Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by: Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell Jr. (short story “Who Goes There?)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ulrich Thomsen, Joel Edgerton
While I was watching The Thing, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the movie wasn’t working for me. It looks slick and the special effects are top notch, but ultimately I felt complete indifference toward the movie. It has no personality, and it’s painfully bland. Bigger and louder do not equate to a superior product. As soon as I got home from my screening, I sat down and watched John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) to ascertain why that film still works, and this prequel doesn’t. It’s not a good film, it’s not a bad one, it’s just mediocre.
Technically this is a prequel to Carpenter’s movie. If you recall, a research group in Antarctica discovers that a Norwegian research team and their facilities have been compromised; all that remains are some charred bodies. Soon MacReady (Kurt Russell) and company find out that there is a shape-shifting alien in their midst, capable of imitating any life form. The 2011 prequel tells the story of how the alien was discovered, and what happened to that Norwegian team.
I’ll admit that it was a lot of fun watching Carpenter’s film after viewing the prequel. It is apparent that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is a big fan of Carpenter’s version, and great attention to detail was taken to explain how a body or object ended up in a particular position or place. There is also a great scene during the closing credits that leads right up to where The Thing (1982) picks up.
However, the prequel suffers greatly from the typical Hollywood treatment: more, more, more! More blood, more creature, more spaceship, more noise. An obligatory female or two has been added to the cast as well. I’m not one to complain about a strong female protagonist, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead lacks the charisma to pull off the feat convincingly. She doesn’t show a lot of range, and I felt like I was watching Winstead trying to imitate Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the Alien franchise instead of owning the role herself. She’s too methodical – you need an unpredictable loose cannon in the role for it to succeed. That’s why Russell was so good as MacReady; you never knew what he was going to do.
The rest of the characters are utterly forgettable and interchangeable. You never have time to get to know any of them, so there is no sense of loss when one of them meets their demise. The movie plays like a slasher film, picking off the characters one by one. A truly ludicrous test for determining if a crew member is human or not involves Winstead peeking in everyone’s mouth to see if they have amalgam fillings. Lame. I’ll take the sizzling blood test from Carpenter’s version any day.
The atmosphere has been altered drastically; Carpenter’s film was dark and dingy. Constant howling wind in the background made you feel cold and the minimalist score filled the movie with dread. This bright and shiny version seems almost cheerful by comparison. The sci-fi element eventually takes over the monster element, and a long ending sequence takes place around the giant spaceship. It’s safe to say that this is a sci-fi movie with monster elements, while Carpenter’s version was a monster movie with sci-fi elements.
I’m curious how younger audience members will respond to the movie, particularly if they haven’t seen the 1982 version. Will they be captivated by all the special effects? Van Heijningen has touted the fact that he used a hybrid of CGI and practical effects, but it sure seemed skewed toward the CGI. The Thing has lost its soul. — Shannon