Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Premise: A prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name. Scientists in Antarctica discover an alien life form frozen in the ice. When it is exhumed, the creature comes to life and begins to attack and infect the scientists.
What Works: The Thing is well cast and it does do the subtle interpersonal conflicts well. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays one of the only women in the film and the story picks up on the gender politics between her and the rest of the men in the station without hitting it too hard on the head. Ulrich Thomsen is also well cast as an arrogant academic. His cold demeanor and conceited disposition make him an effective antagonist.
What Doesn’t: A prequel is only justified if it reveals something new about the characters, themes, or circumstances of the original story and retroactively changes the way we understand the existing film. The Godfather Part II deepened the audience’s understanding of the Corleone family, X-Men: First Class redefined the conflict between the factions of mutants, and the Star Wars prequels, despite their faults, broadened the scope of the saga and revised the character of Darth Vader. Put simply, a prequel focuses on the how and the why and it is incumbent on a prequel to make the answers to those questions interesting. Although the 2011 version of The Thing is billed as a prequel to the 1982 film, it is for all intents and purposes a remake. The film has a different opening, as it shows the events that resulted in the remains discovered by the characters in the 1982 film, but there isn’t anything accomplished in telling this prequel that wasn’t accomplished in the opening of the previous picture. The bulk of the new The Thing is a rehash of the events of the original. The character relationships, the special effects, and the overall look and tone of this film are derived from its predecessor although this film rarely does any of it as well. The picture does manage a few scares but it lacks the atmosphere of dread of John Carpenter’s film and the creativity and flair of the transformations, which were groundbreaking in the 1982 version. In fact, this prequel is really a disservice to the 1982 film. Presumably, the 2011 picture is intended to be watched first but if a viewer does that all of the mystery and suspense of the 1982 film is gone. But watching them in the order of release creates a similar problem because the prequel’s approach to The Thing is essentially the same. And in whatever order the films are viewed, the ending of the 2011 film leaves a staggering plot hole between the prequel and the start of the original.
Bottom Line: The 2011 version of The Thing is inferior to its predecessor. The film isn’t very scary and as a prequel it doesn’t contribute anything. Viewers would be better off re-watching the 1982 version instead.
Note: This is actually the third version of this story. The original film was The Thing from Another World, released in 1951.
Episode: #360 (October 23, 2011)