Okay, first of all, let me make it clear that I have seen, and am quite a fan of, The Thing From Another World by Christian Nyby (well, the fingerprints of producer Howard Hawks are all over it and the final result is often credited more to him than Nyby). It was a sci-fi horror based on a short story, “Who Goes There?”, by John W. Campbell Jr and remains a superior genre piece. When John Carpenter released a remake in 1982 that was based more on the original story than the older movie he provided audiences with that rarest of goods – a superior remake. The Thing was/is a sci-fi horror classic and remains a landmark in special effects. This movie is a prequel to the Carpenter movie and so, for the purpose of this review, I shall be referring to the Carpenter film as the original. Now that the semantics are out of the way, let’s move on.
You don’t HAVE to have seen the original movie to enjoy this prequel and keep up with the developing situation but it helps and hinders your viewing experience if you have. Well, I love the 1982 film so I think everyone should see it anyway.
Something has been discovered buried under the ice of Antarctica and a few bright sparks (including the lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are flown out to help figure out the situation. And the situation is as follows – there’s a creature that appears to have come from another planet but it may not be dead. It also may not be friendly. Being alive and unfriendly wouldn’t be the worst thing ever if the creature wasn’t able to absorb and imitate everything organic it came into contact with. Cue much paranoia, bloodshed and nasty transformations.
Very much a mixed bag of good and bad, The Thing sometimes gets things just right. The first half hour or so is especially good in setting up the main plot developments while also referencing plenty of details that fans of the original movie will enjoy. The acting, overall, is decent and only becomes annoying when the movie begins to sag under the weight of a clumsy script by Eric Heisserer. And the effects often mix CGI with decent practical work.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. knows how to please eagle-eyed fans and there is a lot of enjoyable foreshadowing but, sadly, it eventually becomes a distraction. As I watched the last 15 minutes I was thinking to myself “well, they still have to show (x) and (y)” and when everything fell into place as the end credits rolled it felt as if they were shoehorned in at the end, almost forgotten about until some other fan mentioned it to the filmmakers. It would also seem, in the way the creature appears and mutates, that those involved have been influenced just as much by the (admittedly excellent) videogame as they have by the original movie. It’s another distraction that lessens the tension and makes the movie at times feel like The Thing blended with bits of Resident Evil. Some people will, rightly, feel indignant about that. The paranoia is still present and correct but it’s sidelined in favour of standard monster movie stuff that builds up to a massively disappointing and generic climax.
At least the movie is respectful of the original, sometimes too respectful, but the one big difference added to the abilities of the creature (it cannot imitate anything inorganic such as fillings, jewellery, etc) is something that has irked many viewers. I actually didn’t mind this. I started off by thinking that the creature perhaps always had this problem and, by the time of the 1982 movie, just got better at hiding the evidence or even simply adapted and evolved. But then I thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . oh, but all of the imitations are wearing clothes. So The Thing can’t imitate fillings or jewellery but some jeans, boots and sweaters are no problem?
So that leaves us with a heavily flawed movie that redeems itself with attention to detail, a great score that also incorporates the classic theme by Ennio Morricone, the presence of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, some inventive moments of body horror and, well, the presence of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. And let’s not forget that I very much enjoyed the presence of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’s worth seeing, it doesn’t urinate all over your fond memories of the Carpenter movie and it tries hard to gloss over the more idiotic aspects and flaws. But it’s certainly nothing unmissable.
DIRECTOR: MATTHIJS VAN HEIJNINGEN JR
WRITER: ERIC HEISSERER (BASED ON THE 1982 MOVIE BASED ON THE JOHN W. CAMPBELL JR. STORY “WHO GOES THERE?”)
STARS: MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD, JOEL EDGERTON, ULRICH THOMSEN, ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN
RUNTIME: 103 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA, CANADA