Review: Universal's 'The Thing' is a Loud Imitation That Doesn't Work
by Jeremy Kirk
October 14, 2011
Cheap imitations should all be burned in an icy wasteland. Even expensive looking but soulless knockoffs should feel the flames wrapping around them deep in the Arctic circle. That's precisely what the new version of The Thing is, a flashy retread that looks and feels like a film we've seen before, but it's not. Something is missing. Actually a lot is missing in the movement from John Carpenter's 1982 film - itself an adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr's short story "Who Goes There?" which was adapted once before in 1951 - to this one, a prequel in essence, but one with a new car smell of a big budget remake. What is absent here is swept under a blanket of slick CGI in hopes that the audience, more specifically fans of Carpenter's film, won't notice. Sadly, The Thing 2011, your tentacles and body teeth are showing.
The film begins with a discovery in the Antarctic. Members of a Norwegian research facility have found a space craft crashed long ago and buried under an abundance of ice and a lone, alien figure buried just under the ice nearby. American paleontologist Kate Lloyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is brought in to help identify and analyze what exactly the people at the facility have found. But soon after recovering the alien creature out of the ice and bringing it back to the facility, it wakes up, and the team realizes it has the power to absorb and imitate the lifeforms it comes in contact with.
What strikes first about The Thing is how wholly unnecessary it all is. A prequel, the film shows us what exactly happened at the Norwegian station that the team from Carpenter's film investigate after they are first attacked by the alien creature. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. start from there, take the events and what is seen in the 1982 film, and reverse engineer it to show how it all came to be. It could be interesting if Heisserer and van Heijningen decided to show us something, anything, we didn't already know. Unfortunately, they don't. They run through it all like a check-list, carefully plotting to ensure it all fits in nicely, and to their credit, it does. This film matches flush with the 1982 film to the point that you could watch them one right after the other for one, continuous story.
But that seems only beneficial to anyone who hasn't seen Carpenter's film. If you have, everything that plays out in this version is just a game of catch-up. You know where the story is headed, you're just waiting for the film to catch up to you as it explains elements from the 1982 version that didn't need explaining. It can't even do that in interesting or fresh ways or give us a scary movie with believably effective monster effects. Instead, the alien creature, one that has traveled to many worlds and can take the form of any number of alien beings its come in contact with, is achieved using obvious CG imagery. The designs are there. Creature designer Michael Broom likes his tentacles and oddly asymmetrical outlines, but the actual execution of this creature, the way it looks and feels and interacts with the world and characters of van Heijningen's film, rings absolutely false.
Carpenter's film was about paranoia, about an identity with each of the characters and fear that comes from thinking someone you know isn't who they say they are. Van Heijningen attempts this, but his way of showing paranoia is anything but subtle. Subtlety is lost in the long, investigative looks the characters in his film give each other. The way in which they determine they can tell who is human and who isn't ends up being the only thing in this new Thing that comes off as slightly interesting. Heisserer and Van Heijningen attempt a version of the famous blood test scene from Carpenter's film. While the scene doesn't deliver the same, suspenseful wrenching of the earlier version, conceptually it brings with it a feeling that it's showing us something we haven't seen in this world before. It's something about the alien creature we haven't even considered but makes perfect sense given its nature.
The paranoia doesn't work in this new film, either, because aside from four or five characters, everyone in The Thing is a bearded, Norwegian man. It's difficult to tell them apart based on appearance alone, and neither Heisserer in his screenplay nor van Heijningen in his direction find a way of bringing any sense of identity to any of these characters. We know who Kate Lloyd is, because we know who Mary Elizabeth Winstead is. The same goes for the characters played by Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Beyond that and maybe a few more foreground characters, those who actually do more than just stand around like extras in a bar scene, every person blends together. When your film relies on the familiarity of its actors to identify its characters, that's a problem.
It doesn't matter, though, this sense that the paranoia has been lost, because the director doesn't seem concerned with that. Instead, much of The Thing, in fact, the entire back half, relies on quick editing, fast action, and noise, lots and lots of noise that bleeds into every scene, setup, and aftermath of the film. This new version of The Thing is a noisy film, and not just in regards to the piercing, audible sounds the creature makes. From the number of characters, to the layout of the set - anything but geographically identifiable, something else failed from the 1982 version - to the crutch of CGI van Heijningen rests on from beginning to end, The Thing is busy with a discordance that permeates the theater.
We aren't allowed to feel any building suspense. We're blasted with a whiteout of clatter to the point where we want to bundle up, cover our heads, and bury ourselves under something warm and comfortable until the storm has passed. The Thing 2011 is both the storm blaring outside and the imitation of something familiar inside, and neither deliver anything fresh, scary, or appealing.
