THE THING Review

by     Posted 3 years, 17 days ago

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The Thing is a horrifying and intelligent creature with purpose.  Sadly, the same cannot be said of its new movie.  Much like the horrifying hybrids its eponymous alien becomes, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing doesn’t know what it wants to be.  Officially, the film is a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic horror film of the same name.  However, by copying certain elements of the original’s plot* and pacing, the new film is torn between how much it should emulate and how much it should invent.

Carpenter’s film begins with a dog running towards an American science base in Antarctica.  A Norweigan helicopter is trying to gun the dog down, but it fails to do so, the dog makes it into the camp, and the Norweigans are killed before they have a chance to warn the Americans.  The new film shows us what happened at the Norweigan camp and tries to explain the horrors and gigantic spaceship MacReady (Kurt Russell) found at their base.  The Norweigans, with the help of paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), unearthed an alien they believed was dead but was actually in stasis and waiting for new hosts.  The alien’s M.O. is to infect its prey, imitate their host perfectly, and wait for the right moment to burst into a phantasmagorical nightmare and devour its next victim.  Once Lloyd discovers this pattern, it creates deep-seated paranoia among the survivors.

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Heijningen and screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s greatest accomplishment is how desperately they don’t want to lift anything wholesale from the original.  Lloyd is the one who knows what’s going on, but she’s not MacCready with boobs.  There’s a repeat of the scene where every member of the camp is tested to see if they’re the creature, but Lloyd makes her evaluations based on science rather than intuition.  Winstead does a terrific job with the character and once again shows she has a knack for playing a bad-ass.

However, in trying to create a separate beast, the new Thing loses what makes the premise so intense.  The original movie has some horrific moments, but on repeat viewings, it’s really more of a mystery.  We’re tense not just because the monster could pop out and go “Boo!”, but because we have access to clues that help us decipher where the monster could be next.  Heijningen and Heisserer decide to play up the action sci-fi elements of the story, which drains the film of terror other than its jump scares.

More damning is the heavy reliance on CGI effects.  Perhaps Heijningen thought it wasn’t worth trying to outdo the incredible practical effects from Carpenter’s film (effects which still hold up today) and thought that using CG would help his pre-make stand apart.  But almost all of the transformations in the new movie could have been done and should have been done practically.  What makes the creature horrific is that it organically rips apart a human being.  It’s an organism and that biological aspect is removed when coated in the nice sheen of computer effects.  There’s no grit, no grime, and it’s a further reminder that this is a prequel that would rather not sit in the shadow of the original.

It’s an understandable decision, but Heijningen and Heisserer constantly miss the smart opportunities to call back to the original while still setting their movie apart.  Carpenter’s The Thing fills its cast with one-dimensional characters who probably never liked each other very much to begin with.  However, it allows us to project ourselves onto their situation and experience the terror vicariously.  There’s far more camaraderie at the Norwegian camp, but the new Thing doesn’t grow these relationships and seize the horror and despair of the subtext that nobody truly knows anyone.  This approach would also allow the filmmakers an opportunity to add new facets to the creature such as the limitations of imitating personality and memories.  Instead, we get too many characters, hardly any time to care about any of them, and we’re stuck with a lesser version of Carpenter’s movie.

And if Heijningen couldn’t escape Carpenter, he should have imitated him.  It would be a risky move, but the concept at work is that this is the first half of one long movie (which is why they have the same title).  Heijningen has no problem briefly using Ennio Morricone’s terrific score, but then he gets composer Marco Beltrami to devise something new and heavy-handed.  Additionally, shooting on digital rather than film removes the texture and more importantly, the organic feel, of the movie.  Once again, Heijningen and Heisserer seem more enchanted by the sci-fi angle of the story rather than the horror, and they come up short on both.

This time around the alien goes for a more direct and less interesting approach to its victims, the paranoia and cynical themes are exchanged for jump scares and action scenes, and the third act is devoid of tension as we’re taken to a place we could not care less about.  However, some smart ideas manage to sneak through.  Kate Lloyd is a solid protagonist, there’s room for a new but equally terrifying and cynical subtext, and the opportunity to make the story feel like half of a larger narrative rather than making ties to the original an afterthought (half of the explanations come during the credits).  Unfortunately, at every turn, The Thing makes the wrong decision, fails both as a prequel and as a remake, and the result is a pointless and poor imitation.

Rating: C-

*Yes, I know that Carpenter’s film was based on The Thing from Another World and that in turn was an adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story “Who Goes There?”

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  • M&M

    I don’t think anyone really expected this to be a good movie.

    Another pointless prequel, reboot, rehash…whatever.

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  • HelghastUser

    Good ‘ol Matt Goldberg. I wonder if he ever reads the comments section of his posts?. Anyways, pretty good read if i do say so myself. As ‘M&M’ stated, I don’t recall reading or hearing much enthusiasm for this film, just some . I’ll wait for Red box and thats still up in the air. The CG killed my interest…..

