Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: The Thing (2011)

The Thing (2011)The Thing (2011) Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen, Paul Braunstein.

Time to dash into the night and hit the local movie theater to see what horror movies are showing this season. Unfortunately there’s not much to choose from nearby– Paranormal Activity 3 arrives soon but I can’t get too excited about that after the last one. This week my only choice was The Thing, the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic and similarly titled The Thing.

Let’s see, a modern prequel to one of my favorite horror films… filled with cgi… first time director I’ve never heard of…. it seems doomed out of the gate with no chance of even surviving a cursory glance. But I tried to approach it without letting my fondness for the original influence my experience. I would try to think of this as another film completely and try to appreciate it for what it is and not what it isn’t. I couldn’t avoid it, though, no matter how hard I tried. The Thing ’11 works so hard to replicate the feel of the original that comparisons are inevitable, and avoiding them probably was not the goal of the filmmakers to begin with.

If you’ve seen Carpenter’s version you might remember the burned out Norwegian camp, the place where shit first went down before rolling downhill to the American camp. The prequel tells the story of what happened at that camp. A Norwegian research team discovers a spacecraft buried in the ice of the Antarctic, almost literally stumbling onto it. Since a Hollywood film spoken entirely in a foreign language won’t sell very many tickets the head of the Norwegian team, Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen), brings in an American paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to speak English and assist with studying the body found in the ship. She is at least one point in the film’s favor because she’s very easy on the eyes.

You probably don’t need to have seen Carpernter’s film to suss that the creature escapes from the ice and, lucky for us, the team of (unkown Norwegian actors) scientists is target rich.

Here they come, the unavoidable comparisons. Carpenter’s film had actors with more personality and with far more dynamic interactions occurring as a result of the creature’s presence. They reacted in palpable wide-eyed terror at the horrors they witnessed. The level of fear conveyed was around the range of “seeing things no man on earth has ever seen before” and you believed it. The characters in The Thing ’11 are less engaging and their reactions to the horrors they witness… well, they look like their fear level is around the range of “Uh oh! I hope that barking dog doesn’t hop over the fence!”

Carpenter’s version also contains some of the most memorable images of body horror you’ll ever see in a film. The dog’s head splitting apart, the teeth in the stomach, and the head sprouting spindly legs… these are iconic horror images that cannot outdone. The creature in The Thing ’11 is nowhere near as fascinating to watch. Instead of a creative combination of human and animal body parts the manifestations of the prequel’s creature are a glossy, unmemorable mess of cgi spasms. It behaves as a different creature altogether, moving too quickly, perhaps freed from the bonds of practical effects but creating an inconsistency with Carpenter’s creature. There is one genuinely horrifying scene in The Thing ’11  but its inspiration is, in fact, a necessary result of another unforgettable image from the 1982 film.

Perhaps this was made for an audience that grew up on cgi and finds them more convincing than the latex and goo in the 1982 version. Computer effects are now inevitable, I understand this, but I still come away disappointed when I encounter them in many of today’s movies. Each time I try again, hoping my eyes will be tricked and I’ll forget I’m watching computer generated images. But then the computer generated images appear and I’m taken out of the movie as I wonder if a practical effect would have been more convincing. And I slump a little in my chair, jaded and bummed about the whole thing.

So I guess the effects killed it for me. If you’re as much of a fan of the original as I am or if you feel the same way about cgi it’s probably best to forget about this one. At least this gives me an excuse to revisit Carpenter’s masterpiece as an exercise to see how well The Thing ’11 fits with it.

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One Response to “Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: The Thing (2011)”

  1. Michael K Vaughan Says:

    I pretty much thought this movie would be what you say it is. Too bad. I saw the Carpenter film not too long ago and it holds up great. One of the best monster movies ever. The really sad thing is that CGI CAN look good, it just almost never does. The CGI in the recent Planet of the Apes movie did not look real in every scene, but it was good enough that we could forgive its lapses. At least the Apes looked and moved like real Apes. Most CGI creatures, besides looking like they are not really in the scene, tend to move in an overly smooth, robotic, super-fast way. Flashy perhaps, but not at all realistic.
    Sadly, CGI has become a lazy go-to for directors. When a scene would be better served with other effects it doesn’t matter. CGI is used anyway.

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