Remakes are generally a very scary thing for fans – they are typically made solely for the purpose of making money from the group of people who saw the original and begrudgingly feel the need to watch their cherished memories be disrespected onscreen. Prequels to older films are usually no different – see the three latest Star Wars films as all the evidence needed. What is rare, however, is that a prequel treats its source material properly. “The Thing” (2011) – contrary to what its name might suggest – is a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 “The Thing,” not a remake.
Many consider “The Thing” (1982) to be the quintessential horror film. The scariest characteristic of the movie is not the blood and gore, of which there is plenty, it is the psychological aspect. A group of men, completely isolated from the world as they do scientific research in Antarctica, come across an alien which can mimic other life forms. It was as much about being terrified of the danger as it was about highlighting the lack of trust in each other. Much like in Arthur Miller’s famous play “The Crucible” (about the Salem Witch Trials), the characters quickly descend into hysteria, accusing each other of being the enemy at every opportunity given. “The Thing” (1982) knew very well that one of the only things scarier than a manic witch-trial is a manic witch trial in which there is actually a witch among the crowd.
Keeping that in mind, many have – and will – watch “The Thing” (2011) hoping for the exact same thing, and complaining about how it could never compare to the 1982 film. While that is true, it’s unfortunate that such an attitude will likely keep the prequel from having a chance to please – a chance that its makers have done their best to earn, given the remarkable attention to detail put in so that the two films connect seamlessly. “The Thing” (2011) takes place in the Norwegian camp mentioned in the beginning of The Thing (1982), and explains the events leading toward its eventual destruction.
“The Thing” (2011) did a lot of things right. As previously mentioned, it treats “The Thing” (1982) with respect, doing its best not to introduce any contradictory information that would damage its credibility as a canon prequel, as well as including many bits of information (and even entire scenes) which connect and pay homage to the ’82 classic. This is huge, especially for fans that will be looking to tear “The Thing” (2011) apart any way they can. The acting is convincing from most of the characters – Mary Elizabeth Winstead is particularly effective in her portrayal of Kate Lloyd (the film’s lead) and has been compared to Ellen Ripley, of the “Alien” series. Finally, the use of CGI is good for the most part, and serves as an acceptable substitute for puppetry without going overboard with the effects (most of the time.)
There are things that are displeasing though. The ambience of the film, while appropriately paranoid, is admittedly less subtle than the 1982’s “The Thing.” To be more specific, the alien is a lot more aggressive in the 2011 film than it was in 1982. It can be reasoned that the alien in “The Thing” (2011) is not well adjusted to mimicking humans, and tends to panic more, while the alien in what is now the sequel has the know-how to be a stealthier killer. That explanation works, but it would have been convenient to have that hinted at somehow – as it stands, the audience has to come to that conclusion entirely on their own. Fortunately, the aggressive alien makes sense much of the time. It’s really only annoying in one particular scene in the latter half of the film in which the alien foregoes all subtlety in favor of a clichéd direct assault. It didn’t work so well, not only for the alien, but also for the audiences’ suspension of disbelief.
“The Thing” (2011) has unfair points against it simply because it is the prequel to a film long regarded to be among the best of its genre. That being said, it is effective in its own right does a very good job of remaining respectful to “The Thing” (1982). The important thing to do is watch it with an open mind, because condemning it just because it’s a prequel does nothing for the viewer or the makers of the movie. Take it for what it is, and what it is a modernized but very effective prequel to an 80’s cult classic that is well worth adding to your collection.
“The Thing” is currently in theaters, and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuouye-Agbaje, Joel Edgerton, Jonathon Walker, Kim Bubbs, and Ulrich Thomsen. Eric Heisserer (“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (remake)) penned the screenplay, which is based on the short story by John W. Campbell, Jr. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (“Zien,” “Red Rain”) directs the film.