In 1982 directorial master John Carpenter created an absolute classic of the Sci-Fi / Horror genre. The Thing became renowned for its mind bending, practical effects body-horror, and was a perfectly executed story of isolation and paranoia, when a group of scientists unexpectedly find themselves dealing with an unknown alien threat. Arguably Carpenter’s finest hour, the movie was a remake of the classic monster B Movie The Thing From Another World (1951). However he created a reimagining that far outdoes the original, returning closer to the source material for inspiration, the 1938 novella Who Goes There? (written by John W. Campbell Jr).
Set in a bleak and desolate Antarctic winter, the film opens as a helicopter swoops through the snowy mountains chasing down a dog with gunfire, as it sprints across the icy wasteland towards a research facility inhabited by American scientists. Alerted to the commotion, the team rush out to be greeted by the dog and the marksman who appears hellbent on destroying the animal, but who himself is shot and killed by one of the Americans. An investigation follows with lead character MacReady, played by Carpenter regular Kurt Russell (Escape From New York), visiting the Norwegian base that the helicopter appears to have come from, which is found burnt out and with signs of horror and bloodshed inside.
Further mystery follows with the discovery of a hollowed out ice grave and the remains of a carcass like no human or animal he has seen before. The carcass is returned to base and an autopsy is performed, where viscerally disgusting gloopy model effects are used, setting the tone for what’s to come. Groundbreaking body horror ensues as we next see the transformation of the dog from the opening sequence, into a grotesque vile alien form, created by practical effects wizard Rob Bottin, who’s work in the film is as memorable as the story itself. From here the movie plays out as a near perfect execution in suspense, as we learn the camp is now inhabited by a shapeshifting being, which can transform into any living form that it comes into contact with.
The completely isolated group must fight for survival against the threat and themselves, as paranoia spreads among them after learning the alien may have killed, digested and imitated the form of any one of them. The films minimal score pays homage to the 1950’s era of the original movie, and perfectly adds to the overall bleak feeling of isolation within the film, which ends with a dreary and ambiguous ending, leaving the audience to make up their own minds as to whether the threat has been destroyed once and for all.
In 2011 Universal Pictures revisited the story to produce a prequel, telling the tale of the events leading up to the beginning of Carpenter’s classic film. Bizarrely they chose to name the movie exactly the same as the original, and with a story following the same basic premise, it’s fair to say that this movie was a remake of sorts. The story follows the Norwegian scientists as their base first discovers the alien spacecraft, buried deep below the icy plains of Antartica. Upon their discovery a team of American archeological experts, inc palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – 10 Cloverfield Lane) are brought in to help excavate and study the spacecraft. Flown by pilot Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) who assumes the macho role played by Kurt Russell in the original, he warns them that whatever they’re doing needs to wrap up in a couple of days, as a ‘storm is coming’ … a clear metaphor for the events that will follow.
The intro to the movie features glossy cinematography, as the helicopter travels across beautifully shot snowy landscapes. Kate is blown away as she is brought to the spacecraft, which they estimate has been buried for 1000 years. But she soon learns the real purpose of her visit as she is shown the survivor who is catacombed in a coffin of ice, perfectly preserved and ready for her to excavate, so it can be studied. On their first night the team celebrate their discovery, dreaming of Nobel prizes and the admiration that will follow their work.
But during the party the ice around their subject begins to thaw, and the creature comes to life, breaking free in a flash from its chamber and leaping through the ceiling. The team then start a search for the alien in a dark and slightly difficult to focus on night time scene, and soon come across the mangled remains of one of their dogs. They then discover The Thing, who devours one of the team in the first scene of CGI heavy horror, before they are able to incinerate the creature, believing the conflict to be over … however little do they realise the true horror has only just begun!
An autopsy scene reminiscent of the first movie shows their colleague inside the beast, mid absorption in a horrifying scene with use of practical effects providing a comparative feel to its predecessor. What their facing with then becomes apparent as The Thing unleashes itself again having taken on the human form of one of the scientists, before the body divides in half from the face down and tentacles shoot out to overcome its next victim. In this scene the horror is diminished slightly as the CGI effects look very computerised, and it is here where critics of the modern version take hum bridge when comparing to the original.
However we all know the practically of movies using CGI effects in modern cinema just wasn’t an option for Carpenter back in the early 80’s. Yes it is the practical effects that gave The Thing (1982) its notorious visual tone, but in places the rework does aim to pay homage and blends in model work with the CGI in many of the horrific scenes. Although having a clear handle on the events that will follow, does somewhat diminish the suspense of the remake in comparison to its predecessor, both have a similar intriguing bleakness to the tone, and similarities such as the perfect use of tension created during mirrored scenes, as they perform a test on each other, designed to flush out who may or may no longer still be human.
In fact The Thing (2011) is clever in the way that it acts as a remake also mirroring many other classic scenes from the original, while also acting as a prequel, telling a story with different characters and providing an ending that perfectly links the two movies together. The subtler elements of the original maybe lost somewhat in the final third of the remake, and some of the dark shots are virtually impossible to watch clearly. But in our opinion it certainly is not a reimagining of a much beloved cult 80’s film, that should never have been made. In fact it brought the story to a younger 00’s audience, used to the over the top CGI effects. And if it helped introduce anyone to Carpenter’s classic, before diving down a rabbit hole of other such 80’s sci-fi horror … then that’s ok with us. KZ
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