I hate remakes. Really I do. Yet I keep going to see them. Not all of them but still I see a lot. So as much as John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic. As much as it is one of the best horror films of the 80’s, and as much as I hated on the remake, where was I this weekend. Now there are a lot of ways to justify this. Carpenter’s 1982 classic was in itself a remake. The 2011 version of The Thing is technically not a remake but a prequel. The trailers looked good, the director tied it in directly to the original, etc., etc. Still I felt a little dirty sitting in the theater waiting for it to start.
Now story wise it is indeed a prequel, as it takes place in the Norwegian camp visited briefly in the original. Still a large part of the film is a shot for every other shot remake. SO prequel or remake, you make the call. After all as a wise man said “you can call a horse a monkey all day long, doesn’t mean it will be swinging from a tree the next time you see it.” I’m going to attempt to refer to it as a prequel but if I slip up and refer to The Thing as a remake, please forgive me. There will be spoilers so leave now if you want to avoid them.
I have heard both good and bad for The Thing, but most of my friends seem to like it so I was expecting at least a good movie. On that point The Thing (2011) did not disappoint.
The Thing opens in Antarctica on the Norwegian base as they discover what turns out to be an alien spaceship. Fans of the original The Thing know that this is the ship of the first films protagonist. Then we shift away from Antarctica to meet our story’s hero, Kate Llyod, played my Mary Elizabeth Winstead . Winstead is one of the highlights of The Thing. Just as tough and strong willed as McCready from the 81 version, but not as bitter or world weary. Lloyd accompanies a group of scientists back to help remove the alien from the ice.
On the base, as usually happens in good horror/sci-fi, greed overcomes good sense and the creature is freed. Violence, bloodshed, and body absorption occurs in rapid succession. Lloyd, like McCready in the 1982 The Thing, quickly realizes that not everyone on the base is who they seem. Attempts to test for the creature meet with sabotage, and people vanish. There is a flamethrower standoff, ala The Thing 1982 which culminates in a battle between the humans and the CGI Thing. Ultimately it ends up being a battle inside the alien spaceship, as Lloyd and Carter, played by Joel Edgerton, attempt to prevent The Thing from blasting off to warmer climes. This leads to a pre-credits ending that is probably the best part of the film. Then as the credits roll, we see a scene that directly ties in with the opening of the 1982 version of The Thing.
So on to the good and the bad. Let’s start with the opening, well not actually the opening but near the opening where we first meet Winstead’s character. It takes place off Antarctica. Right away we lose that feeling of claustrophobia that Carpenter cultivated throughout the original The Thing. In Carpenter’s The Thing, we never leave Antarctica and seldom leave the base. To the viewer the snow and wind are all that exist. The base is a claustrophobic sanctum against the elements. To go outside is to die of exposure, to stay inside is to die at the hands of The Thing. It’s a small thing but seeing the outside world, let me know it existed in the world of The Thing. I would have much preferred to have met Lloyd on the base. Have her fly in, see her torturous acclimation to the cold.
The cinematography of The Thing (2011) was absolutely beautiful. It would be a highlight of the film except the beauty once again takes away from that feeling of desperation in the first film. I think the director’s intention was to show “the call before the storm” and he did succeed in that but it detracts from the horror. Once again, there is beauty out there, there is hope. Try to find that same feeling of hope in Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s not there.
The CGI, the big bad wolf of modern horror, The Thing 2011 was pretty heavy with CGI, especially in the last half. It wasn’t horrible and there was probably no realistic way to show a walking talking Thing with practical effects. Blame the great practical effects that created the Thing’s corpse in the first film. Still the creature kind of looked silly and didn’t inspire and horror or terror while watching it. In the final confrontation inside the Thing’s spaceship, it looked more like a fairy tale troll than a murderous alien. The transformation scenes themselves were ok, but the camera just stayed on the monster way too long. It’s ok to show the monster but the longer you linger, the easier it is to see the zipper.
There were some silly little things that bother me in film, there always are. Scenes like Lars sudden disappearance, only to reappear unhurt at the end. Made for a great tie in with the first, but WTF? He just suddenly jumped to the side as if he had been grabbed, then hides through all the mayhem till the end. Also what is up with the Thing’s spaceship? It’s huge, as befits a huge ass alien critter, yet all of the hallways appear to be built to the scale of Kate Moss. Sure the creature can morph but it appears to favor big ass bodies so why not have a ship where he doesn’t have to bend over and squeeze through if he needs to chase someone. Then there was the scene where it waits for Winstead to step out into the hallway before attacking. Even though it knows where she is. And when it attacks it breaks through the wall of the ship instead of just grabbing her in the tunnel. I guess it was tired of forcing itself through those tiny tunnels. There is another scene that irked me but it is a pretty major spoiler so I won’t go into it. It sets up a situation that is probably the best scene in the movie, so while I don’t totally buy it, it is worth it for the payoff.
There are a few transformation scenes that seem almost duplicates from the first film. There is also the flamethrower standoff which is taken almost directly from the 1982 The Thing. You decide homage, or rip off. I groaned during the transformation, and at the beginning of the standoff, although the ending sort of redeemed it for me
I’m sure at this point a lot of you are saying “Jesus Christ dude, nitpick it to death” or wondering why I am not demanding my money back. Well it’s because I liked it. Yeah I said it, I liked it. It will never be the classic that Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece will be but The Thing 2011 is a good movie. So why did I like it?
First off Mary Elizabeth WInstead, as Kate Lloyd was one of the most impressive and well written female characters in a recent horror film. Lloyd was smart, tough, and when it came down to it downright brutal. As beautiful as she was to look at, you never saw her behave as a typical female movie character. While she showed some sympathy toward the suspected alien inhabited American’s she was resolute in her decision to isolate them. She would quickly turn that flame thrower on anyone infected. To me she was every bit as strong a hero as McCready, but not as anti-social.
The final scene that ties in The Thing 2011 with the 1982 The Thing is Brilliant! So many films don’t even try to connect, or if they do they create ludicrous situations. This took the ending straight from the first, and added an intro. It worked to perfection.
The scenery and cinematography were beautiful as I mentioned above, but also took away from that feeling of being cut off, of desperation.
The best scene of the movie, for me, was the pre-credit ending. I’ll try not to completely spoil it, but it was wonderful. That last confrontation was so well acted and written that I wasn’t sure which way it was going to play out. I knew something was up, but I wasn’t sure how it would end. Then the final scene with Winstead, look at her face. It’s filled with desperation, fear, and possibly uncertainty. Is she wondering if she just made a huge mistake? She knows she is more than likely going to freeze to death. So many emotions were on her face, unlike in the typical horror film hero’s face, unlike the typical jubilant heroes of most film.
Edgerton’s role in the final scene was also well done and acted. Never once did he break and give us a clue as to his true nature. Was he human, or was he The Thing? Did we hear the Thing screaming or was that Carter? The director makes it just ambiguous to make me a bit uneasy. It was stated in The Thing 1982, that if someone were a perfect copy, would even they know they weren’t human? If that’s true do we really know who the Thing was at the end. If it was anyone at all, was it all paranoia? We will hopefully never know.
So yeah I liked The Thing 2011, the remake, err, prequel, whatever. It’s a good movie, not great, but it has some great scenes. It’s not perfect, but it has some damn near perfect scenes. The acting is strong throughout. There are some characters we grow attached to and then see die horribly. It’s not great, but (heresy!) it’s worth the cost of a ticket, and hell even popcorn, but sneak in your own cola.