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The Thing
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE THING (2011)

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje

Written By: Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell, Jr. (short story) Directed By: Matthjis van Heijningen, Jr.

The Short Version

This one isn’t a remake of John Carpenter’s flick from 1982; it’s a respectful prequel.

Excellent dovetail from one to the next; watch the end credits while they start to roll.

There’s some very decent tension here.

The CG effects are very obvious, and too much.

Overall, though, The Thing is worth seeing, and would make a nice double feature with the flick from 1982.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Tasty Norwegian cheese that also makes for a yummy snack.  Sure, it’s got some holes in it, but do you care?

Pairs Well With...


They’re good at hiding the label with their hands, but I’m pretty sure this is the beer our Norwegian friends are pounding down at what turns out to be their last party.  Hard to beat pils for easy drinking.

“Open your mouth!”

I admit to being concerned when I first heard that there would be a new version of The Thing coming out in 2011.  In an era of big-budget filmmaking where there seem to be fewer and fewer new ideas and more and more remakes, I was afraid that this was just going to be another of the more senseless ones.  While it’s true that John Carpenter’s 1982 film is itself a remake of The Thing (From Another World) from 1951, that’s only true in abstract; really, his film tells a different tale that is in fact more faithful to the original short story written by John W. Campbell, Jr. in the 1930s.  And Carpenter’s film is, frankly, fantastic.  Though very underappreciated when it was first released, it is now regarded as a classic, and rightly so.  The idea of remaking that movie in 2011 seemed ridiculous.

Fortunately, the producers agreed, and convinced the studio that instead of remaking a film that they themselves considered perfect, a better idea would be to make a prequel to it, built around the story of the Norwegian camp from which the dog that starts off the 1982 movie comes.  The studio agreed, so it’s a prequel we get, even if no one could come up with a distinguishing title for it.

Very cool move guys.  Sincerely; thank you.

So what, then, did they do?

Our story begins in Antarctica.  It’s the Winter of 1982, and three Norwegian men are riding in a tracked vehicle in search of the source of mysterious signal that they picked up back at their base camp.  After treating the audience to an entire dirty joke in Norwegian (is it bad that I knew the punchline before they finished the joke?), they find the source of the signal; indeed, they plunge through the ice to see it up close.

We don’t, though; we just see the opening title, which is a very cool throwback to both 1982 and 1951.

Two days later, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen, Season of the Witch), who has charge over the team in Antarctica, approaches cold-weather paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof) at her lab in America with an offer to join him for a flight to the camp.  All he will tell her is that his team has found a structure and a specimen under the ice.  Quite intrigued, considering that there shouldn’t be any structures under the ice in Antarctica, Lloyd accepts the offer.

Upon arriving in the Antarctic, Lloyd is quickly whisked to the site of the Norwegians’ discovery.  The “structure” proves to be nothing less than what appears to be an alien spacecraft, and the “specimen” appears to be one of its crew, a creature that can only be described as some sort of… Thing…

If there’s any single word that can be used to describe The Thing, that word is “reverent.”  The respect that the cast and crew have for the two films that came before – particularly Carpenter’s – is apparent throughout, and this serves them very well.  The result is a tight, focused production where everyone knows that the primary object is to scare the audience when roughly half of it already knows exactly how the movie needs to end, and to make sure that nothing they do contradicts the plan set for them twenty-nine years before.  (Indeed, savvy viewers familiar with Carpenter’s effort can pick out a survivor immediately based on a specific biographical detail given about the character; with that said, if you don’t know, I’m not telling.)  For the most part, they succeed.

From the very first, Director Mattijs van Heijningen, Jr. (try saying that quickly any number of times) creates an atmosphere of tension and fear, even before the Thing is released from its icy tomb.  This was amply demonstrated when I saw literally half the theatre jump at what has to be the oldest scare in the book: one character sneaking up on another and going “Boo!”  I have to say, this was something of a ballsy move: if it doesn’t work, it’s amateur hour material, but if it does, you know you’re doing something right.  Half the theatre jumped, and even the ones who didn’t certainly weren’t expecting it, so I say he won.

