Thing, The (2011)

The Thing (2011)

It’s not human. Yet.

A Norwegian scientific team discovers a strange life form frozen in ice in Antarctica and calls in expert palaeontologist Kate Lloyd to join them in their investigation. But when they bring the creature back to their base, it doesn’t stay frozen for long and begins killing and assuming the form of members of the team.


John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favourite films, firmly taking the position of my favourite horror film by a long stretch, and has been since I first saw it at a tender age (my dad would vet certain films for me when I was a child, knowing how much I loved monsters and aliens and not being scared by splatter). Originally a critical and commercial failure due to its unfortunate cinematic release coinciding with the much friendlier alien film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, it was only on home video that The Thing gradually begun to garner a rabid cult following and over the years, critics have not only softened their stance on it but in turn recognised it to be one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of all time. Attempts to get a sequel off the ground both with and without John Carpenter’s involvement stalled over the years. So it was with great trepidation that I heard the news that a prequel was to be given the green light. In this day and age of sequels, prequels, remakes, re-imaginings and the like, it was only a matter of time I guess. Promising to faithfully stick to the original’s isolation, paranoia and tension, as well as a core focus on practical make-up effects, I slowly began to be won over by the thought that The Thing may not turn out to be that bad overall.

Let’s just say that after I saw it in the cinema back in 2011, you could have cooked bacon on my cheeks such was my rage at how appalling it had turned out. But in the interests of fairness and not a knee-jerk reaction, I promised myself that I would put some time between watching The Thing and writing a review for it, such was my loathing and sheer disgust at the time. So here we are, a year and half later, and after re-watching it on blu-ray, the rage has cooled down and the negativity, whilst still prevalent, has been toned down.

Truth be told in hindsight, The Thing isn’t that bad….it’s just that I, and many others, were expecting a lot more. Having thirty years in between films should have given Universal enough time to do the original some justice. In dressing itself up as a prequel, The Thing feebly tries to hide the fact that it’s a shameless remake. Almost all of the major set pieces from the original are recreated in lesser form including a scene with a test which the scientists develop to determine who is human and who isn’t. Characters get trapped outside in the snow when others think they have turned. Other characters sabotage communications and vehicles so that the creature can’t escape.

Lazily casting Americans in the pivotal roles in a Norwegian research station smacks of pandering to Western audiences, with the token bearded Nordic cast being relegated to little more than alien fodder. In doing this, The Thing eliminates any possibilities for paranoia or tension as we know the more famous actors will survive. Whereas the original crafted its story around a series of character actors who, Kurt Russell aside given that he was the lead, could all have been killed off or survive in equal measure to keep the suspense and tension going right until the end, this one runs more like your typical modern horror film which is as predictable as it is dull as know who will live and die (hint – the characters who don’t say anything or speak Norwegian will have seriously shorter life spans than those who speak fluent English). The problem here is that we don’t really get to know any of the characters except for Kate, Carter and Dr Sander and so when they are killed off, there’s no emotional attachment. Who cares if that bearded guy who hasn’t said anything is killed off?

The Thing attempts to compensate for the lack of character development by featuring more alien attacks and transformations and getting to them a lot quicker. The original was a bit of a slow burner but here we can see the demands of modern audiences, spoon fed on a diet of instant Michael Bay films, being pandered to with the creature being unleashed very early on. We see a lot more of it too, which isn’t a good thing. Though the pre-release media releases promised old school special effects, what we actually get are a load of sloppy CGI monsters – the bulk of the practical make-up effects were removed or CGI’d over after test screenings failed to be impressed (no doubt these screenings were made up of teenagers who would laugh at the original if they ever saw it). Youtube footage of the various practical models in action in the warehouse looks awesome and it’s a real shame that the decision to replace them was taken. In removing this, The Thing strips away a lot of its heart and soul. These CGI cartoon monsters are soulless, lack any believability and would have been better served in a computer game version. Not only this but the way in which these CGI monsters move is totally at odds with the appearance of the creature in the original film, which is slow, stealthy and methodical in its approach, not lightning fast and happy to reveal itself at the first opportunity.

I’ll give the writers big credit for attempting to craft an entire film based around a couple of moments from the original which hinted as to what happened in the Norwegian camp. These hints are faithfully recreated here so you find out what happened to lead up to them, from the frozen corpse who has slit his throat to an axe lodged in a door and a hideously deformed body burning in the snow. On many occasions, it was arguably better to remain in the dark and use your imagination as to what happened than see it all played out – they certainly don’t detract from any subsequent re-watches of the original, yet don’t provide the satisfactory resolution that one would have expected. The look of the two films, save for the CGI special effects, also seems to work well with each other. You would believe that the two films exist in the same universe which was the intent.

But The Thing fails to convince you that it is worthy of holding a candle to the original. Taking Carpenter’s classic out of the equation and The Thing still wouldn’t work. There is virtually no character development, the special effects are poor and there’s a genuine lack of scares, tension or atmosphere. There’s nothing to grab the attention of the audience. There are no scenes which really stand out. It’s just another reasonably budgeted modern monster movie, only this time it comes with a legacy which it fails to live up to. Lest we forget that Carpenter’s film was also a remake.


Like the majority of the recent remakes/sequels/prequels, The Thing rehashes the same story and set pieces from its master copy yet fails to better an infinitely superior film. Like the alien being itself, The Thing is a shallow imitation of the original and whilst it’s not a bad film on its own merits, the overpowering sense of ‘why bother’ will be constantly in the forefront of your mind. This leaves no lasting impression, other than the fact you’d be better off watching the original again.





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