Nearly everything you need to know about “The Thing” is right there in the title. The film is technically a prequel that leads directly up to the events in John Carpenter’s 1982 version of “The Thing,” but it feels more like a mediocre, creatively bankrupt remake. They couldn’t even think of a new title. And like the creature of the title, it poorly imitates its source material before falling apart into an ugly mess.
In this premake, we get to find out what happened to the other group of scientists who originally discovered the alien in John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” After a group of Norwegian scientists finds both the alien and its spaceship buried in Antartica, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all the way from America to provide her expertise. The only help she provides before trouble starts is telling them it should take about half a day to cut the alien out of the ice, something they could have figured out by, I don’t know, cutting the alien out of the ice. And that’s just the first in a long series of plot holes, half baked ideas, and other stuff that doesn’t make much sense.
For instance, at one point the thing gets on a helicopter ride back to civilization but for some reason decides to expose itself while the helicopter is still taking off. If it’s smart enough to pilot a spaceship, why would it do that? Come to think of it, since the spaceship is (spoilers!) still functional, why doesn’t it just try to escape Earth as soon as it thaws? In another scene ripped from John Carpenter’s superior film, they attempt to do a blood test, but the thing burns down the lab. So in this version they replace the blood test with Kate pointing a flashlight into other scientists’ mouths looking for fillings, because the thing can’t imitate inorganic matter. Not only is the test flawed enough that the movie points it out, but the newly introduced theory makes me wonder how its imitations wear the victims’ clothes. Part of the problem is that the thing’s intelligence and abilities are poorly defined in both films.
Then again, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” isn’t revered for brilliant plotting. The film is about paranoia and amazing gross-out effects, and it’s here where fans will be most disappointed. The tension created by characters who can’t trust each other because any of them could be the thing is equaled in this premake, but an opportunity to up the ante is missed, especially considering there is a language barrier between them. The film could have capitalized on half of the scientists speaking Norwegian and the other half speaking English; instead, we’re left with a dimwitted scene where Kate searches for fillings in her peers’ teeth. And, of course, the biggest sin is committed in the effects department.
Most people I know prefer practical special effects over the CGI of today. The combined artistry of makeup, puppets, and buckets of blood tends to be more convincing and textured than the most advanced effects computers can currently produce, despite Hollywood’s insistence on the latter. Nowhere is the reliance on CGI more offensive than in “The Thing,” even though it feels like director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. wanted to honor the classic. There are practical effects, but they are nowhere near as abundant as the serviceable CGI. This should come as no surprise considering current trends in film, but it’s more egregious here because John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is remembered for its amazing special effects. Bottom line, there is no excuse for the effects in this version of “The Thing” to look worse than its inspiration, which is nearly 30 years old.
So what’s the point? The film is watchable, but so are most films, and that doesn’t mean they’re worth watching. Since so much of the film is an inferior retread of the 1982 classic masquerading as a prequel, you’re better off watching John Carpenter’s version. With a creature as flexible as the thing, there was an opportunity to go wild with the franchise, but the film lacks any new ideas and instead sticks too closely to the original while simultaneously discarding what made it great. Again, what’s the point?
2 out of 5 stars