There are really no words in the English language that can adequately describe my undying love for John Carpenter’s The Thing. If I had to try, I would most likely make some sort of drooling sound while double fist-pumping the air and making humping motions. No other movie in the horror genre had such a profound effect on me. Not only was it amazingly well-written for a horror movie, but it set the bar for special effects, and even 29 years after its release, I’m still amazed at what can be done with latex, animatronics, creativity, and a little bit of TLC. Obviously, when I got wind that they were planning to make some sort of prequel to my favorite horror movie remake (1951’s The Thing From Another World) of all time, I was far from ecstatic.
If for some reason you’ve been encased in a block of ice for the last three decades (haha see what I did there), here is the basic premise of the The Thing: a team of research scientists in Antarctica come in contact with a Norwegian helicopter firing a sniper rifle at a dog. They rescue the dog only to find out it’s an alien that slowly kills and assimilates its prey, blending in as an almost identical clone of its victim. Mayhem ensues and resident 80’s movie bad-ass Kurt Russel dons a flamethrower and kicks the holy dog shit out of a mutated alien-fied Wilford Brimley. Which by the way, being taken over by an alien and hideously deformed into a giant monster is not how you get diabetes. I know, I checked.
The 2011 prequel, which confusingly dons the same title, takes everything that worked with John Carpenter’s version and runs with it. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? The lead role of Supreme Badass was broken into two main characters this time around: American archaeologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and helicopter pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton), with both characters sharing similarities to the Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley roles. They even remembered to throw in a token black guy, and while Keith David’s shoes are hard to fill, Adewale Akinnuoyo-Agbaje does a decent job.
The story follows the team of Norwegian and American scientists as they find a spacecraft buried under the ice, along with a perfectly preserved specimen. Upon taking the specimen back to the facility, the alien breaks free of its frozen prison, where it had lay dormant for thousands of years. And what would you do if you were an alien that had been frozen for thousands of years? Yup, you guessed it – kill everyone you come in contact with until there’s no one left. Just like its predecessor, the alien shows itself to the entire campsite while trying to assimilate one of the team members. The Thing gets torched and the rest of the camp starts to second guess whether their friends are really who they say they are, or some nasty angry alien monstrosity, until it all boils down to a giant climatic battle with the last remaining survivors.
One of the things I admired about John Carpenter’s version was how The Thing was portrayed. In his version, the alien was rarely seen, unless it was killing and taking over its prey. The alien would stay hidden in its duplicated shell until it was alone with its victim, or until it was threatened and would lash out violently as a means to defend itself. There’s a segment in the prequel where all hell breaks loose and The Thing starts stalking the surviving members one by one, which is completely uncharacteristic of its behavior in the original. While that bothered me slightly, I just kept thinking to myself that since this was the prequel, the alien just hadn’t figured out that hiding might have been easier for him to survive.
The other thing that I loved the most about the original version was Rob Bottin’s special effects. He made great use of latex and tubing and all the wonderful things that made monsters look the way they did before the integration of CGI. I’ll give credit where credit is due, the CGI work in The Thing was fairly good, but CGI will will never be as awesome as that classic look and feel of older horror flicks.
As a standalone film, The Thing is a decent horror movie. As a prequel to the John Carpenter classic, it ties up a few loose ends and segues nicely into the events of the original, but will never truly compare to the methodically-paced tension and suspense of the original. If you’re down for some good old-fashion monster mutilation mayhem, then I recommend it.