John Carpenter’s master class in tension and practical effects was a film about an alien absorbing and replicating the cells of its prey and going into hiding. The updated version- or should I say prequel features the initial discovery of the threat as it intends to do exactly what Carpenter’s version does but in a much more imperfect fashion. The creature in THE THING (don’t call it a remake) attempts to be more polished but actually comes out a little messier than the material it is working from. Much like the alien it features the prequel attempts to absorb and replicate Carpenter’s vision but often the product comes out with something lost in translation.
This version of THE THING attempts to answer the question “what exactly happened at the Swedish camp the group of scientists visit in Carpenter’s film?” As most know, Carpenter’s THE THING starts with a helicopter hot on the trail of a dog (a husky to be more specific) that runs into a snow based camp full of American scientists. After some crazy events go down the American scientists seek out the camp the dog came from for answers and see that something crazy also went down there. So essentially this version is a prequel although it carries the exact same title but depicts the events that eventually lead to Kurt Russell mowing people down with a flame thrower.
For a prequel the film mimics Carpenter’s film far too often but tries to cover that fact by skewing elements ever so slightly. It’s not a huge mystery that there would only be so many ways to go about solving the problem put in front of the scientists and that they’d be somewhat similar to what another group of scientists came to the same conclusion. That however just begs the question- was it worth telling this story all over again? I can understand why it would be an intriguing project to take on given how highly regarded Carpenter’s film is but there’s a difference between paying homage and blatantly copying- and when you can’t even copy it correctly, therein lies the problem.
Before I rag on this completely let me say briefly that I don’t hate this movie- in fact I ended up enjoying it for the most part. That being said- since this movie wants to exist in the same universe as Carpenter’s THE THING- I believe it fails spectacularly at capturing the magic of the film it wants to be a prequel to. The biggest failing is that there is WAY too much CGI and not just that but CGI that’s fake looking and cartoonish at times. There are moments the CGI looks pretty cool but so often it was almost laughable at how bad it looked. With how far technology has advanced and the tools at our disposal I cannot fathom why practical effects seemed pedestrian when the filmmakers looked at this footage and if CGI was a necessity and you couldn’t get it photo realistic shroud it in darkness or render the effects darker. I see little excuse to make the effects in this movie look like a cartoon because it messes with the overall tone of the film and does disservice to the practical effects used in Carpenter’s film.
I can deal with the effects though, because it wasn’t that hard for me to just take this movie on its own and find stuff to enjoy in the gore and eventual craziness off the finale. It is cruel to compare this film to its predecessor because Carpenter’s THE THING is easily one of my favorite sci fi horror movies of all time and this “prequel” was never going to compete with that. Does that mean I am giving it a pass? Not at all- the truth being that I am slightly disappointed but not enough to write it off completely.
There are an abundance of scenes where characters somehow pull exact explanations of what’s happening seemingly out of nowhere if for no other reason than “we knew it because this is based from another movie we’ve already seen” or characters constantly state the obvious. Typical clichés are present at every corner and rather than being offended by it I just took it at face value and enjoyed what I could of the cartoonish effects and the gore that came from them.
The performances can’t be to blame for the most part- it’s hard not to feel like we’ve heard this script once before but it’s just a different set of characters in a situation we’ve seen played out before. The prequel borders on full blown remake when it sets up a blood test scene until a certain twist takes it in a different direction and a new test takes its place which is actually a decent set for tension but still pales in comparison to the blood test scene from Carpenter’s film.
THE THING plants its foot down directly on prequel with the end credit scenes tagged during the credits but for the most part it treads liberally in remake territory. As familiar as it feels and as mediocre as many elements are it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes me ultimately come to a conclusion of liking the film. In the end I just placed it in the column of dumb fun. John Carpenter’s version of this story is a near masterpiece of the genre where as this version seems more like “The Thing for Dummies.” As sci fi horror goes the best examples understand that less is more where as this version of THE THING goes down the overstuffed bombastic Hollywood path. Overall, THE THING is a half baked hybrid of its source material that as ugly as it is, is still somehow someway entertaining to watch.