Crash Analysis: THE THING (2011)

Add to your list of most disappointing prequels

Antarctic team finds one pissed off alien

Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivered a character as vapid as Kristen Stewart in real life. And that was the most creepy part of this prequel.

And yes, Matthijs van Heijningen really tried to deliver, but he came up short. Part of the problem is certainly his as director, but the other culprit is screenwriter Eric Heisserer. However, I have a funny feeling executive producers are to blame as well as the feature’s three editors. All will soon be revealed.

So, back in the early 1980s, John Carpenter helms THE THING (released in 1982), which apparently pays more respect to John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story “Who Goes There?” than THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1956). However, some Hollywood pinhead couldn’t keep their hands off one of the best horrors ever made and decided to greenlight a prequel.

Carpenter’s horror, which is one of my favorites of all time, has several elements that make it work: Characters you can route for, atmosphere (visuals as well as music), mysteries both the characters and audience can appreciate, and an alien on a mission. For Heisserer, he took the “fuck the intelligence of the audience” Hollywood approach, and made some very bad calls.

The “smart” alien of Carpenter’s grand tale simply wants to hide in a human body and curl up in the cold until a rescue party arrives. For whatever ridiculous reason, in the prequel he’s equivalent to a homicidal maniac with a visceral, animalistic instinct for survival at all costs, which is a far cry from an interstellar pilot who had crash-landed over 100,000 years before.

Another problem: Way too many characters. And when one sees nearly fifteen characters, two things are certain: Most will perish in a bloodfest, and since we won’t have time to know them, their deaths will be meaningless to us. Character development is sorely lacking. As for the heroine, Kate Lloyd (Winstead), she is not a reluctant hero, but a passive-aggressive pseudo-wimp that goes through the motions like a veteran prostitute. Kate lacked the character arc of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (ALIEN 1979), or even the post-teen zeal of a Princess Leia.

In 1982, the suspense and tension was quite gripping, thanks to Bill Lancaster’s brilliant script and Carpenter’s vision. But Heijningen and Heisserer brought no scares, no suspense and minimal tension – and the latter came about due to character conflict, not the life and death struggle with an alien species.

For special effects, Bob Bottin’s ultra-amazing work from 1982 still holds up. And no third-rate, cartoonish CGI garbage was used. In this story of THE THING, many of the makeup effects are rock solid, and some of the CGI is up to par. However, computer generated effects are clearly overused causing believability to diminish.

But if this was a legitimate prequel, why did the filmmaker’s copy from so many of Lancaster’s and Carpenter’s scenes? At one point, it was obvious that there was so much over-lapping in action as well as dialogue, I thought the notion of a prequel was ludicrous. Yet, I was surprised how by movie’s end the story had clearly become a prequel – and these latter minutes were the very best of the movie for the transition was handled beautifully. Sadly, the rest of the story didn’t hold up and left me releasing harsh breaths like a frustrated parent with triplets caught up in the “terrible twos”.

It was great for the filmmakers to replicate certain outcomes to fit the destroyed Norwegian camp we see in the beginning of the 1982 film, yet errors were made. In the Carpenter film, we see a VHS tape of the Norwegians blowing up the ice around the ship. In this story, a glacier-like cover hangs over the ship like an umbrella. Why? And if the ship was so damaged, and the alien had to step out into the cold, why did “it” jump in and start ‘er up to try and escape? Illogical. Another interesting element never explained in both films is how the alien ended up in a higher elevation than the ship. Yet, one only has to imagine a heavier object sinking deeper than a body that may rise higher due to geological maneuvers.

Finally, there is a major point of contention that some fans of Carpenter’s work have not even noticed yet. In the prequel, Kate realizes that the alien can only replicate organic life. This means, for example, someone with fillings would be mimicked by the alien – but with perfect teeth. This also means that since Childs (Keith David) was wearing his earring in the end scene with MacReady (Kurt Russell) in Carpenter’s film, he could not have been infected with the “virus”. However, this does not mean he could have been infected later and this does not mean Mac had the virus. For all we know, both could have frozen to death. Then again, we don’t know what happened to Nauls (TK Carter).

Overall, the filmmakers should have made a sequel about a team that discovers something in the snow rescue teams had missed when going through the Norwegian camp as well as McMurlte. Instead, they went the silly prequel route and didn’t even bother to come up with a new title.

We are left with a lackluster movie of shallow characters that pales in comparison to one of Carpenter’s very best. Watch it if you choose, but do not expect to be thrilled. You’ll most likely get more shocks and scares from people watching at Wal-mart.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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