you be watching this if you hadn’t?), then you’ve already seen all of this before. The only difference is that the characters are all different and there are more of them, so you’re not sure who’s going to die and in what order (but you can probably guess.) So for fan’s of the 82’ version things will feel comfortably familiar, but it also begs the question of why even make it they were just going to follow almost the exact same pattern of its predecessor? I mean, come on movie, if you’re gonna do that, I may as well just watch the first film.
This all feels familiar somehow…
Predictability aside, there were a couple of things I liked about this movie. Even two decades later, the creature effects remain pretty elaborate and disturbing, and they very closely resemble the effects of the first film. Upon the insistence of the director, most of the effects remain practical, but they did utilize their fair share of CGI, especially for quick things like rapid tentacle movement. Most of it is fairly seamless, but you can also tell that they used computers to touch-up certain bits of the monsters, so those moments do look a little off, and on the rare instance when they go full CGI it is pretty noticeable. But for the most part all the monster and icky-yucky parts still look pretty good. Not perfect, mind you, but good.
The other thing I liked was how the film handled Kate’s role as the protagonist. She’s clearly very knowledgeable, but she starts off as kind of quiet and meek, pretty much how you would expect a younger scientist would act surrounded by an unfamiliar environment and older colleagues. But she also isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even after she’s been ridiculed for it. She may hesitate, but she does it anyway, because she knows it’s the right thing to do. And as she’s continually proven right her decision making becomes more confident to the point where her logical and thoughtful reasoning garners the respect of the other members of the base, and she eventually evolves from a woman who initially ran from the alien, to one who actively goes out to try to kill it (though to be fair, if you give me a flamethrower I’ll suddenly get a lot braver too). But at the same time, the movie doesn’t try to pigeon-toe her into some forced action-hero role. She’s not some big tough-ass like Kurt Russel’s MacReady. She knows one good whack from that Thing would easily take her out. No, she’s the hero because she’s smart and logical (and brave, yes), not because she suddenly got delusions of grandeur and decided she’s going to personally punch the alien in its fugly face. It’s a relatable series of events for the film to take, and more importantly it’s believable based on what little we know of her personality and background.
So other than following the formula of Carpenter’s film just a little too closely (okay, maybe a lot too closely), The Thing ends up being pretty fun, especially for fans of the original. At 1 hour and 42 minutes it does end up being just a bit too long, and it does feel like it takes a little while to actually get going, especially considering that much of the target audience likely already knows how the film is going to go, so instead of setting the scene the slow pacing of the first 30 minutes makes the film feel like it’s just dragging its feet. And the film still ends up leaving me with a couple of unanswered questions at the end, like what was Kate’s ultimate fate and why do all these research facilities seem to have so many friggin’ flamethrowers so readily available? I mean, seriously, is that normal? But other than that, it’s not too bad. The cinematography is nice, most of the characters are likable, you get a lot of creative deaths, and the creature effects still remain detailed and highly disturbing even if most of them do have a little (or lot) CGI tinkering. The new Thing may be no match for the 1982 film, but overall I’d say the movie is still plenty entertaining. So if you’re a fan of Carpenter’s film, then this prequel is worth at least one watch. But for more casual horror fans this is going to likely feel like little more than a boring retread of the earlier film.
The Thing is available on a variety of streaming services.
The Thing is also available on DVD and Bluray.
One thought on “The Thing (2011)”
A decade?? Groan. I remember this being ok but it’s been — a decade. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, right? I really like her.
Happy New Year!
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