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At The Movies With Nexus Verbal: The Thing (2011)

Just in time for Halloween, The Thing has once again metamorphosed its way onto the silver screen. John Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation of Campbell’s novella has long since its release achieved something more than cult status. But does this new ‘Thing’ have what it takes to do the same?

Before getting into the nitty gritty of what makes the new ‘Thing’ tick and tock, I just want to clarify something. We may have been told by the studio that this film is a PREQUEL to Carpenter’s 1982 film, but it really isn’t. I can tell you now for a fact, that it’s something more along the lines of a REMAKE. No, hold it, a PREMAKE. Yes, a PREMAKE. That’s more like it. The film does take place before the original, but manages to do many of the same things its predecessor did, sometimes in an inferior fashion. It also manages to take many elements that were only marginal in Carpetner’s film and inject some steroids into the mix. Like flamethrowers. Boy, did they spam those babies. Nonetheless, I liked the film enough to want to buy it upon release.

The film opens with an effective shot of one of the Norwegian’s snowcats strolling across a valley of snow with a blue sky and some mountains in the background. The snowcat is small and distant, and the shot really helps set up the tone of the film, which is isolation and perpetual dread. This leads into the film’s first introduction of the alien presence, as the snowcat gives way and falls into an open crevice beneath the icy ground. It is there, stuck between the walls of the crevice, that the Thing’s spacecraft is revealed to the Norwegians. The title card then forms its way onto the screen and the film starts rolling.

From this point forward, you can either grow to love the film, hate it, or remain indifferent all through out. Personally, I remained indifferent during the duration of the film and enjoyed it for what it was, so long as it didn’t derail into “stupidity” territory, or try to be something it really wasn’t. Through and through, not only could you consider this a sort of remake, but it’s also more of a straight up monster movie rather than the slow burn thriller we’ve all come to know and love from 1982. But it’s unfair to make comparisons to Carpenter’s magnum opus. Director Mathhijs van Heijningen’s take on the original material is more traditional and conventional in terms of horror. The Thing’s identity in this film isn’t kept a secret for more than twenty five minutes, as it goes on a killing spree that doesn’t let up until the end of the film. Character development is seldom focused upon, except for the film’s three or four leading roles, and characters are constantly dying.

However, the film’s excessive action is punctuated by a handful of interesting moments. It was interesting and a bit fresh to see how the Norwegian team was able to tell themselves apart from the Thing, by way of tooth fillings and other artificial bodily attachments, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s scene in where she looks towards the stars and recognizes that “we’ll never look at them the same again” was a change of tone; a calm before the storm. Speaking of Winstead, though the leading character is now a female named Kate Lloyd, the male aspect of the film is balanced. We do get a couple scenes where the men are joking or fooling around, so there’s a sense of closeness and friendship throughout, but no one ever really mourns for the dead.

This film is about very much the same thing the original was about, except this is the beginning of that story, and with the sudden discovery of the alien craft, the Norwegian research team recruits American paleontologist Kate Lloyd, who’s also an expert in excavating out of ice, to assist with the expedition and the exhumation of the Thing itself. With the Thing making its escape, the Norwegians struggle to survive, more so against the Thing instead of one another. The entire cast is serviceable, and there’s never really a boring moment in the film; Heijningen certainly knows how to tell a story, and emulates much of Carpenter’s own style. There are some issues with his directing, though. The actors themselves do an okay job with the material given to them, but it sometimes feel as if they’re just acting and not reacting, as they should. Winstead’s role is the best, and perhaps the most interesting, though we never really learn anything about her. There are some small moments where she really channels Sigourney Weaver; to boot, she even looks and sounds a bit like her.

The script’s true weakness is the lack of any real character development or arc, which leads into a series of other disappointments. For me, I thought it would have been interesting to take us into the outside world after the initial discovery of the ship. There, we could have had a better idea of what the Lloyd character was like, before taking us into the stark contrast of isolation and ice in the arctic. Instead, everything feels a little rush and hurried, as if every moment in the first twenty minutes of the film is there to simply get us to the unveiling and escape of the Thing. There’s really no gradual buildup to the moment, and I understand that this isn’t the slow burn thriller of 82, but a bit more of the slow burn tension would have worked wonders for the film and for its characters, ultimately.

