The Thing Lives On

Movie review: The Thing (2011)
Summary: A research team in Antarctica uncovers a hellish creature buried beneath the ice.
Spoilers: none

In 1982, the world was introduced to John Carpenter’s The Thing. It appeared at or near the tops of “most terrifying” movie lists of media outlets and movie buffs. This was after initially being panned and called an inferior knock-off of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, although the film has enjoyed its share of swelling praise in more recent times.

You may not have seen either of the previous movies, but that won’t
matter for the 2011 prequel, which can be viewed before watching or re-watching Carpenter’s as it perfectly accommodates events to follow.

Despite what you may have heard, this is not a remake, even though viewers might start to feel manipulated when they find that the 2011 version has been given a lot of features that seem to mimic what we saw in John Carpenter’s. But thanks to the hype, people go in looking to compare the two.

It isn’t hard to guess a producer’s reasoning behind a 2011 Thing revamped; Let the original stand, but to win over a new generation, give the film an almost identical plot. You get the best of both worlds in a prequel. And depending on how you look at it, someone might be playing head-games with us, but this was a successful workaround to the “remake” problem whether we like it or not.

If you are coming into this fresh, The Thing is about an alien life-form that has been on earth for many thousands of years, stranded on Antarctica. This alien creature has the ability to perfectly replicate on a cellular level any life-form it comes in contact with. It survives by doing so without detection.

When a Norwegian-American research team begins exploration, they find this specimen encased in a block of ice. When the decision is made by expedition leader “Dr. Sander Halvorson” (Ulrich Thomsen) to collect a sample without decontamination protocols in place, paleontologist “Kate Lloyd” (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) objects. Lloyd is the paleontologist who has been recruited to lend her expertise and happens to be the only character in the movie that works to save it from collapse. In an array of lifeless stand-ins, Winstead stands out.

It’s not that we don’t want to care about the other characters. It’s that we never get to know much about them, and as such, they are little more than placeholders for people to become victims of terror. When the creature is found to still retain cellular activity as it is thawed, it isn’t long before the crew discovers its ability to become its host perfectly—this realization comes right at the same time of learning they can’t identify for certain who is who.

Like its early-80s predecessor, The Thing is wrenchingly terrifying. It will bring almost as many “goose bumps” as we got from Carpenter’s work – minus a nerve-rattling ending – but this with the added tweak of even better special affects. Victims are conscious as they are consumed. Contorted into a predatory mass of alien flesh, their eyes blink in utter helplessness as they stare off at soon-to-be victims.

There is no superstar cast here, which lets us focus more on the roles they play. Kurt Russell’s matter-of-fact charisma in the previous film is replaced with Winstead’s usurping intelligence. Dr. Halvorson is smart and a leader and knows he must control his men, but Lloyd’s vocal resistance is perceived as a threat (risking losing their sanity to an Antarctic cabin fever is a bad enough threat even before the terror begins).

The creature got here in a spacecraft. And were we not going by the playbook of very old source material, that element could well have been scrapped. The spaceship has been there 100,000 years and appears to be in remarkably good condition for that amount of time. The story, then, isn’t on the cutting edge of brilliance, nor does it seek to feed us any sort of originality. It may even fail to be as memorable as it hoped, but it gives us the reason behind why it about equals the 1982 film in overall quality.

More time is spent showing us what makes this “thing” so horrible. The transformational terror stands on solid ground when watched back-to-back with Carpenter’s version. Working against this plus is the minus of bad lighting that is sometimes too dark for too long, and then we are left with the usual surprises that make it feel a little like a cheap sci-fi with an expensive budget. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. doesn’t do quite enough to set it apart. But really, this is the stuff of nightmares. It still scares, and in a big way!


Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: R (for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language)
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: “Kate Lloyd” (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), “Sam Carter” (Joel Edgerton), “Dr. Sander Halvorson” (Ulrich Thomsen), “Adam Goodman” (Eric Christian Olsen)
Genre: Horror / Mystery / Sci-Fi