There aren’t many selling points to remaking or rebooting old movies, but two things that generally work in the new version’s favor are the ability to update the look and feel of an older movie that now seems outdated and the ability to improve the special effects using modern techniques.
Unfortunately, The Thing fails to deliver on both of these fronts. The Thing is actually a prequel instead of a remake, so it is still set in 1982. And the computer-generated special effects in the film are nowhere near as good as the practical effects used in John Carpenter’s original film.
Like the original, the film centers around a group of researchers out in Antarctica who encounter an alien lifeform that can replicate other beings. (Essentially, the alien gets into your bloodstream and mutates your cells, taking over your body and using it as camouflage to hide its true form.) But this new version of The Thing tells the story of the Norwegian researchers who first discover the alien and its spacecraft. (It probably would have helped to name the film something like The Thing: The Beginning to make it clear that this is a prequel and not a retread of the 1982 film.)
They do attempt to make the film look more modern, or at least an attempt to make it less noticeable it’s set in the 80s. While the opening scene makes it clear that the film is set in ‘82, you never see any old computers like the ones found in the original. Also, thankfully, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character is spared from having big, frizzy 80s hair. Having the film set in Antarctica – removed from civilization – it’s easy to hide the decade the film takes place in. Though honestly, for that same reason, the original doesn’t feel that dated either (except for the aforementioned computers).
And while we do have much more impressive modern computers in this day and age, it seems those computers can’t quite match the creepiness and visual style of the creature effects in John Carpenter’s film. I know that everyone today uses CGI, but there was something captivating about Carpenter’s monsters. The rough, asymmetrical look of the alien and its jerky, odd movements made it that much more disturbing and unpredictable. There was something truly creepy about “the thing.”
This new movie is never able to recapture that feeling. I’m not sure if they hired the wrong company to do the visual effects or if they simply rushed them, but whatever the case, the CGI is quite bad. It’s hard to suspend disbelief and just watch the film because you are constantly aware that the creature is computer-generated. The alien always looks too bright and doesn’t have enough detail built into its flesh to make it look real. Instead, it always looks like something from a video game from 10 years ago. And it’s too symmetrical and moves too perfectly, which loses the disturbing feel that the original monster had.
If the effects had been better, the film might have worked, since the story is actually solid. While it does inevitably retread a lot of the same material from the original, it has enough twists and originality to it to allow it to stand on its own. It doesn’t really expand on the mythos of the alien or provide any vital back story, but fans of the original will undoubtedly enjoy getting a chance to look inside the alien’s spacecraft for the first time.
The most enjoyable moments in the film are the ones that simply deal with the group dynamic. These people are all trapped in a remote location together and any one of them can be the monster. The tension that builds from trying to figure out who is human and who isn’t is really fun. The best scene in the film is one where the group is divided up between those who have metal fillings and those who don’t, since the creature is unable to replicate metal, meaning those without fillings are all suspects. Seeing the mistrust in the eyes of those with fillings as those without them try to plead their cases of why they should be the exception is very satisfying.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is quite good in the lead role. She plays Kate Lloyd, an American paleontologist who is hired by the Norwegians to examine the alien. Hollywood doesn’t always have the best track record writing female characters, but Kate is sexy, intelligent and completely bad ass. And she is quite amazing with a blowtorch. Though she is the youngest person there – and an outsider – she is able to take over the leadership role in the group through sheer will. It’s a great role and one that Winstead completely nails.
The rest of the cast is solid, if unremarkable. As with most horror films, many of the characters were underdeveloped and easily forgettable, since they are merely cannon fodder for the creature. I did really enjoy Jørgen Langhelle’s portrayal of Lars, the only Norwegian who doesn’t speak any English and Joel Edgerton was pretty good in the role of the American helicopter pilot Braxton Carter.
Overall, this film had potential, but it just has too many negatives working against it. The story is solid, but a lot of it you’ve already seen before in the 1982 version and there’s not really enough new material to make it a worthy prequel. And the CGI is so bad that it ruins most of the big scenes with the creature. Hardcore fans of the original may enjoy the prequel aspect of it and those unfamiliar with the series may find it worth checking out, but I think most people will be underwhelmed by The Thing.