Another thing I do like about the film, however, is that there is a grander sense of scale. We do get to take a closer look at the ship’s exterior, and the ending takes us into its interior. Although, I am not too sure what to make of writer’s decision to take us inside the ship. I mean, the Thing got out of the ship in the first place because it wasn’t functional, right? Regardless, I saw the whole situation as a blatant piece of fan service, and it was pretty neat to see what was in there, even though it makes little sense. The film’s climax is appropriate and very grim, and perhaps the most exciting bit of the entire film, in terms of emotion and action. Seeing how this all leads into Carpenter’s film is also interesting, but a few things are left unexplained, and ends up feeling a bit empty.

Also, the film resorts to the cheap trick of “jump scares”, which never seems to really work. Only one member in my audience jumped in their seat, and that was just once. Every other time, the trick failed, even for me. Another thing that was done right in the film, though, was the score. Marco Beltrami’s music was very riveting, with lots of screeching and rising instruments in this track.

2011’s The Thing is nothing like the Carpenter’s original masterpiece. It’s lacking all the fleshed out characters and it’s lacking all the hidden layers and psychological undertones. However, this is a different film, and that’s the key to enjoying it. The 1982 film is about the human psyche more than it is about the monster, but this new film, really is just about the monster. If you enjoy slashers, then this one’s for you and I recommend you go see it  just for the kicks and giggles. There is some good to be found here, as standard as it is.

About Nexus Verbal

Birth date: January 1, 1987 Hometown: Brooklyn, New York Interests: Writing Science Fiction, amongst other things. Films, Animation, Comic Books, Video Games, and toys. I love toys. Favorite films: The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Ben-Hur, Highlander, Mulholland Drive, On The Waterfront, 8 1/2, The Wages of Fear Favorite Books: Neuromancer, Dune, Ender's Game, Jurassic Park, The Man in the High Castle, Hole In My Life. Music: Burial, Susumu Hirasawa, Jes, L'arc en Ciel, Blondie, Rick James

3 comments

  1. ******** SPOILER ALERT *********

    While I have to agree with you in some ways, I did see things differently in others. I saw the lack of character development as actually working for the film, making it nearly impossible to tell who was and wasn’t “the thing” at any given time. I mean, with a movie monster like this, you can do pretty much anything you want since it mimics the human counterpart perfectly. If you want to go into detail with their character, go for it — if not, don’t worry about it. Either way, it really didn’t bother me in this case, just making the mystery a tad more difficult to figure out.

    I also felt that while there were some scenes taken directly from the Carpenter film, they weren’t taken in any insulting or in any manner that would make this anything but a prequel. You could call it a premake, but I feel like that’s just a tad overboard because it doesn’t really take that much from the plot. What it does take is usually respectfully taken — the quarantine scene is short and sweet and not at all insulting, the blood test doesn’t even work and they have to rely on different methods — things are satisfyingly different here.

    As for the thing making it back to the ship, I think we see them loading some fuel and other materials onto a snowcat at some point, but if I recall they never really did anything with it. Maybe the spaceship runs on good old petrol? I don’t know, all I really do know is that this aspect wasn’t really fleshed out and honestly felt like one of those “when it comes out on blu-ray this will be explained in the extended edition” type of moments.

    What made this movie effectively scary for me was just the sound of the thing. It might not have looked exactly the same, but it moved in a very similar manner and acted very similar as well. When it screeches, GOD DAMN that son of a bitch is loud! I thought my ears were going to bleed, FFS! All I knew when I heard that was…GET THAT THING AWAY FROM ME! When the sound of something alone in a movie is enough to elicit fear, I think it says something about the effectiveness of the film.

    LOVED this review, it really goes in depth and tackles all the issues. I feel like we’re close to on the same page, in that I can agree that it’s not quite as brilliant as Carpenter’s film, but it’s good for its own reasons. DEFINITELY something you want to see in theaters, because you WON’T get that loud ass screeching effect at home.

    • Glad you really liked the review, man. I had some fun writing this one, listening to the old morricone soundtrack, and all.

      My comment about the PREMAKE wasn’t really meant to be taken seriously, though. It’s suppose to be something like a joke, as unfunny as it may sound, and I really do agree on all your points Stoudman, I really do.

      It’s funny you mention the Thing’s screech being very loud, though. Because when I was sitting in the theater, making the conscious decision to not to cover my ears, I kept thinking the projectionist had failed to properly balance the surround sound or something. Guess I was wrong, LOL!