The Scoop: 2011 R, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, and Ulrich Thomsen
Tagline: It’s not human. Yet.
Summary Capsule: It’s a prequel to the 1982 classic, as we find out what really happened at the Norwegian camp in Antarctica.
Justin’s rating: Body horror remastered
Justin’s review: “Projection: If intruder organism reaches civilized areas… entire world population infected 27,000 hours from first contact.” (from the 1982 film)
That quote right there is part of what elevated The Thing past a mere monster-of-the-week horror show to something truly terrifying. John Carpenter’s gruesome and inventive flick almost had to be set in one of the most remote locations in the world because the alien organism on display is so insidious and invasive that the whole game would be over the second it landed in a populated area. It’s a thing that isn’t out to reason or understand us, but to kill and take over each and every one of us. And it does so by almost-perfectly mimicking the victim’s body, whether it be animal or human. It could be anyone, anywhere.
That’s about as tricky of a situation to deal with as anything else in science-fiction horror. Even Ripley could tell the bad guys from the good by whether they had a second mouth or looked like Paul Reiser.
So anyway, the second film of The Thing franchise declines to pick up from the original’s ambiguous ending (were the two survivors human or not?) and instead goes with telling what happened at the Norwegian camp that precluded the first movie. I’m not one for prequels, but I have to say that it sort of made sense to do it in this case.
The 1982 movie showed this camp as a place where many, many bad things happened — but it was all scattered details waiting for the audience to fill in the gap. Or, because audience members are dumb as toast in the minds of Hollywood execs, more filmmakers. So the directors of the 2011 prequel had a unique challenge to reverse-engineer the scenes from the first film and create a compelling narrative that not only put all of these pieces back in place exactly where they found them, but kept us interested even though we kind of know how it ends.
Success? Eh… sort of. I’ll damn it with faint praise: It’s not that bad, and it really could have been a heck of a lot worse.
The whole mess starts as the Norwegians discover an alien ship buried beneath the ice in Antarctica in the early ’80s. Considering how many movies portray alien ships crashing into this specific continent, it must be an E.T. convention or something. Anyway, they bring in a few Americans to help check out the find, which includes an alien encased in ice.
Yeah, they were pretty much all dead the second they decided to defrost that sucker. You know it. I know it. They had to find out the hard way.
Even though the alien’s hostile nature is made known early on, the camp folk stick around just long enough so that anyone could be infected — infected as in, “digested and then have the alien co-opt the DNA to hide its tentacley self.” When everyone realizes this, they’re effectively trapped; they can’t leave, because if there’s even a slight chance that the thing makes it to the rest of the world, the world will be slaughtered. But if they stay, what chance do they have to make it?
What really kicked up the horror in the 1982 film was the exceedingly creepy body horror moments involving dogs and humans splitting open, enlarging, and otherwise becoming completely wrong as the thing showed parts of its true self. It was all done without computer assistance and it delivered memorable scenes that felt so real. This is where I feel that the prequel falters. The thing is partially CGI and the brain can still tell when that’s the case. So while the people splitting open is technically correct, it’s not as tactile and real as when they did it solely with elaborate physical props and puppets. I know that makes me sound like the oldest guy in the world but I. Do. Not. Care.
There are some interesting parallels between this and the recent Prometheus. Both are prequels, both have a main protagonist who is trying to step into the shoes of Ellen Ripley, both have the cast discovering the originating spaceship of the aliens, both use flamethrowers, and both fail to live up to the scares and creativity of the originals. The Thing comes off as better entertainment, however, because it fully embraces the franchise instead of trying to slightly distant itself from it, and it also doesn’t suffer from as many bizarre logical and continuity errors as Prometheus did. Plus, Promethus was just pretentious as all get out. Sometimes we just want to see aliens bursting out of chests without the philosophy to go with it.
For The Thing fans, I think the prequel is an interesting artifact in its own right because it does fill in some of those missing pieces. But it ultimately butts heads with the fact that we know the ending because the 2011 film ends right as the 1982 film begins, and that doesn’t give us much reason to hope anyone will survive. So we’re just watching a clever exercise that was boxed into a corner from the get-go.
A sequel? Well… we might be talking there. Maybe the thing does get to the real world. Maybe it spreads like the projection predicts. Maybe instead of zombies, the few remaining humans are dealing with a thing apocalypse. I’d actually pay to see that.
- Seriously, why do all of these camps in Antarctica have an abundance of guns and flamethrowers? What goes on down there, constant penguin attacks?
- Don’t leave until the credits start scrolling — there’s an epilogue that ties the two films together
- This is a prequel to a remake of an adaptation of the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., published in 1938.
- The creature effects were done primarily with cable-operated animatronic robots on the director’s insistence, since it would improve the performances of the cast if they saw what they had to react to. Computer-generated images were used to add elements to the animatronics (such as tentacles), or in some cases, to replace the entire animatronic if it didn’t behave convincingly.
Adam Finch: So, I’m gonna die because I floss?
Sam Carter: And the last place you want to be is cooped up with a dozen of Norwegian guys.
Kate Lloyd: [to Lars] Burn it!
Colin: You think they’re gonna pay a bonus for bringing home an alien instead of core samples?
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Thing (1982)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers