The Thing (2011) is directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., who I haven’t heard of before seeing this movie. But we have Joel Edgerton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ulruch Thomsen, Erich Christian Olsen and friends as the crew this time around. The Thing (2011) is a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982, where a team of researchers in Antarctica find a frozen alien body in a UFO that’s been frozen in the ice for an undisclosed amount of time. They pull the body out and bring it into their research facility. And after thawing, the alien comes alive and begins copying the bodies of the crew to terrorize them. If you’ve seen the original from 1982, it’s basically the same plot. So let’s get into it.
I’m going to compare this Thing to Carpenter’s original since they share the same plot and it’s both a remake and a prequel (but more of a prequel). At the end I’ll talk about how it stacks up as an original work, but for the most part the rating is almost the same. One thing you’ll see if you check out the IMDb pages for both films are the ratings. Carpenter’s is well into the IMDb Top 250, where van Heijningen’s definitely is not. I’ve heard good things about van Heijningen’s version from a couple of people, so my hopes were pretty high regardless of the score. But my hope began to fade after they pulled the alien into the facility. Something didn’t feel right, things were so very different from the original. And things continually got worse as the film moved along.
One thing that made the original Thing so effective was its use of sound. Not only were the sounds of the thing chilling, but also the musical score. A lot of the time it was just a bass string pluck, and that sets the tone for the movie before it really begins. It’s mysterious and very simple, which is sustained throughout the entire film after being established in the opening credits. The 2011 version also begins with that bass string, but then moves into an original composition. Now normally this wouldn’t be an issue. But it is when the musical score isn’t written very well, as much as I hate to say it. It becomes more prominent as the film goes along, which really got on my nerves. There were times where it needed to be a tense moment but was ruined by the music. The score is very unoriginal and lacks any sort of consistency or emotion. What made the original so effective was its simple use of music. It only used it when it needed, but, for the most part, it was a quiet film. Here, they use music for every reveal, every surprise, and every situation. It becomes very annoying when I begin to ask why music is needed in a scene that would do just fine without it. A musical score shouldn’t tell me how to feel, but should be an aid to build emotion. Music should feel like it’s a part of the film, not the star of the show. Every time there is something “awe-inspiring”, I shouldn’t need a musical score to be blasted in my face. Show me how the characters react to it, that’s how I’ll know if it’s really amazing.
But this also has to do with acting in general as well. In the original, it’s clear the crew all knew each other. And we got this sense of brotherhood, as if they had been working together for a long time in this cramped space, which already would cause issues anyways because of the tight space. The issue with the new Thing is I never get a good sense of comradery. The only scene we get of the whole crew hanging out is when they bring the alien in, which is cut short when it escapes. It’s a very short scene that I wish went on longer so I could get a better sense of how they operate together. I never get that, which, in turn, brings forth a glaring issue. When the members start to be picked off I never feel the loss. I see the other members hurt…for a little bit, then they move on. It never lasts, the movie doesn’t take its time to show how much that person mattered to the crew. It feels like wasted time. In the original, we didn’t always get to know each crew member, but that was fine. We still felt the loss of each person because the film takes its time to show the impact it has on the other crew members and how much they don’t want to kill their other comrades.
This even goes as far as the tension between the crew members. There’s a lack of conflict between everyone. It doesn’t really start hitting the fan until the end, but when it finally gets there, I don’t care. I don’t know these people. It also doesn’t help that the characters are flat and poorly constructed. I know why they are fighting, but I don’t remember who is who, or what they do. I don’t get a good sense of companionship because the film doesn’t focus on it as much, like it should. Instead it’s all about the monster they found, making the opening act very weak in its set up. In the original film, it at least took a little time to build the relationships between the crewmates. And as the film goes along I begin to feel for those who die from the thing, and the decisions that are made from the crew. It builds suspense because as more die, the more intense the decisions become. In the new movie, that isn’t there. Yes, the crew do have conflicts between one another and for good reason. But I just don’t feel the tension. And when people begin dying, the tension has already deflated because if the crew doesn’t care, then I guess they weren’t important.
And this is a big writing issue, this script simply needs a rewrite. It’s a fine idea to go for the origins of the thing, and the team of researchers it hits first before coming across Kurt Russell and his crew. That’s fine, I suppose. The problem comes when you also explain too much to the audience. I’ll just be blatantly honest; I don’t feel engaged in the movie at all. I don’t feel like I have to think about anything, or draw conclusions on my own. It’s like the movie doesn’t even try to engage its audience. It explains everything to us, as if we are children. One example is the crew coming to the realization that the thing replicates its victims. In the original they explain this once, and then act on that new information from then on out. In the new version, the main character reminds the crew about it at least three times. Three times! We aren’t five, we don’t need to be told exposition more than once. It’s important enough for us to remember, we’ll catch on.
