Theatrical Review: The Thing
It’s winter of 1982 and our location is Antarctica. A Norwegian scientific research team has made an amazing discovery below the ice; a spaceship and it’s inhabitant, completely frozen in ice. Top scientist Sandor Halvorsen is called in for the discovery and convinces a highly promising paleontologist, Kate Lloyd, to come with him. Once back at Antarctica, they are truly amazed at the discovery in front of them, until it comes back to life…
The Thing is a direct prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982, which in itself was a remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World made in 1951. John Carpenter was fortunate for the time when he made his version; he didn’t have to deal with eye-rolling fans ready to slam him on the internet for re-making a classic film and of course then proclaiming proudly that “Hollywood has run out of ideas.” That of course isn’t true for director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. who’s making his feature debut with this version of The Thing. Fortunately van Heijningen has some able assistance here thanks to production company Strike Entertainment (the producers behind Zack Snyder’s re-make of Dawn of the Dead) and a script from Eric Heisserer who has previously written another fun prequel story this year with Final Destination 5. Even with that sort of backing, this version isn’t as entirely successful as Carpenter’s version, but I think that’s more because of an over-familiarity with Carpenter’s movie and of course the extremely high pedestal it’s been placed on (and deserved to, it is a terrific film).
Basically, you generally know in advance what you’re in for here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you play around with it a bit and they do here, but not quite to the extent that I would’ve liked to have seen them do. There are a few nice twists to what the Thing itself does and we even get to get up close with it’s spacecraft. Though the visual effects aren’t the practical on-set style that Rob Bottin did in 1982, they still look consistent with what Bottin did. To me, that was admirable as they could’ve been glossed up quite a bit but this actually does try to stay consistent with the 1982 film.
Where this really falls short is with it’s characters. Now I’m certainly willing to grant them the fact that not everyone is going to be as exciting the cast that Carpenter assembled. I’ll also grant them the fact that this is a Norwegian expedition and so they just may not be given to the same histrionics that you got from the American team in Carpenter’s film. Actually, I’d be OK with this if the approach taken with them might’ve been more of a salute to what was in the Hawks film, using a snappier pace and more rapid-fire dialogue, which certainly would’ve stood out. I’ve read how Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance as Kate has been compared to what Sigourney Weaver did as Ripley in the first Alien film. To me, the only similarity is that both are women character’s who’ve had to step up to a difficult situation and that’s it. Weaver’s Ripley, Even in the original film, is a much more lived-in character and that doesn’t quite feel the same with Winstead’s Kate. Now I don’t necessarily hold this against Winstead, it’s more in the script and maybe just not quite knowing how to make this group as distinctive as they could be.
There are some nice character moments though but they come from the Norwegians. Ulrich Thomsen plays Sandor Halvorsen and you pretty much know he’s going to be uptight from the start and pretty much cements that when He tells Kate at one point that her job there isn’t to think but to do what he tells her to do. Another moment involves figuring out who is who once the shapeshifting alien has revealed itself. They actually come up with a novel way to do that here that doesn’t duplicate what Carpenter did and yet it still has the same sort of tension. But as this process is going on, there’s moments where the Norwegians are wanting to turn on the Americans with them and actually make that sort of nationalism as part of the point. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not overwhelming, but both of these moments at least try to start a little bit of fire with these characters and I at least give it some points for that.
What really saves the whole thing in the end is the ending. At first, you do get a feeling that they’re going to change some things up here and not be as exact a prequel as it could be, and that was starting to bother me a bit. But, once the end credits started to roll, it was firmly cemented that this was indeed an exact prequel to Carpenter’s film. This, to me, also helps the fact that the characters just aren’t as exciting as what they were in Carpenter’s film- I mean every Antarctica outpost can’t be filled with the same character types, right? Basically it just makes it more palatable in the end and makes this version a fairly worthy companion to John Carpenter’s film. I would certainly like to see this again at some point down the road, but in such a way where I’m watching this first and then watching Carpenter’s film afterwards. I do think director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is doing a lot here to maintain visual consistency with Carpenter’s original and I think a later viewing with both back-to-back could be a lot more fulfilling for this prequel.