Jeremy's Rating: 3.5 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 34 Comments
Wow. Disappointed. Maybe a redbox and ill wait for paranormal 3 next week.
ur_babys_daddy on Oct 14, 2011
don't forget, this is Jeremy. wait for at least one other review before you throw this one out.....
Jericho on Oct 14, 2011
this movie was good if your not a fan of the first one then to a point you may not like it.fits in well with the first. 8/10
tvostheboss on Oct 14, 2011
The Thing was a remake it wasn't the first one. And this movie was ok the 1982 version had more tension and better characters.
A Villa88 on Oct 16, 2011
The guy who wrote all this obviously can't enjoy any movie.
Floridaloyal on Oct 14, 2011
Rarely have I read a more misguided review that totally misses the point, as well as a handful of other details.
Ihatecritics on Oct 14, 2011
Would you be so kind as to enlighten us to what the point was then? And while your at it the small details as well. Thanks man.
Thomas on Oct 14, 2011
Actually, Jeremy's review is totally and completely on point with the numerous shortcomings of the film. For someone who hates critics so much, it doesn't appear that you are able to express your own criticisms in more than just a vague one-liner. I'm curious to know what you disagreed with in his review so much to call it "misguided," as well as what your thoughts were on The Thing and why you apparently liked it so.
James Wallace on Oct 14, 2011
The movie, "The Thing" was an early 50's production with James Garner, (Gunsmoke hero) as the highly 'made up' creature. This original was the best and still is.
Memoryrose on Oct 14, 2011
The origninal version of "The Thing" did not star James Garner. It starred James Arness.
Jimmyff_2000 on Oct 14, 2011
The original pales in comparison to the Carpenter remake. The remake follows the story closer. The original is not scary at all even though its an alright watch. Carpenter's still holds up to this day. They are both goods films, I just consider one an actual scary horror film that is trying to stay close to the book, while the other has a more "generic" horror feel to it which isn't helped by being such an old film.
Josh Taylor on Oct 14, 2011
You are aware that the 1982 Version was also a remake of an earlier 1951 Film "The Thing From Another Planet' How you can wrinte an entire review with this simplest hommage to the actual original film, A Sci-Fi Classic I might add, is beyond me. truley an uninformed reviewer
Guesswho on Oct 14, 2011
Before you label the reviewer "truly uninformed," you may want to make sure you know the correct title of the sci-fi classic you so righteously defend. It was called The Thing from Another World...not Another Planet. And you should be aware that Carpenter's The Thing is ostensibly not a remake but its own (and more faithful) adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" which Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks' film is also based. This is Universal's prequel to Carpenter's The Thing. How not making mention of the '51 film, which is pretty unrelated in this case, takes away from this entire review is beyond me.
JMW on Oct 14, 2011
Just for my own defense, I was aware of the 1951 film and the short story it's based on. I've seen the original film but haven't read the story. I was informed. I just didn't find a way to shoehorn that information into my review. I've done so now for your - and my, I guess - benefit. Thank you for reading. Hugs. 🙂
Jeremy Kirk on Oct 14, 2011
Not even gonna Redbox this piece of shit.
Matt on Oct 14, 2011
I lovelovelove the original. It is a freaky fright fest that remains unparallelled. I plan on seeing this version and hope that the FX, terror and original vibe is present, but this review made me lose some gusto. Jeremy's a good reviewer, but I think the folks seeing this flick would simply be looking for some hollywood-horror-fun for an hour and a half and not expect it to break new ground. I'm not trying to say "lower your expectations" or "it is what it is," but...well.....in a world when my NYC marquees look like the 80's with The Thing, Footloose and Ghostbusters you can't help but feel like you've gone full circle.
Voice of Reason on Oct 14, 2011
maaaaaaaaan i wanted a good horror film to watch this devil's night and i thought this was gonna be it....o well now i guess i jus gotta go cause some mischief instead
Croniccris on Oct 14, 2011
When the B&W 1951 classic, SiFy horror film "The Thing from Another World" was being rerun in 1956 at my neighborhood movie theater, I paid my 50 cents, laughed at the cartoons that always preceded a main feature, and expected something more scientifically interesting than terrifying. Well, my twelve-year-old self was traumatized. I was so engaged in the plot that my only relief came when the electrical grid idea worked. Since that matinee afternoon, no Spielberg E.T. could ever wipe away my fearful distrust of alien creatures. I whole-heartedly agree with renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking's warning over making contact with aliens: "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said. Prof Hawking thinks that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact. He explained: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet." Finallly, accordding to Rotten Tomatoes: "The Thing from Another World" is 89% Fresh; "John Carpenter's The Thing" is 78% Fresh"; "The Thing (2011)" is 29% Rotten.