Another example is that this movie, for God knows what reason, decides to actually show us the thing. Once the crew pulls the block of ice into the base, we see the thing breaks loose from being frozen in its block of ice. And it shows it all, this movie doesn’t try to hide much from the audience (once again, not engaging). It shows the thing break loose, which I’ll talk more about soon. It shows the thing taking over a few of the members. There are even times when it shows us who the thing is before its revealed to the characters. It shows too much! What made the original so chilling was what we didn’t see. We never really got a good look at what exactly the thing looked like, or if it was still alive. We get a very short glimpse of it taking over one of the crew members, but that’s about it. That’s what made it so terrifying was the fear of the unknown. Not only did it leave it up to the audience’s imagination after a lot of disgusting imagery, but we didn’t know who was next. It could be anyone. This, in turn, created needed conflict between the crew because of the amount of panic and uncertainty that grew with each death. It makes sense, we understand why this is happening! I mean, you’re already trapped in the middle of nowhere with no help, so of course everyone would panic not knowing when they would die next.
The problem comes when there isn’t hardly any tension being built. In the original, the members are picked off one by one, in a very slow manner that builds tension. And the new version starts off this way, but then in one scene the thing takes out four crew members, without remorse. The 2011 version has such a hard time building tension that it makes the film not scary, which is a big problem. Not only do we not have set relationships or development between the members of the crew, but now we’ve seen the monster that’s attacking them and we can easily pick up on which member is the thing. If the audience can clue into everything in a scene before the scene has ended, then we have an issue. The tension has deflated, and there are no surprises beyond shock value in the effects of the thing. This is wasting time.
This is why the 2011 prequel failed to capture me in any way. There was no tension. There were a couple of scenes that had some promise. But after I saw the thing burst from the ice, I knew things weren’t right. In one scene alone, it’s already broken two aspects of the film that made the original so iconic. The first is seeing the thing. As I stated before, the original was effective because of what we don’t see. We never saw what exactly it looked like, maybe glimpses, but only to serve for our imaginations. But now that we’ve seen the thing (and if you’ve seen the original), you know what it’s capable of and you know what it looks like.
The second problem here is the director decided that it was a good idea to go with CGI to recreate the thing. Normally this wouldn’t be a big issue for a remake to do. But here, it’s almost considered a sin. The original from 1982 was known for its use of amazing practical effects. It really showed them off, and for good reason, they looked amazing! Especially for 1982. The effects do look a little dated now. But, the fact that it exists as a tangible object that the actors messed with made it all the more convincing. Even just knowing that someone took the time to build a practical set piece with such detail faded the thought that it looks fake. But, with the new one, they went for CGI. And not good CGI either. I know it’s fake because it looks fake. Which in turn deflates the tension because now I believe that this thing isn’t real. At times it looks gross, sure, but I know someone just made it on a computer, which isn’t nearly as impressive. Granted there are a couple of times that practical effects were used, but it only happens once or twice, it’s mainly CGI.
There are also a lot of repeat situations. Now that’s not to say that the original has some shock value elements to it, it does. But it used that to raise the tension and conflict. One notable example is the blood sample scene from the original. They do something similar in the new one, but they try to “change it up” but it’s such a stupid and flawed idea. And to make matters worse, the movie even brings this to attention as if it knows it’s a dumb idea. It ends up not doing much for the movie plot-wise except for wasting time. It’s just a copy from the original with “something new” twisted on it so it’s technically not considered a copy. Which is that a lot of the 2011 The Thing feels like. Just a copy of the original. This is a remake/prequel (mainly prequel), but it follows a lot of the same steps as the original. I understand that there will be some situational similarities being the strict setting and plot. But I want something more. They try to hide this by adding more exposition to the plot to explain the thing. I don’t need to know more about the monster, I want to know more about these characters, I want to know more about how they plan on handling situations besides a flamethrower. I’ve seen that before, show me something new besides modernized effects.
So, now that I’ve trashed The Thing (2011) in what it’s done wrong, is there really anything good in it? Safe to say there are some things I did like. I liked that this film ties right back to the original in the end, it was a nice detail to have. You could watch this and then the original and it would tell the entire story. Another thing would be some of the updated visuals. Now, they don’t look the greatest, but I like the idea and what they were going for. It’s cool to see new ideas for the thing, and how it attacks. That doesn’t change my original opinion on how it looks CG-wise though. And, like the original, it does have a pretty good pace…for the most part. It does move a little faster than from 1982, but that’s both a good and bad thing.
But how would The Thing (2011) stack up if Carpenter didn’t make it back in 1982? A lot of the same problems still exist that I’ve already mentioned. Bad CGI, but cool effects. Shallow characters, but some pretty good conflict. I can say there would be a little more tension being the simple story. If the original never existed, and the 2011 version was the only Thing movie we had, it would get a higher score. But since it does follow the shadow from 1982, its set itself up for harsh opinions because of how good it’s original was. I don’t know what they were thinking from some of the choices they made. It’s almost like the director didn’t know what made the original so good besides character to character conflicts and cool effects.
But, seriously, if you want to watch a Thing movie, watch the original from 1982. You get so much more out of the older film. John Carpenter does a fantastic job anyways. I fail to see a reason for a prequel/remake to exist. The Thing (2011) just isn’t a good film, and not everyone will come to the same agreement. That’s just how it works, and that’s fine. But in my personal opinion I think The Thing (2011) gets 4/10 stars. There are some cool things about it, but not enough to make it better than the original. Not by a mile. Go watch the original, this one is a solid not recommend for me.