Review: The Thing (2011)

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?

mary elizabeth winstead, film, the thing,

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.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

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
Buy on DVD: Not yet released
Discover More: Review of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) | Top 10 John Carpenter Films
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Fine look at this one, Dan. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the strength of this film in the ‘MacReady’ role made famous by the Kurt Russell — interesting trivia: Kurt and MEW were both in the SKY HIGH movie back in 2005. I was less enamored with the CGI creature, though. That was mostly for what I believed was the director’s overuse of the SFX technology, and that he seemed to like showing it off (in bright light, at that), both of which Carpenter didn’t do in his classic. As this was supposed to be a prequel, I did find myself checking off a list in my head for where this or that was. The thing (pun) that bugged me right away, was the Husky shown at the start, which didn’t match up (not even closely) with the dog that begins the ’82 film. If you watch it again, notice that it’s another dog entirely from even that one in the movie credit stinger that bridges this Thing to the next. And don’t get me started plot-hole of creature’s ship at the end! I’ll probably being overly critical, but your 3/5 stars rating would be the same for me. Thanks, Dan.

  2. Avatar
    Dan O. Reply

    It’s no great thing, just a better Thing than expected. It’s not incredibly scary but has the same tense and paranoid feel that the Carpenter version went for, and it works in a way. The problem is that on own it’s own, it doesn’t really work. Good review Daniel.

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    Russ Reply

    Nice review. I agree with almost everything that you said, though I didn’t think that Mary Elizabeth was particularly great. I watched JC’s The Thing again last night, and was struck with how many tie-ins there were in the Norwegian base when MacReady goes to visit. To me this showed that they had at least studied the earlier version and cared enough about it.

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    Thomas Reply

    I found that film a very depressing experience, to be honest. Most times there is just a little thing in a movie that justifies the remake, but here… nothing original whatsoever, just standard horror scenes from the bin of any other b or c movie, or failed efforts to recreate scenes from the 1982 version. I was terribly bored. My notes after watching it:

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    Alison Reply

    I agree with the above post. I went to the cinema to see it and was bored – a few of the less ‘professional’ horror fans were jumping, but not me. I was bored for most of the film and didn’t enjoy the ‘special’ FX either. I think it was done better in the 50s and the 80s. I suppose it was done for a reason in those days, other than to cash in and try to make money!

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    Scott Reply

    Wow, you liked this a hell of a lot more than I did. I hated it so much a i stormed out before I got the lead in sections to the 80s film.

    The cgi was just not scary, not compared to the Carpenter film. I haven’t reviewed it but I would give it a 1/5. I know I am a hard bassa

  7. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @le0pard: I think Winstead was the saving grace for me. It’s a fun b-movie but it has its drawbacks and without a strong lead character I would have switched off.

    @Dan: Unlike Carpenter’s The Thing, this one isn’t scary at all – more of a fun b-movie with a bit of gore and a breakneck pace.

    @Russ: I looking forward to watching Carpenter’s The Thing again and seeing all the tie-ins.

    @Thomas: Thanks for the comment Thomas. I’ve felt the same about other remakes recently but I was pleased not to have such a reaction to 2011’s The Thing. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

    @Scott: That’s harsh but very understandable as I don’t like all these remakes and The Thing 2011 is no more than a remake dressed up to look a bit like a prequel. Nevertheless, I did find some redeeming features – although perhaps too fast-paced, it does move at quite a rate so there’s little time for it to get dull. As I said in the review, I’d much prefer the 1980s puppet masters than the CGI tech guys and this is evidence of that. The bit on the helicopter when the guy’s face splits looks dreadful but some of the CGI is okay and I didn’t feel it was overused.

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    Novroz Reply

    This movie got a mixed review. I wish I can remember the original version but I saw it years ago and completely forgot about it.
    What do you thing, Dan? should I watch this or find the 1980s version first?

  9. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    Ive never seen the original film, but I want to see this one. Even though I don’t like horrors, this one seems intriguing because it is set in a polar place and has that isolated feel, which is always great for suspense 🙂

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    ruth Reply

    Not my cup of tea Dan, but glad you enjoyed it. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was quite good in Scott Pilgrim, I agree she does have quite a screen charisma.

  11. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Knowing how much you love Carpenter’s version I was wondering what you’d think of this version.

    To be honest, you’re last paragraph sums up what I was expecting from this film: “a fun, fast-paced b-movie with limited characterisation and maximum creature-feature thrills”.

    I’ll let you know if I get around to seeing it.

  12. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Novroz: If it is a choice between the two, go with Carpenter’s version.

    @Dezmond: For suspense and the isolated Antarctic setting the Carpenter version is far, far better.

    @Ruth: Yeah, I like Winstead. She’s shown she’s a versatile actress.

    @Claire: Yeah, I wasn’t disappointed by it because I watched it with very low expectations. In fact, it was probably better than I expected it to be.

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    Fogs Reply

    I said the same thing about if people were seeing this film before the Carpenter version, they’d probably have fun with it on like a B movie creature feature level.

    Unfortunately for those of us who have seen that one, there’s no escaping the comparisons… I mean, this film practically lifts a couple of scenes directly from that one.

    And, youre right too, the effects in the 80s version were better.

    On Winsetad? She’s great.

    But I still think S Pilgrim is crazy for picking her over Knives. LOL

  14. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Impossible to top off The Thing. It’s a shame because I like Edgerton and Winstead are actors I like.

  15. Avatar
    Adam from Reply

    Nice review, I found this film to be average at best. You would figure after 3 trys at this film someone would hit this out of the park. O wait someone already did and his name was John Carpenter.

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