Despite the critical reception, it’s not all bad when it comes to 2011’s The Thing; yet, it so happens to be one of the most heartbreaking disappointments of the year. Am I a walkin’, talkin’ contradiction? Perhaps. However, it’s for all the technical and narrative elements that The Thing does right that my heart breaks and not for its shortcomings.
Since The Thing 2011’s protagonist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd) is not in the Antarctic at the film’s opening, there is a major rush to get her there by way of the ole “24 hour cliche.” You know it as well as I do: (1) Important Mission (2) A job only the protagonist can fulfill (3) Demanding authority figure offers opportunity of a lifetime on one condition (4) You leave in 24 hours.
With this approach to the film, the opening half-hour is primarily exposition for both The Thing 2011 as well as The Thing 1982; and this was my main concern: fear of tainting the mythology of John Carpenter’s vision by way of revealing too much. In other words, I feared that the prequel would answer too many of the unanswerable questions left lingering on R. J. MaCready’s (Kurt Russell) frosty face at the end of Carpenter’s horror-de-force. While there is a lot of backstory even for a prequel, the Exposition O’ Plenty does serve to tie the new and the old together quite well; as iconic images from the Norwegian camp shown in the 1982 flick are explained convincingly by way of van Heijningen’s well thought out scenarios to bring about said iconic images – none more so than the famed “two howling faces.”
That being said, there are two aspects of The Thing 2011 that may dampen the pillows of die-hard Carpenter fans. One image that may taint the mythology for some viewers will be seeing the Thing in its original form before it ever gets to absorb a frosty Norwegian and/or explode from a human host. However, it’s really a question of whether the viewer chooses to accept the Thing’s initial form as its “original form.” What if Earth was not its first stop? That’s right folks, all this and more on the next episode of The Twilight Zone (cue theme song).
Another potential myth-buster is the Thing’s space ship (which is only briefly shown and touched on in The Thing 1982). Unfortunately, this film opens with the massive ship as its big draw, as three Norwegians fall into a crevasse where the space ship long lay dormant underneath (which begs, and answers, the age old question: how many Norwegians does it take to find a space ship? Three, duh). We’re not only treated to overpriced, of little use, exterior shots of the ship, but we’re also brought right inside for an open house tour minus the bruschetta on rye.
One of the joys of Carpenter’s The Thing is its humble settings; whereas the majority of The Thing 2011 is far too grand a spectacle for its own good. The phrase “less is more” aptly applies to The Thing 1982 as it could have to its prequel. An interesting note about this “less is more” phrase/idea is that director van Heijningen told such sources as Variety and Bloody Disgusting that he understood it exactly, wanting to focus more on human interaction as the first film had.
Now, my friends, for the positive segue: he does focus on human interaction… for 45 minutes out of 103. Alas, my heartache and subsequent 24 hour depression. The prequel’s second act is all that was the claustrophobic, paranoid, mind-f*ck of the original; and I mean this in all sincerity. When the film concentrates on a singular time and place it’s tremendous, echoing the traumatic images of Thing’s past. Kate even implements her own test in order to separate human from Thing, which for fans of The Thing 1982 excites, shocks, and sickens from the mere utterance of the word “test” until Kate’s original and cleaver execution. In modern horror films it’s a sheer pleasure to observe the rarity of slow pacing, the lack of quick cutting, the elimination of cheap scares, and the balls of simply showing what is, open and honestly. Flamethrowers, huskies, blood and guts. Oh My!
Oh well. It’s all for not as van Heijningen turns to the “monster movie” formula of so many tired horror/sci-fi films of the past, well, 100 years; so too does he return to grandeur, losing sight (and possibly shifting genres) of the small-scale setting of the Norwegian camp and also surpassing the immensity of the film’s opening CGI-fest. Just a hint, though: do not walk out of the theatre until the end credits are complete, as they may restore some of the warmth to fans’ hearts after they were left cold by a frigid, sterile third act.
Official “Thing” word count: 17
Synopsis: “At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson. “