This tension is maintained throughout the film as the characters try to determine who amongst them has in fact been replaced by the Thing.  I was particularly impressed by the scene surrounding the filling test devised by Dr. Lloyd; it takes a long a time to complete, and it would be simple for the tension to melt under nothing more than the pressure of the clock, but it holds the whole way through, and switches to something with more action at just the right moment.  Pacing is everything here, and on that score, The Thing never hits a wrong note.

Indeed, considering any of the elements by which The Thing can be judged as a straight-up suspense horror thriller, it works wonderfully.

That’s the good news.

However, The Thing isn’t made to play as just a straight-up suspense horror thriller.  It also plays to gore.  This is where things get a little trickier.

On the plus side, there is very definitely a lot of gore, and when you’re looking at end results thereof, it looks very good.  The autopsy scene is particularly gross, and throughout the film, you have no reservations at all about understanding why the people here are scared.  They’ve seen what they cut open on the table, and they’ve seen the wreckage it leaves behind, and it is all nasty in a way that blood-driven horror fans very much appreciate.

On the minus side, this movie was made in 2011, and while the producers were tasteful and intelligent enough to tell the studio that they wanted to make a prequel, they weren’t brave enough to tack on “and we want to use traditional horror effects techniques” to their wish list.  Ergo, the Thing, when viewed in its true form, is a computer generated effect.

With one exception, every single problem I have with this movie derives from the fact that the Thing is a computer generated effect.

One day, maybe Hollywood will realize that computers are not the answer to everything.  With very, very rare exceptions, computer generated characters always stand out like a sore thumb, and when they do, they take the viewer right out of whatever atmosphere had been generated to that point and take what’s on the screen to a level of Person Meets Cartoon.  With all of the other faith paid to Carpenter’s 1982 production, the filmmakers should not have chosen this to be their one point of deviation, as the creature in this movie is not one of the rare exceptions to the Cartoon rule.  I really don’t know what else to say but that the effect looks obvious, and “obvious” is the same as “bad.”  The extra tentacles weren’t worth it, and the longer the creature stays visible on the screen, the worse it gets.  A compromise of maybe using CG for transformation effects and then switching to models might have been acceptable, but the straight CG approach?  Disaster.

It’s a major testament to the strong direction and solid performances from the entire cast (no one does a bad job in this film) that this doesn’t kill the film.

Beyond the CG monster, my only other complaint with The Thing involves the creature’s spacecraft, which strikes me as being far too big for no good reason.  If anything strikes me as being “wrong” with regard to this movie’s adherence to the lore of what came before (the CG monster fits the lore; it just doesn’t fit the look), that massive spaceship is it.

And yet, despite those two flaws, even one as glaring as the composition of the film’s monster, I still walked away from The Thing both happy and impressed.  Overall, faith is kept, the direction is tight, and the screenplay is very, very well done indeed.  (This is especially true toward the end; I’ll let you figure out why.)  The acting is also solid all the way around, with no complaints to be had at all.  I was prepared to say that Mary Elizabeth Winstead didn’t stand out as the overall heroine, but her very last scene changed my mind.  It’s how she says what she says, and how her face says what her mouth doesn’t say that makes this her finest moment in the movie.  Again, I’ll let you figure out why.

Once the end credits start to flash, make sure you stick around for a little while; the dovetail that leads to John Carpenter’s film airs in that space.  It’s as beautifully done as it can be without actually reusing any of the old footage or bringing in Kurt Russell for a cameo.

Bottom line, The Thing is a surprisingly reverent prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, and comes out as a very solid effort indeed.  The computer generated monster sours the pie a bit, but doesn’t by any means destroy it, and both suspense and gore oriented horror fans should be happy with the results.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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