    • Jackie Diane

      He does and responds – if properly inspired, ain’t that right, Matty?
      Helghastuser, what is your beef with this cynical word-monger? I find his scathingly negative reviews of “big budget” and adored slobberings over mediocre indie film fare dreary but find myself drawn to read them, looking for any good angle in which to twist a knife between his exposed ribs.
      Matt: Didn’t you do the article with the director a few days back? Everything you complain he didn’t do in this movie is everything the director specifically stated was the wrong approach to the material. Why would a big budget attempt at a cash grab be anything less than a shadow of the original (which as you state was a remake of a remake of a book)? Sometimes, I wonder if you even like movies at all or if you are the type of intellectual film snob I pegged you for, last conversation.
      Furthermore, Susan, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find that all FOUR of them habitually smoked mari-JUANA cigarettes…

  • jetblac

    So does this mean I should rip the movie poster off of my wall?
    I’ll be there tomorrow at 11am already made plans…I really was hoping. Oh well, it is not like the could have beaten Carpenter’s vision anyway.

  • rickytariq

    No u should definitely not tear tht poster off of ur wall, this movie was literally one of the most acuurate prequels to the original of a movie ive ever seen. John Carpenter’s “The Thing” begins with the husky which is really the alien running away from norwegians. The new “The Thing” ends with tht also, everything worked out perfectly, and not only tht, but the movie gave me chills at times. The alien could pop out at any second and attack, and it did it well. The pop ups were better than any crappy paranormal activity movie. This is a must watch movie, it deserves a B+.

  • brandon

    Wow! A well written review by Matt Goldberg? I had to scroll up at the end to double check if it was him.

  • Andrew Sanders

    The less than enthusiastic review’s not gonna put me off catching it(at the flicks)either!

  • Chuck

    I actually believe the movie is alot better than you give it credit for. Is it as great as Carpenters film- of course not but as a prequel it is respectable. It has a few really good set pieces and feels somewhat like the 82 version without as many good actors. Although there a handful of solid actors here. If taken as a very watchable B movie this Thing will give viewers there monies worth. It is in no way a bad movie or one that should be avoided. I can see many a fan watching this and then Carpenters back to back on blu ray and getting something out of the complete experience. I enjoyed it. Great -No. A good watch-yes

  • TS

    HUGE fan of the original… I dare say obsessive. Saw the new movie last night. LOVED IT! Critics be damned; they didn’t like the 1982 Carpenter film much either, remember? Fans of the Carpenter flick go forth and enjoy. Perfect tie in to Carpenter’s vision.

  • jetblac

    Okay, I’m back. Read this review last night, and almost changed my mind on going this afternoon. Guess what? The Things was freaking awesome!!!!! I don’t know if this guy even saw the original, but this movie was On Point. They could not have done a better job. It was more than I expected and everything that it should have been. This movie is a testament to the original. A prequel in very meaning of the word. You can watch these movies back to back and it would not skip a beat. I cannot recommend this movie enough for any fan of Carpenter’s version; or those who did not see it at all. I wish this review could disappear off the face of the planet, because he does not know what he is talking about, as far as me and my sister are concerned. We have watched The Thing a hundred times, at least. I saw it 20 times the summer it came out. Like I said, If you saw the original, you owe yourself to see this in the theater.

    Awesome I tell you!

  • Rhizomeman

    I agree with Chuck. Matt, your review made some good points but the movie is better than your rating shows. I’d give it a B+. The whole nationalistic paranoia – the Norwegians vs the Americans – that is used is pretty cool and it is a well made film with good acting all around.

    I agree, however, that the mystery element should have been played up. I love in the carpenter movie how the camera winds around corners and hallways so the audience can see hints of who might be the alien.

  • Reggie

    Saw the flick Friday at noon before heading off to work. I gotta say that I liked it too just not as much as the 82 version. I really believe that the film does a pretty good job of telling the backstory and making it interesting. Huge fan of Carpenter’s version but this was’nt bad at all to me it just was’nt great like JC’s. Worth a viewing if you dug the 82 version though.

  • KHWADI

    I agree this movie wasn’t bad at all, Not perfect but it’s watchable.

  • Dave Trumbore

    Saw the new “The Thing” with some other fans of the original. We ended up discussing both ad nauseum for at least an hour after it was over. Some other people in the theater were incredibly excited when they finally realized that this was, in fact, a prequel and not a reboot, as they had just watched the original. In other words, it’s a damn fun movie.

    If nothing else, this is worth a watch for Winstead’s performance. I’d have to compare her character to Ripley in the “Alien” series (and to a lesser extent, Jovovich in the first “Resident Evil” and maybe Beckinsale in the first “Underworld). Rarely do we find a smart, strong and capable female lead in a sci-fi/horror film that doesn’t rely on a male hero to save the day. 2011′s “The Thing” does quite the opposite and it’s very refreshing; Winstead nails it.

    An A+ performance in a B movie, so I give it a B+ rating.

  • aquarius1271

    How strange its is that a great prequel to an incredibly underappreciated film of yesteryear experiences the exact same fate as its predecessor. History definitely repeats itself and critics never cease to be pre-judgmental even after 30 years.

    My recommendation to anyone interested in this film: Do not listen to critics. This film is wonderful and a worthy companion to a classic sci-fi horros film. I am deeply thankful to everyone concerned with this production. Although a huge fan of the original and having watched it countless times, I was still incredibly creeped out throughout the new film. The sense of paranoa adn despair was right there again. Oh and that cavity inspection scene. I am a bit ashamed to admit that only for the first time in as many years, I had to look from between my fingers while watching a horror movie and this must be telling. (The other recent film that made me do that was Insidious.) And the finale actually moved me emotionally. It was tied so beautifully and effortlessly to the original film. Pure cinematic joy..

    My grade: a definite A-

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