Film Review – The Thing (2011)
Let me just say this upfront: the new “prelude” to John Carpenter’s movie The Thing (hereafter known as The Thing (JC)) is not an abomination. The Thing, also the name of the new movie, is an adequate bug hunt movie. If you have never seen The Thing (JC) and you liked Aliens, and you don’t like movies with subtext, then you might enjoy this. It has lots of explosions, monsters jumping out at people, tons of CGI gore, and fire. The plot proceeds logically and somewhat makes sense. There is a place for this kind of movie, and what it severely lacks in originality, it kind of makes up for by being competently directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. If you have seen The Thing (JC), then you will realize that this is a middle-of-the-road remake (of a remake) that is pretending not to be one. It’s not offensively bad, but it is completely mediocre and you would be better off just watching The Thing (JC) again.
I think it’s important to discuss the history of The Thing(s.) This film doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and there is no way to evaluate it without addressing the other movies in the canon. One of John Carpenter’s favorite films is a movie produced (some say more) by Howard Hawks, entitled The Thing From Another World (1951). It’s a wonderfully scripted movie about a vegetable-based alien who crash lands near a U.S. base at the North Pole and likes to eat blood. It sounds stupid, but it’s not, and has some of the best dialogue in a movie ever. In remaking this movie, John Carpenter went back to the source material, the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. In his story, the alien is not a vampire carrot, but a predator able to take on the form of its prey. This feature is key in both of the following versions of The Thing.
The plot of The Thing (JC) is pretty straightforward. At the beginning of the movie, the folks at a U.S. Antarctic institute are disturbed by a Norwegian helicopter chasing down and firing at,a dog. The helicopter goes down, and the shooter ends up chasing the dog on foot until he accidentally shoots one of the Americans. They, in turn, shoot him and take in the dog. They decide to go over to the Norwegian camp to see what’s going on, and discover that everything has gone to hell over there. Everybody is dead, and there are some remains that just don’t look right. They take it all back to their base and soon discover what happened. It turns out the Norwegians had discovered an ancient spaceship, and the ship’s passenger was frozen, but intact. They moved the alien to their camp, but it wasn’t really dead and escaped and killed almost everyone at the base. The Americans soon realize that it is amongst them and has taken the form of at least one of the men. Gruff helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) takes control of the situation, and the movie becomes a mediation on paranoia and self-sacrifice.
The Thing takes place at the Norwegian camp before the events of The Thing (JC) take place. Plucky paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is hired by scientist Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to help a Norwegian Antarctic team remove something from the ice. When she gets to the Antarctic base, she discovers that the item is an alien creature that has been buried, along with its ship, in the ice for thousands of years. They manage to take the ice-encased body back to the base for further investigation. Against Kate’s advice, Halversen insists on taking a tissue sample from the creature and does so by having a hole drilled through the ice. This must have really pissed the creature off, because shortly after, it bursts though the ice and starts killing people and absorbing them. (One of my favorite things about The Thing From Another World is that they accidentally defrost the creature by putting an electric blanket on it.) Kate is the first to suspect the alien is capable of assuming the form of anything it has absorbed, and soon the others realize that they are all in serious danger. The rest of the movie is spent trying to destroy the creature. And, if you have seen The Thing (JC), you know how well that turned out.
They work really hard in The Thing to set things up properly to lead directly into The Thing (JC). According to a trailer I saw, they reverse engineered everything from the John Carpenter movie so there would be no loose threads. All of the things that the Americans discover at the Norwegian camp in the Carpenter film, including a burnt two-headed alien corpse, a dead man in a chair, a hollowed-out ice block, and the general destruction of the camp, are accounted for here. As the film unfolded, I was able to check things off a mental checklist that I didn’t know I had. They weren’t particularly subtle about either; I felt that I wasn’t the only one with a checklist.