Film Discussion

The Thing – Throwback 10

John Carpenter‘s The Thing is an amazing movie. It’s got a great cast, an eerie and frightening location, and a premise so horrifying and tense that it’s nerve-wracking. To look at that film and say ‘let’s remake it’ seems absurd, yet that’s precisely what producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman thought when they were looking for horror films to remake after the success of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead. Instead of choosing to remake The Thing, they wanted to explore what had already been established in that film, and chose to tell the story of what happens to the Norwegian arctic research station Thule when they unearth a deadly alien life form.

The story of 2011’s The Thing focuses on the events that came before the John Carpenter movie, crafting a prequel that filled the audience in on what happened before Kurt Russell and the rest of his team arrived on the scene. This is actually a brilliant decision, one that allows the filmmakers to add to the world of that original film and not instantly receive hate before anyone even watches it simply because it’s a remake. However, 2011’s The Thing is not a film that most people like, so what went wrong?

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The Thing begins in the winter of 1982, when the staff at a Norwegian research station discover a huge ship beneath the arctic ice, along with some kind of creature that froze to death nearby. Seeing that a major find is on their hands the leader of the expedition calls for a specialist researcher, and the American palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) travels to the base with helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton).

Upon arriving at the base, Kate begins her research into what is clearly an alien life-form, but before much work can be done the creature bursts free from the block of ice it’s been encased in, escaping into the base. The team soon discover that the creature is able to infect and imitate any living creature on the base, leading to them having to not only fight for their own survival, but trying to stop the creature from escaping.

© 2011 – Universal Pictures

The plot to The Thing is perfectly fine, if not a little repetitive of what came in the original. The setting is similar enough to practically be the same (one arctic base is the same as another I suppose), and the decent sized cast that gets slowly picked off whilst the bigger star names do what they can to survive feels very recognisable. What this film had going for it, and what it didn’t really capitalise on, was being where the Thing crashed to earth. They had the spaceship, they had the opportunity to explore the history of this creature more, and didn’t really do much with it.

This being a prequel, the film could have waited a bit longer to unleash the creature too. We know what’s coming. We know the monster is going to get out because the first film happens, so this film could have really played with teasing how and when this would occur, leaving viewers wondering if this scene was going to be the one where it escaped or not. But the film seems to be more interested in trying to tell the same ‘anyone could be a monster’ story as the first film, so the creature is soon skittering around causing havoc.

© 2011 – Universal Pictures

This does lead to one clever little addition that I did like. In the first film the team realise that any part of the Thing is alive, and will react to defend itself, leading to them developing a test to try and see who might be infected. Here, they come to the realisation that the Thing can only copy organic material when they find discarded fillings in the shower. This lets them check to see who might be the thing, with anyone who has a filling or a piercing clearly being a human. It’s nice to see new and creative ways of people trying to identify potential monsters that aren’t just rehashes of the first movie.

However, once the Thing escapes we do get some of the worst parts of the film, namely, the effects. The original movie is amazing and stands the test of time because of the quality of their practical effects, that are still great to see to this day. Sadly, the 2011 version of The Thing goes a very different route, choosing to use CGI quite heavily. There are moments in this film where the tension should be through the roof, where the characters are fighting for their lives against a creature from your nightmares, but all you end up thinking is ‘this looks terrible’. There has been footage released since the film’s release that shows the practical effects work that was done for the film by very talented creators and suit actors. However, almost all of these shots were either removed from the final film, or covered over in CGI. The result is a film that at its best has aged terribly, and at times looks even worse than the 2007 Doctor Who episode ‘The Lazarus Experiment’.

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Unfortunately for the film, this seemed to be the kind of sentiment shared by most, and the movie was quickly given poor reviews by multiple outlets. These reviews, and general word of mouth, didn’t help the film at the box office, resulting in it only making back $31.5 million of its $38 million budget. Despite being a financial loss, and a poor film overall, fans remained over the years, as word of an alternate director’s cut began to spread; a version of the film that not only utilised practical effects, but an entirely new creature in the final confrontation. As of yet, this version of the film has not been released, but if the pieces that have been shared online are anything to go on, it would be a huge improvement.

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