Review: ‘The Thing’

"Largely indistinguishable from the original. Indistinguishable, but inferior."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


It’s not that Matthijs von Heijningen, Jr.’s new remake/prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi classic The Thing (itself, based on the 1951 Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World) is a bad film; it’s actually quite solidly made. The cast is perfectly serviceable (if not necessarily memorable). The photography is moody and snowy and appropriately cold. Even the monster looks fine. It’s just that, well, this version of The Thing is completely useless.

Consider this: In the original 1982 version, our grizzled American heroes, having seen a Norwegian helicopter crash nearby their remote arctic outpost, go investigating where it came from. They find a group of dead Norwegians, some evidently by suicide, some by… other means. They also find the body of some twisted alien creature. Only they don’t know what it is. That scene tells us all we need to know about what happened there. Some mysterious evil force has wiped out all the Norwegians. In this new prequel, we get to see what happened to those Norwegians.

Only it’s a forgone conclusion. We know what will happen, and how the Norwegians will end up. I hate when sequels and remakes try to fill in the gaps of a previous film, when our imaginations have already done that for us.

But that’s not the biggest problem with the remake of The Thing. The biggest problem is that is hits all the exact same story beats as the original. Like exactly. There’s the scene where they discover the monster. The scene where it escapes for the first time. The scene where they discover that it can imitate human beings on a cellular level. The usual scenes where it begins to pick people off. There’s the scene where the survivors are gathered in a room, and go through a test to make sure they’re human (although awesome the blood-scorching scene of the original has turned into a scene where people check one another for fillings; evidently the creature can’t reproduce fillings. Clothing, on the other hand, is never brought up). There’s even the “unexpected” scene where it turns out someone you thought was human suddenly becomes alien.

Sure, there’s a slightly different ending, where our heroes end up meeting the beastie on board the alien craft it crashed in, but the film as a whole is largely indistinguishable from the original.

Indistinguishable, but inferior. The film is staged as a prequel, so we do have tenuous connections to the 1982 film (hence the foregone conclusion), but it’s also kind of halfway a remake, so we have to cover the same story beats. That means we’re in a supposedly “original” story, but we’re simultaneously slogging through the same one. Which means this new take on the material isn’t new at all. Which means the filmmakers seem doggedly determined not to bring anything at all original to the proceedings. The setting is the same. The monster is (quite literally) the same. The story is the same. And the only elements that make it differ are no improvement.


The first change: Instead of a grizzled jerk in our lead role (last time played by Kurt Russel), we have a wide-eyed, young American scientist played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She has been hired by a kooky Norwegian moneyman (Ulrich Thomsen) to identify and dig up the alien creature he discovered under the ice. She is the one to take charge of the situation when the goo hits the fan, but her character is given no arc, no depth, and little in the way of dialogue. And, sadly, Winstead is such a slight actress, she brings no heft. Instead of practical effects, the monster is animated with CGI. The 1982 version of The Thing was, according to anyone you’ll ask, probably one of the best instances of practical creature effects in cinema history. By animating the creature with computers, you’re taking away its squishy, fleshy life, and making it into yet another in a long, long line of dull-looking and not entirely convincing animated beasties. How is it that nearly 30 years have passed, and the creature looks less convincing?

Also, the supporting cast is offered little in the way of character. We know one guy can’t speak English. We know another has a beard. Joel Edgerton is in there somewhere. But all throughout, you’ll be thinking to yourself “Oh yeah. That guy. I guess he’s still alive.”

I’m usually in the camp of snotty film critics who feels most every remake is kind of useless. I am, however, a professional, and it’s my job to judge each remake on its own merits. If there’s something interesting in a remake, it’s my job to admit that and to indicate it in my review. That said, The Thing is one of the most useless remakes to date.