“This thing doesn’t want to show itself. It wants to hide inside a cheap imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open.” – McCready (Kurt Russell – The Thing, 1982)
The quote above is taken from John Carpenter’s The Thing, itself a remake of Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World (1951). And while I enjoyed the latter despite it’s hokeyness and tenuous grasp of both the point and potential of its source material–the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell–the former is my favorite horror movie of all time, bar none. I watch it at least once a year, more if I encounter some poor soul who hasn’t yet seen it and happens to mention that fact in my house. Critically reviled upon its release, John Carpenter’s The Thing has since become a cult classic, and deservedly so. It features a superb isolated setting, excellent direction, a top-notch cast, stunning special effects, and a simple yet effective script which pits a bunch of men who have chosen isolation for reasons unknown (but which we assume to be dubious) against a monstrous, shape-shifting alien creature who can imitate anything and does so perfectly, leaving our addled heroes unsure of who to trust. Once the nature of the alien is uncovered, the finger-pointing begins, means of salvation are sabotaged by persons unknown, and the violence escalates, while the alien hides inside one or more of them, revealing itself only when cornered. The Thing, is nothing less than a masterpiece.
When I initially heard of the 2011 version, I was understandably dubious, and assumed it to be a remake, which I felt unnecessary (as so many are.) But I was willing to give it a shot, and felt a little more positive about it when (a) it was announced that the movie would not be a remake, but a prequel, documenting what became of the Norwegians from the start of the first film, and (b) the producers were big fans of the original, and were doing everything in their power to ensure it both respected John Carpenter’s version, while simultaneously adding something fresh and new to the mythology.
Unfortunately, (a) turned out to be a lie, as all the best parts of the 1982 film and a substantial amount of the dialogue are rehashed here, only less effectively, and (b) it does respect John Carpenter’s film, so much so that it never veers far enough away from that film to create its own. There is nothing much new here, no signature, and what attempts are made to do something different fall flat. The script is basic and full of plot holes, the acting serviceable (to be fair, I blame the script here and not the actors–they had little to work with), and the special effects…well, when your CG visuals look worse than the practical effects of a film made almost thirty years ago, it may be time to reevaluate your formula.
The biggest problem with the film is that I found myself not caring about a single character–even now, two hours after watching it, I can’t remember a single one of their names) whereas I found myself rooting for each and every one of the doomed men of Outpost 31 in Carpenter’s version. In the 2011 film, I just wanted to see which one of them was the titular entity, and how it would reveal itself.
And therein lies yet another problem. Reread the quote at the beginning of this review. It describes the nature of the alien entity. It wants to hide, and will not come out unless forced to. It’s scared, out of its element, and alone. To the thing, we are the monsters. In order to survive, it needs to protect itself, not an unreasonable reaction. Thus, it generates mistrust between men who have chosen to live with each other rather than face society. They themselves are hiding away, and when the monster invades, they have nowhere left to run. They turn on each other, and this is what the thing wants. In the new version, it comes out arbitrarily, whether threatened or not and wreaks havoc no matter who happens to be watching. People we hardly know and therefore have no attachment to, run from one encounter to the other, or succumb to the monster in the quick-edit style so prevalent in films today. You’ll be hard-pressed to remember the details of one character’s death before another is biting it. And in-between the action, you have our leading lady reminding everyone for the umpteenth time what the alien is and what it does. Because the people she’s holed up with (and we, the audience), are idiots, apparently.
It’s not all rainy skies, however. Despite my complaints, the atmosphere was great, and I enjoyed some of the scenes that existed solely to create some continuity between the two films (hint: fireaxe). And even though the CGI was, for the greater part, lackluster, some of the creature designs were quite enjoyable and the transformations well done. And the music, lifted straight from Carpenter’s film, works well here, even if it doesn’t have the requisite amount of tension to amplify.
More character development, less CGI, a more original story, and this could have been a winning prologue. But it isn’t, and the ending is, unsurprisingly, a letdown.
In summation, the biggest problem you’ll face if you go to see The Thing, is that you’ve already seen it before.
All of which leads me to believe that not only did the creators of the new version miss the point of the paranoid dynamic between the men in the 1982 film, it missed the point of the creature, the star of the show. And when you fail to understand all the things that made a movie great in the first place, what does that make your version but a cheap imitation?