mon 04/03/2024

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The Thing

The Thing

Pitiful prequel can't challenge John Carpenter classic

Dr Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) attempts to incinerate interstellar monstrosity

John Carpenter's original The Thing from 1982 had punch, pace, shocks, horror, dramatic tension and Kurt Russell in the lead. It also had a great intro, with its scenes of an apparently blameless and photogenic husky being pursued across Antarctica by gunmen in a helicopter. How we cheered when the animal was saved. How we shouldn't have.

It's indicative of the low calibre of this so-called "prequel" that Carpenter's opening now becomes a belated, tacked on ending, stopping (with slavish literal-mindedness) a few frames short of where Carpenter's film began. We learned in the previous movie that the titular Thing (pictured above, resembling a charred giant lobster) had come from a Norwegian research station. Thus, the new production team, led by Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen - ominously, this is his debut feature film - set about recreating this Norwegian mini-world in laborious detail, down to casting a bunch of Norwegian actors who talk and sing drinking songs in subtitled Norwegian. This is supposed to lend authenticity, but it just makes you wonder if you're watching a buy-in from Norwegian television. Carpenter's Nordic contingent was a mere footnote in his script, for eminently sound reasons.

Executive producer David Foster also produced Carpenter's film, and has commented that it was important for fans of the original to know that this isn't a remake and "that they're not going to see the same thing over and over again". Yet that is pretty much exactly what they do see, since the fate of the Norwegian team at the hands of their shape-shifting antagonist mirrors that of Kurt Russell's crew with uncanny exactness. After all, if you confine a group of people in huts in the Antarctic with a predatory alien life-form, how many options do you have? (The Thing's crew shooting at night, pictured above).

Van Heijningen's crew have made one change, which is the introduction of a female lead into what was previously an all-male cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead drew the short straw to play Dr Kate Lloyd, a palaeontologist from Columbia University who is recruited by Dr Sandor Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen, who's actually Danish if you want to get picky) to investigate a momentous find in the Antarctic. This turns out to be a massive spacecraft buried under the ice, and not far from it they find the frozen Thing. It's the arrogant, authoritarian Halvorson's decision to drill a hole in it to obtain a tissue sample that apparently revives it (helicopter pilots Carter and Jameson on Thing alert, pictured below).

Research with microscopes'n'stuff soon reveals that the specimen is life, Einar, but not as we know it. Would you believe it, it takes over the cells of other organisms and replicates them exactly. There's a period of tension - about the only one in the flick - while we await the commencement of the inevitable man-eating cataclysm, but once it begins you could recite the trajectory of the story yourself. Where this production really shot itself in the frostbitten foot was pitching its tents so closely alongside Carpenter's, ensuring that a large chunk of its audience will already know exactly where they're heading.

Where it might have edged ahead of the original was in the use of computerised effects which weren't available in the Eighties, yet even here it fails to score. Carpenter's team used weird and wiggly prosthetics and animation, which worked through their sheer inventiveness and outlandishness. Here, the sequences of characters being disgustingly absorbed into The Thing look like smooth but imagination-free imitations, like an X Factor version of the Rolling Stones. Carpenter's brilliant scene where Kurt Russell's MacReady tries to discover who has been Thing-cloned by inserting a hot wire into blood samples is replaced here by the feeble device of Dr Lloyd shining a torch into their mouths, which miserably fails to catch any of the tingling hysteria or dramatic thrust of the original. Regretfully, I would have to conclude that this was a film crying out not to be made.

  • The Thing is on general release from Friday

Watch the trailer for The Thing



The production shot itself in the frostbitten foot by pitching its tents so closely alongside Carpenter's, ensuring that a large chunk of its audience will know exactly where they're heading


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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While I agree with the general sentiment, John Carpenter's version is certainly not the original. Perhaps researching this would have made for a better article.

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