I recently watched John Carpenter’s excellent sci-fi horror film The Thing for the first time. Considering how time is limited until Halloween, I figured it’d be best to cram a few more horror flicks in before we hit November. So why not explore the 2011 version of The Thing? Contrary to what you may think due to the title, this version of the movie isn’t a remake. It’s actually a prequel. Does that take away from the suspense? Is the movie worthy of its predecessor to be watched back to back, or should you get your flamethrowers out and burn it for the betterment of humanity?
My biggest worry with this movie was that it was going to be a simple reboot of the movie (don’t worry, that’s coming soon from Blumhouse and Carpenter, I guess he liked what they did with the Halloween movie in 2018). This version of The Thing takes place shortly before the events of the first film at the Norwegian base. The movie opens up with a few members of that crew finding the spaceship under the ice and also, the passenger who ejected from it. The scientists, out of their element here, call upon Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American paleontologist who specializes in frozen digs. Despite the limited information she’s presented with upon hearing about the job, she’s on board faster than Dr. Grant gets paid to go to Jurassic Park.
I think the cardinal sin that The Thing 2011 made was turning the prequel into a monster movie, rather than a horror film. This is quite simply, not a scary movie. I think the main reason for that is because we see the alien far too much in this version. It hunts and stalks openly this time around and we see it burst from its hosts on multiple occasions. This actually detracts from the horror that was presented in the original, which played things very close to the chest, which gave off a feeling of claustrophobia and cabin fever. In this version, I never had that uneasy feeling of distrust, mainly due to how quickly the thing came back into the action.
It’s also not as smart as the original, and I mean that for both the plot and the alien itself. The thing, for whatever reason, intentionally crashes a helicopter early on in the movie, which goes against everything we learned about its ambitions and behaviour in the original. By nature of it appearing so often, we didn’t get too many scenes where the crew were on edge and pointing their fingers at each other. Some events just don’t line up with the original as well. While it’s cool to see how the axe got into the wall and the originals of the two-faced thing, the suicide of one of the members and the revelation about the dog and the helicopter pilot is only revealed in a scene spliced into the end credits. It felt very rushed, giving the impression of “oh yeah, we have to connect this directly to the 1982 version of The Thing, eh?” I also found it odd that Kate survived the events of the movie.
The biggest issue, however, is the overuse of CGI. The original Carpenter version used a ridiculous amount of practical effects for the thing and its transformations. But it felt so real, gross, tangible and horrifying. It’s part of what makes that movie so good. This movie, however, used very poor CGI for both the creatures in their prime form and when the thing-people reveal themselves/assimilate other hosts. All tension, horror and terror are removed from the scene because it looks so poor.
The worst thing is that The Thing 2011 was going to use practical effects, but the suits at Universal decided against it at the last minute, forcing the movie into reshoots or replacing preexisting creature shots with CGI ones. The ending was also redone, which is bizarre to learn as the ending of the movie, which is a chase scene in the alien craft (complete with a CGI cubeish pilot thing, huh?) that is very much the weakest part of the movie. You can see the moulds of those props in the video below, and compare it to the theatrical version below that.
To quote director Matthias van Heijningen Jr from a 2012 interview:
“Although we shot the film practically, at the end of the day, it didn’t hold up. It looked a bit like an 80s movie, actually, which for some people is really special, but perhaps not in 2010, 2011. So we enhanced it with CG.”
I wasn’t there and can’t say anything about the original cut of the movie, but the practical shots in the first video ultimately look much better than the second clip due in part to the tangibility of the threat on set. Fight me.
It seems I’m being a bit harsh on this movie. Perhaps I am. The Thing 1982 is something that’s new to me, but it’s been on my mind since watching it. Regardless, it’s still impossible not to compare the two films. The Thing 2011 is certainly watchable, it’s overall competently made and isn’t a rehash of what came before it. Not only that, but Kate is a pretty compelling lead while Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen also stand out. It starts off stronger than it ends, as the crew know very early on they have an alien on their hands, but are skeptical as to its abilities. But it fails to grasp the tone of the first, opting to make the alien a monster, rather than a hidden threat and resorting to poor CGI that removes you from the movie, rather than tangible terror like the original.