As a huge 50’s horror movie fan, I’ll happily admit that the original THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) is one of my favorite classic horror flicks. But I am also a big fan of John Carpenter’s science fiction film THE THING (1982), which was more of an re-imagining of the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella “Who Goes There?” than a remake of the 1951 movie. With its nauseatingly realistic special effects and buckets of gore, THE THING was truly shocking to its 1982 audience, so when I heard that Universal had another remake coming in 2011, I knew that the Carpenter film might be a tough act to follow even these almost 30 years later. Yet I was very interested to see how the story could be made fresh and what gruesome new delights the VFX folks could come up with.
SPOILERS FOLLOW…LEAVE NOW IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!
This latest version of THE THING (2011) is advertised as a prequel, and presents to us the events that happened at the Norwegian base camp just prior to the start of Carpenter’s film. Which apparently was exactly the same thing, just with different alien creature effects and a female in the Kurt Russell role. Think Sigourney Weaver meets, well…a shape-shifting, human-absorbing, relentless killing machine of an alien.
Yes, there’s a great atmospheric setting; both the sweeping shots of the vast emptiness of the Antarctic and the drab, confining interiors of the base’s lab work to the film’s advantage, producing a nice sense of isolation from the outside world. The alien absorption and transformation process is more detailed this time around and the alien creature itself is deliciously nasty-looking, but hey, we’ve seen it all before. There’s plenty of gore and some occasional suspense, but no real surprises. The story is much too familiar by now (scientists find alien, alien eats scientists), and therein lies the problem. You know that no one is going to get out of there alive, so there isn’t much point in wondering what is going to happen next, is there? There’s nothing to do but just sit and wait for the creature to pick off the scientists one by one. Which it does. The end.
Not that this THING was not creatively designed. And the film’s cast certainly gives it their all. It’s just all been done before, and better, so why do a remake/prequel at all unless you have something new to say? Did we really need to know what happened at the Norwegian camp before Kurt Russell shows up on the scene? “They all died” pretty much sums it up. This story simply needs something more, or something different added, to make bothering with a remake worthwhile. The reveal in this film of the alien’s spaceship just didn’t cut it for me. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never seen the other films this one is a solid little scifi/horror entry all on its own, perfectly suitable for endless reruns on the SyFy channel, but you know could have been so much more had they expanded the story.
Regardless, film buffs and fans of the previous movies may appreciate some of the little homage touches to the previous THING films scattered throughout this one, such as choosing to have one of the modern scientists closely physically resemble his actor counterpart in the 1951 version, or how the song “Superstition” is played in both this and the 1982 film. The best bit for me was seeing the end credits cleverly jump-cut with scenes of the sled dog running away from the Norwegian’s camp, making a virtually seamless transition into the start of the Carpenter film. Which I may just go and rewatch now, simply because it tells the same story so much better.