Until recently, John Carpenter had been persona non grata since the abysmal Ghosts of Mars, a sci-fi version of his earlier action flick, Assault on Precinct 13. For a while, he seemed content with collecting royalty checks as Hollywood studios churned out big-budget remakes of his beloved cult classics. Assault was remade along with The Fog and Halloween. A remake of Escape from New York has long been in development and there have been rumblings of a new version of They Live. Now, Universal Studios brings us The Thing, which will make Carpenter fans pray nobody decides to remake Big Trouble in Little China.
The 2011 Thing isn’t a straight remake. In fact, the filmmakers even stated that remaking Carpenter’s film would be akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Makes you wonder why they did it anyway. No, this is more of a prequel and a loose remake using its predecessor as a template. Carpenter’s movie was a more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?, which was originally turned into a film by Howard Hawks. That 1951 version, The Thing From Another World, had more in common with Invasion of the Body Snatchers than it did the source material.
Carpenter’s 1982 movie begins at an American research base in Antarctica as its inhabitants witness the strange sight of a pair of Norwegians trying to shoot a sled dog. Unbeknownst to anyone there, the dog is actually an alien creature that can take the form of any person or animal it kills. The prequel delves into the tragic events that befell the scientists at the other base and how the alien was set loose.
At the nearby Thule base, the Norwegian researchers have discovered a massive alien spacecraft hidden underneath the snow for centuries. They’ve also discovered a dormant biological being frozen in the ice. Head scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) is extremely excited about the notoriety that will surely follow. Halvorson and his assistant, Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen), recruit paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to assist in the excavation of the alien. Of course, the thing breaks loose and picks the humans off one by one with the survivors never sure of who is really who.
The rest of the cast includes: Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as gruff American pilots and an assortment of Norwegian actors that aren’t likely known outside their home country.
The 2011 version was directed by newcomer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and written by Eric Heisserer, who also penned Final Destination 5 and the remake of The Nightmare on Elm Street. Whereas the Carpenter and Hawks films were allegories of Cold War paranoia, neither van Heijningen nor Heisserer are particularly interested in subtext or parables. Their Thing is a straightforward and pedestrian horror movie. While Carpenter’s Thing relied on the gruesome practical effects by Rob Bottin, the prequel gleefully trots out a heavy amount of CGI. The old axion of “Less is more,” applies here as the more we see of these computer effects, the less convincing they are.
The prequel also breaks up the sausage fest that was the Carpenter version by introducing female characters. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is cast as a tough female protagonist modeled after Ellen Ripley. There is something cool and arousing about seeing Winstead forcefully wielding a flamethrower to battle the beast. Sadly, she doesn’t get much to work with and doesn’t display half the charm she did as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. None of the other characters are fleshed out either and are simply there to increase the body count. It also hurts that they don’t have someone with a strong screen presence like Kurt Russell and Keith David in the original. They also don’t have Wilford Brimley, another huge strike against it.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is stunning with exceptional clarity and fine details. The colors are eye popping from the powder white of the Antarctic snow to the burning orange of the flamethrowers.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is strong with dialogue coming in crisp and clear. The action sequences really pack a punch with the roar of the flames and the screams of the creature. Marco Beltrami’s score, which echoes Ennio Morricone’s pulsating music from the original, sounds sweet.
Universal has released The Thing in a Blu-Ray combo pack that comes with a DVD version as well as codes for Digital Copy and Ultraviolet downloads.
The Blu-Ray includes an audio commentary with director Matthijs van Heiningen Jr. and producer Eric Newman. Topics discussed are paying homage to John Carpenter, the special effects, and earlier versions of the script including one featuring MacReady’s brother as the hero.
Also included is the U-Control option that plays picture-in-picture interviews with the cast and crew as well as behind-the-scenes footage.
The Thing Evolves (14:00) looks at the making of the film, gathering a cast of mostly Norwegian actors and the great lengths the crew went to match the prequel with Carpenter’s version.
Fire & Ice (4:47) is a behind-the-scenes look at the stunt work and flame thrower training the actors went through for the movie’s hottest sequences.
Finally, there are about nine minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes.
Film Value: 5
The Thing pales in comparison to the John Carpenter cult classic. It’s proof that just because you have more money and better toys, doesn’t mean you’ll make a better picture. Despite its mediocrity, The Thing might serve as a decent appetizer for a double feature with the Carpenter version.