When I first heard they were going to make a new The Thing movie, I was not too happy. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my top three favorite movies of all time. I watch this movie at least once a week; I love it that much. To me, it is perfection. I definitely did not think it needed to be tainted with some kind of reboot. As I learned more and more about the project, the fact that it was going to be a prequel dealing with what happened at the Norwegian camp, it began to sound interesting. After all, I love Carpenter’s work so much that any extension of it could be a good thing, if done properly. As the posters and the trailers/teasers started coming out, I got more and more excited because it looked like they might actually have done this the right way. I have now seen the prequel twice; once at the press screening, and a second time at a midnight release. The second time was especially interesting because Rave Theatre played Carpenter’s version right before. It was a great chance to see how the new film would hold up to the original, and how true of a prequel it really was.
When I walked out of my initial viewing of the prequel, I was at a loss for words. I wasn’t immediately sure of how I felt about the film. At the start of the film I found myself really getting into it and enjoying the ride, but then something would happen that distanced me and made me think I was going to end up hating it. Then something new would happen that made me like it again, and it continued on in this fashion. It was a very strange experience. There were things the film did really well that I didn’t expect and then there were things that were awful, and really there was no excuse.
Caution: Spoilers ahead.
The Thing prequel starts out with some overhead shots of what is meant to be Antarctica, and used basically the same music as beginning of Carpenter’s film. I immediately connected to it because it felt like a continuation of, an homage to, and a nostalgic embrace with the first film. You meet three of the Norwegians and get a little glimpse of their personalities and relationships with each other. And just like in Carpenter’s film, the action starts almost immediately as the Norwegians fall into a fissure and discover the craft that brought the titular creature to Earth.
Very soon after, we meet the archeological dig expert Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is asked by the suspiciously secretive Dr. Sander Halvorson and his research assistant Adam to come to Antarctica and help dig up a “structure.” Upon arrival at the Norwegian camp, the team is taken directly to the site of the craft, and we learn that there was apparently a survivor, and this is what they are hot to dig up. They extract the block of ice surrounding the creature and bring it back to camp, where of course a stupid decision by Dr. Sander to extract a “sample” essentially causes the ice to melt enough for the alien to break out and begin to wreak its havoc.
The middle of the movie is pretty much people chasing alien, alien chasing people, alien assimilating people, lots of death, lots of crazy-nasty-looking creatures, and eventually only a few people remain: Kate, the helicopter pilot Carter, and Dr. Sander, plus two Norwegians whose whereabouts are unknown. Dr. Sander is actually the creature, and he makes a run for it back to his spaceship. Kate and Carter chase him into the ship (for me this was by far the dumbest part of the movie), and eventually blow up the Dr. Sander creature and the ship. Kate and Carter escape, she realizes he was assimilated, and ends up killing him, making her the final survivor as far as she knows.
The credits roll right after a final shot of Kate, and you begin to wonder how this works as a prequel to Carpenter’s film since there is no dog, the only survivor we know of is an American woman, and there is no helicopter at the camp. All of this directly conflicts with the beginning of the ’82 film. After a few moments, the whir of helicopter blades buzz in, and more scenes are spliced into the credits. Phew! Everything becomes amazingly wrapped up (all except the fate of Kate, but I didn’t really care) in just a few scenes, even ending with remastered shots from Carpenter’s The Thing. And to be honest, the film did a fantastic job of setting up explanations for famous shots from the earlier film. I was very impressed by the attention to detail at getting those shots to match up and making sense of how things came to be at the Norwegian camp.
I’m pretty vocal about my distaste for CGI where it doesn’t belong, and this was seriously a movie that it did not belong in and ended up being one of the most painful parts for me. Some of the CGI was well done, but most was so fake looking. And all it did was make the creature way less believable and more laughable. A huge part of the charm of Carpenter’s film were the creature effects; they were wet and gross and squirty and steamy and real. The use of CGI for the creatures in the prequel actually seemed to change the behavior and movement of the alien entity. I feel as though someone said, “Hey, it’s cheaper, quicker and easier to draw the transformations, so let’s throw them in wherever we can.” The film actually used some practical effects which were later “enhanced” by CG, but they went so overboard that I would have preferred to see a man running around in a tentacle suit.
In the ’82 film, the only time the alien showed itself was when it was under attack (the defibrilator scene, the blood test scene), or when it was trying to sneak into someone while they were alone (the dogs, Bennings’ transformation). In the prequel, not only did the alien seem to not care if other people were around or not, but it sabotaged its own escape, and went around taunting some of the characters. It would even sneak up on characters just to show off its crazy appearance and scare them, instead of just taking them out when it had the chance. This was just too different from the established behavior to be appealing. Some might argue that this was the prequel, and maybe it learned from its mistakes and thus at the American base tries to be more sneaky and covert; prioritizing self-preservation over flaunting. I think that would give the film too much credit though.
This caused most of this movie to be man vs. beast, and made it more of a monster film than a psychological horror, which I argue Carpenter’s version is. Yes, there is an alien creature who they have to fight against, and there is action, but the best thing about it is the reactions of the men, how they deal with the lack of trust and the horror of being isolated and dealing with the unknown. There were emotions displayed in simple facial reactions and shots that did more than words could ever do. I felt this was lacking in the new film. Most of the suspicion and trust issues in the prequel seemed forced upon the audience, with the characters using dialogue more than emotion and body language, and it seemed more Americans vs. Norwegians than the scarier every man for himself.
Some shots were very reminiscent of Carpenter’s shots, but they wouldn’t hold long enough or wouldn’t be quite right in some small way that didn’t do enough to convey the suspicion and terror. I also didn’t get enough from most of the characters to even remember their names in the first viewing, let alone enough to care about them or identify with them. To me they were men dealing with a killer creature, and not enough attention was paid to the loss of trust and how they were coping. I did however enjoy the character of Lars (played by Jørgen Langhelle); I thought he did a great job and really stood out.
Another item I think this film excelled at was having a very similar plot and timeline to Carpenter’s version, but it still managed to bring new things to the table. A good example of this is how Kate comes up with the idea of how to test which people are human and which are not, by combining non-tainted blood with live blood. This was exactly the first test idea in the earlier film, and just like in that film, the creature ends up reaching the clean blood first and destroying it. Then Kate says there might be another test, and it seemed as though she was going to follow the other film and come up with the idea of burning the blood. This wouldn’t have made sense with what they have experienced of the creature compared to what Kurt Russel and gang had learned from, so I was ready to scoff. But then her idea was actually original and made sense in the context of events in this film, and this pleased me.
Some people say you shouldn’t compare remakes to their originals so much because it’s a whole different set of people working on the idea of the original and making it their own, but in this case, it’s a prequel. It is supposed to be the same alien entity and a group of people in a similar situation as was in the Carpenter version, so it is absolutely fair to see how it holds up to the rules and events already set up. From the things I’ve pointed out that I did not like, it may appear that I hated this movie, but as a stand-alone film and a prequel, I really do think it’s a good film. It could have been a disaster, but it ended up being very enjoyable both as a stand-alone movie and as a prequel. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.