The Thing is the most recent addition to the current sling of Hollywood remakes and prequels. With most of these being critically derided how does this latest offering fare, and can it even compare to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic?
The story starts with a group of scientists at work in the Antarctica, who uncover an alien buried deep beneath the ice. Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is brought in to help with the excavation and assist the crew, which includes Joel Edgerton playing helicopter pilot Carter. The alien breaks free from the ice and, using its ability to absorb and imitate living beings, begins to run amok throughout the camp, destroying everything in sight and generally not acting very nicely towards the people living there.
The creature itself is brought to glorious and, quite frankly, disgusting life with the use of marvellous CGI, helping to introduce 21st century audiences to one of the most disturbing and unstoppable forces in science fiction. The alien maintains the same level of gruesomeness that it did in Carpenter’s film and even die-hard fans would appreciate the change of the creature’s look, although the more primitive effects used in the 1982 version did lend a certain level of scary grittiness to the monster.
The film certainly pours the action on, and anyone seeking an adrenaline-filled trip to the movies would not be let down by this. The Thing rides on an almost constant tide of action, and whilst this may prove exciting for some it really lacks the suspense which acted as the key ingredient of Carpenter’s version, helping it to achieve the status that it has among other sci-fi and horror greats. Whilst Carpenter kept you guessing and cranked the suspense up to often nerve-breaking levels, this film seems much more concerned about shoving endless chases between the crew and The Thing down your throat, which soon gets tiresome.
In addition to this, characterisation is wafer thin and this is certainly not helped by the acting, which is dodgy at best. Joel Edgerton, terrific in Animal Kingdom and Warrior, is completely wasted, and he does not help matters by appearing to be doing his best Kurt Russell impression complete with incoherent grunts. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does handle her by-the-book role as heroine well, so it is a shame that it wasn’t more beefy to really invest us in her character or her struggle.
In the end though, the film appears torn between whether to appease fans of Carpenter’s film or to accommodate the tastes of newer audiences unfamiliar with the story or creature. With all the time and effort that is supposedly spent on placing an axe here, a chair there and the charred corpse of the alien there, which is all seen in the ’82 version, the film fails to intrigue fans whilst also alienating those unfamiliar with the previous effort. The ending is perhaps the best example of this, as it simply seems thrown in for the sake of it, an afterthought almost, and the disappointing thing is that it could have carried so much more impact for both casual viewers as well as the original’s fans. It sadly seems that, in the end, the film may have simply tried too hard to appeal to both.
The Thing is certainly an action-filled effort with the creature faring very well with some 21st century gloss thrown over it, so it may appeal to some viewers unfamiliar with the original. For fans of Carpenter’s film however, it will only serve as a reminder of how good his film really was.
The Thing (2011), directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, certificate 15.