Lucienbrancaccio on Oct 14, 2011
How "The Thing from Another World" is rated higher than "The Thing" is beyond me. "The Thing" special effects still blow me away.
Josh Taylor on Oct 14, 2011
im going to go see it right now because im really board
Anonymous on Oct 14, 2011
Anonymous on Oct 14, 2011
Anonymous on Oct 15, 2011
I kept hoping this movie would be good, but once I saw the female character I knew it wasn't going to be. They shoe-horned her character in and that was a sign of things to come.
Josh Taylor on Oct 14, 2011
Blah blah blah elitist. This movie bad ? No absolutely no.
Sevov on Oct 14, 2011
I thought it was ok. It just wasn't scary enough. Maybe it was because I saw the original when I was alot younger. But it didn't have that jump factor.
Tyler Bannock on Oct 14, 2011
I love Carpenter. I love The Thing. There's not a whole lot you can do with the story Campbell gave us, but Carpenter did it well. Everytime I watched the movie I always thought it'd be neat to see all the crazy stuff that happened at the Norwegian camp. I always thought it'd be a fun story. I think this one does it and does it well. I feel some are being too critical of this. I think true The Thing (Carpenter's) fans will find this as an extra little treat. It's impressive how much detail they paid to it, and sorry you were hoping for a whole bunch more, but I think they did all they could. I ask you Jeremy expert film maker what would you have done?
Elliott A Nicholas on Oct 14, 2011
Although don't you also think NOT seeing exactly what happened at the other camp made Carpenter's The Thing more suspenseful? The unknown being more scary than the known and all that. They should have also gone with more icky practical effects instead of the boring cheap CGI fakery.
Anonymous on Oct 15, 2011
For me, this film is a great example of why Studios remake these old brands. I love the original, know there's little chance this new film will do it justice, nevertheless can't help but get excited about the film. Despite the bad reviews and the fact I know I'm spending my money on what will probably be a disappointing experience... I still must see it for myself 😛
darthstu on Oct 14, 2011
Hmmm...just remember darth, it isn't a remake. And frankly, the studio would be taking a chance on this, since the cold hard facts are that Carpenter's now beloved (and deservedly so) 1982 film was a box office bomb. The film--this one--was good, at least that's what I thought. This review is perhaps a bit too harsh on it, but then again, the reviews back in the day on Carpenter's film were even harsher--look at Roger Ebert's and Vincent Canby's for instance. That said, the review is Jeremy's opinion, and he's entitled to it (plus, I do agree with a couple of points in his review). But whether or not this was a "necessary" prequel...well, that's not our call, at least, not in my view. It's the studio's call, and hell, they could have just gone for an out-and-out remake. Did THE THING (2011) have flaws? Yes. But you know what? For me, it still worked. I still had a good time watching it, and I liked how things were matched up to Carpenter's film. Will definitely get this on DVD and have a double-feature viewing. That's just my 2-cents.
Anonymous on Oct 17, 2011
Just watched the movie; It's a worthy prequel -- Im glad I stayed away from critical analyses before I went and saw it, this author can go suck eggs for all I cared. I was completely satisfied
Bayroog on Oct 14, 2011
I disagree with this review. I loved this movie!! It was great how they kept it true to the Carpenter Thing. It was cool watching everything unfold right down to the axe left in the wall. Carpenters is still my favorite, but I loved this one as well.
Djwagner18 on Oct 14, 2011
I live in remote alaska so i hav'nt seen it yet. waiting till i can find it streming... However, While i am not expecting John carpenter, in this one, i have great hope that it will redeam itself as a prequell
Alsknwolf on Oct 15, 2011
"However, While i am not expecting John carpenter, in this one..." I agree. The last thing (no pun intended) anyone should is expect JC, but...it's understandable if some do. That said...I've found that a lot of the criticisms of this film are similar to the criticisms leveled at Carpenter's film back in 1982, including the complaint that this "wasn't necessary" to make. Some things never change, it seems....
Anonymous on Oct 17, 2011
Quote"This film matches flush with the 1982 film to the point that you could watch them one right after the other for one, continuous story.",NOT!! No thermite to expose the alien ship from the 1982 ver. & where did the leviathan that Kate drove to the space ship disappear to.Remember that from the end of the prequel to the start of the 1982 film, was presumably ? the same day.Kate ?? , I guess everyone didn't die................Can u say sequel. Dosman
Nobody on Oct 15, 2011
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