The Thing is back. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in this prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic science-fiction horror film. How does the new creature-feature hold up?
The Thing’s 2011 incarnation, written by writer-for-hire Eric Heisserer and directed by relative newcomer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., purports to be a prequel to John Carpenter’s fabulous 1982 science-fiction horror film, but while being an entertaining and effective film in itself, is ultimately the remake we all dreaded, with a few new bells and whistles.
As in Carpenter’s original, which was a more faithful cinematic retelling of John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella Who Goes There than the 1951 film by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby, 2011’s The Thing sees a group of researchers holed up in a remote Antarctic base. Finding a buried spaceship, a survivor, encased in ice, is brought back to base. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s palaeontologist Kate Lloyd is called upon to remove the creature from the ice so that scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) can run tests on its biological make-up. But before anyone can say “E.T.” the damn thing escapes, kills a few people whose names we never get to know, and begins, as in Carpenter’s masterpiece, killing and imitating people. From then on the film is very much a retread of the 1982 film with classic scenes such as the blood test sequence and the locking up of the wrong people in a makeshift shed, all intact.
Yet despite the film having more than an air of familiarity, director Heijningen is measured in his pacing, never letting the film get bogged down in scientific mumbo-jumbo and maintaining a sense of genuine intrigue as the group desperately tries to understand and combat its predator. The computer-generated special-effects aren’t, thankfully, overused and evoke a sense of menace and gut-churning disgust. Still, I prefer 1980s puppet masters weaving their wonderful magic despite CGI’s far-reaching scope.
But perhaps Heijningen could be criticised for moving a bit too quickly. There isn’t much time for the characters to breathe, and with such a large group, our emotional connection is limited to less than a handful. For example, the blood test sequence lacks the tension of Carpenter’s memorable scene, and is, therefore, a lot less satisfying. By the time the group has been whittled down to the select few screenwriter Heisserer bothered to provide names for, we’re left wondering who actually succumbed to the monster and the damaging thought – do we really care?
However, Mary Elizabeth Winstead does her level best to make us care – at least about her. The actress, who appears to be going from strength to strength with her leading role here immediately following a strong showing in Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, is a commanding presence amongst a largely masculine cast. Of course, there is a nod to the Godmother of this type of role – Sigourney Weaver – and her character Ripley from the Alien films, with Winstead shedding the nubile princess of Death Proof for a toughened, intelligent scientist who, evidently, has an enthusiasm for the microscope and survival tactics of military precision.
Ultimately, 2011’s The Thing lacks the emotional impact of the classic science-fiction horror released by John Carpenter in 1982. Like most of the other remakes we’ve had over the last few years, this tale of Antarctic researchers under attack from an alien creature that kills and imitates them is, predictably, more re-imagination than reinvention. The added decoration – finding the alien spacecraft, exhuming the preserved creature from the ice – adds something fresh to proceedings but takes away the mystique that inspired the indisputable terror of Carpenter’s film. Yet, remove the comparisons and the film hits most of the right notes for a fun, fast-paced b-movie with limited characterisation and maximum creature-feature thrills.
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen
Released: 2011 / Genre: Sci-fi/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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Amazon.co.uk: Not yet released
Discover More: Review of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) | Top 10 John Carpenter Films
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