Revisiting The Thing (but not that one)

Was it really that bad?

Let’s Give it Another Go

Last month Arrow Films released a lovely new re-mastered, 4K version of The Thing, not just one of my favorite John Carpenter films (Halloween a close run second) but quite possibly one of my favorite films of all time. It’s a master-class in paranoia filled tension that boasts some amazing practical effects, effects that still give the heebie-jeebies now, even though I’ve watched the film god knows how many times.

But this article isn’t about Carpenter’s 1982 feature: I thought it gave me an opportunity to go back and revisit Matthis van Heijningen Jr’s pseudo-prequel/remake. We all know Carpenter’s film was great but was its 2011 namesake really that bad?

So I stuck on the DVD and gave it another go….

Set before the events of Carpenter’s film, Heijningen’s feature attempts to tell the story of the Norwegian research facility that was seen briefly in the original film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the film’s central character, Kate Lloyd a paleontologist recruited to accompany an American team to the facility and examine the frozen remains of a creature found in the ice remains that may, in fact, be extra-terrestrial.

All hell quickly breaks loose when the creature promptly escapes from its frozen encasement (surprise, surprise) and even though it’s supposedly killed pretty quickly Kate soon discovers that the creature can replicate human beings, hiding behind their identities as it attempts to infect others.

But we know all this, we’ve seen it before, only this time around Kate notices that the creature can’t replicate inorganic matter like dental fillings. So in a twist/blatant rip off from the iconic blood test scene in Carpenter’s film, this time around we see the group examining each other’s teeth as they try to discover who still is who they say they are.

A Remake in all but Name

That’s as tense as it gets throughout this film: it completely fails to replicate the tension levels that worked so well within the previous film. With its tagline ‘man is the warmest place to hide’, Carpenter’s film had an abundance of tension as Kurt Russell and co battled against an unknown alien menace, not knowing if they were amongst friend or foe.

But we just don’t get that here with Heijningen’s feature, it completely fails to build any sort of tension and more so any sense of paranoia. Yes, Carpenter’s film had its gorier moments, but it was the mistrust between the group of men that really made the film work.

We don’t get that here, there’s a half-hearted attempt to develop some sort of tension with a subplot that sees the Norwegians and Americans turning against each other, but it’s so underdeveloped I’m embarrassed to even mention it because it’s dropped so quickly as the body-snatching madness begins.

When there’s simply no tension this film is left to rely on the shock value of its body morphing alien creature and let’s be honest the CGI gribblies on display are pretty piss poor. Come on how terrible is that monster in the film’s finale, it’s up there with the reveal of the Rock’s Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns for its levels of onscreen shitty shittiness and when you’re relying on poorly executed CGI to scare your audience your film simply has no scare factor.

One of the saddest things about Heijningen’s feature revealed through interviews and DVD extras after its release was that producers originally planned to do many of the film’s effects as practically as possible, but it was purely down to costs that they decided to go for CGI instead. Whilst its impossible to say whether practical effects would’ve saved the entire film, it might’ve made it more palatable for some viewers.

Piss Poor CGI and a Lack of Tension

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Heijningen’s feature isn’t great but it’s not the worst film you’ll ever see. Winstead is fine in the film’s leading role, she’s a strong female character in a male-dominated feature, cut from similar stuff to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. Joel Edgerton’s Helicopter pilot, Carter might be a pale imitation of Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady from the original, but he at least does just enough to stand out from the crowd and I’ll pretty much watch Edgerton in pretty much anything.

Even with all its nods and callbacks to Carpenter’s original, all Heijningen’s feature really manages to do is remind you that you aren’t watching Carpenter’s paranoia-filled masterpiece. Ok so maybe I’m slightly biased, but the inherent problem at the heart of this film and pretty much any prequel, is that viewers already know where the story is headed, so the onus on the writers is to try and make the journey interesting and I don’t think they’ve managed to do that here.

Did we really need to know what happened at the Norwegian campsite from the original film? Sometimes it’s better not to know, as viewers we don’t need to know everything, sometimes a little mystique can go a very long way.

Now I know I might sound like a bit of a hypocrite since I’m a fan of both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, two films that were supposed prequels to Ridley Scott’s 1979 feature Alien, but unlike this film both those movies at least tried to tell a different story within that universe, but here we have a film that’s essentially a remake of its predecessor in all but name.

I wanted to like Heijningen’s feature, I really did! Whilst I don’t hate it I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to watch it anytime soon.

Written by Jim McClean
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