When is a remake not really a remake? It isn't quite clear what The Thing is. Like the alien, which isn't human but can mimic every aspect of the people it consumes, the movie is technically and literally a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 classic, but it shares the same time title, plotting and setting. It is, in essence, a remake that was smart enough not to be a remake.
John Carpenter's The Thing is one of the best horror movies ever made. Even 30 years later it stands the test of time. The special effects are vintage 80's, but they still benefit the production. Kurt Russell is great, the tone is perfect and the alien gruesome, horrifying and creative.
Needless to say, when it was announced that someone - anyone - was going to remake a perfectly good movie that is still as freaky as hell, I was not pleased.
Thankfully, the filmmakers played it smart. By making the movie a prequel - even though it's obvious they wanted to just remake the original (which in turn is a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World) - they managed to embrace what made John Carpenter's version so great without overtly pissing off the fan boys.
As a result, fans of the Carpenter movie should find plenty to enjoy with this new version - even it brings little new to the table and is a clear cash grab.
Set at a Norwegian research outpost in the arctic, this new iteration of The Thing follows an American scientist named Kate (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who learns that her Nordic counterparts have discovered a massive spacecraft - and its pilot. They bring it back to the base. And people die. Not pleasantly.
Thankfully, first-time theatrical director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. doesn't screw it up. Hollywood tends to be inclined to give remakes and reboots to cheap, no-name directors because they're cheap, not necessarily because he or she is the right person for the job. Not in this case. Heijningen develops - and maintains - a strong sense of dread and suspense throughout the story. The Thing is scary and exciting, and that alone makes the picture worth it.
The actors do a pretty good job, the monster looks okay and the filmmakers resist the urge to reproduce each scene verbatim. All in all, this new Thing stands on its own as a prequel, even if it's utterly unoriginal.
As entertaining as this new movie is, it can't escape the fact that it is a retread of old - and still perfectly good - material. The movie follows the same path of the original pretty much every step of the way, just with tweaks so that the characters' actions aren't complete copies of what occured in 1982. The problem is that everything that happened in the John Carpenter film was spot-on; the variations presented in the 2011 film just don't compare. It's like trying to copy the perfectly written sentence and modifying it to make it your own for a high school research paper; it'll be workable, but not as good.
As expected, the 2011 movie is a little cleaner, a little glossier and a little less raw than the John Carpenter version. Winstead, while a fine protagonist, is no Kurt Russell. Most noticeably, the CGI special effects simply lack the silly grotesqueness of the original; the movie is still gory, the effects decent, but they're clearly computerized. And less creative.
2011's The Thing pales in comparison to the John Carpenter for a variety of reasons. Blame the special effects. The lead actor. The director. The nostalgia factor. It's not as good, and in that sense it doesn't serve much purpose. But as its own movie, The Thing fun, entertaining and suspenseful. At the very least, since it sets itself up as a direct prequel, it will encourage a whole new generation of horror fans to watch the John Carpenter movie.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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