© 2011 Ray Wong
The 1982 The Thing has a cult following and is considered one of the greatest horror/monster movies of all times. This 2011 version of The Thing is both a prequel and a homage to the John Carpenter film.
Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist at Columbia University, has been hired by scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to go to Antarctica to examine a specimen. When they arrive, they realize it's an alien creature that landed in a spaceship over 100,000 years ago. They succeed in retrieving the alien frozen in ice. However, unbeknownst to them, it is still alive and later escapes.
The team, including American pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) and research assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), begins to search for the alien. In an attack, one team member is killed and they destroy the alien by burning it. While examining the remains, Kate discovers that the alien imitates its prey at the cellular level. What's more frightening is that the creature is still alive, and thus can be anyone of them.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is in fine form as the female lead in this male-dominated horror. Her performance (and her character) is smart but vulnerable, yet she's not a damsel in distress. She can certainly handle herself and save the day. Winstead has a strong presence and dominates in her scenes. Joel Edgerton (Warrior) is the Kurt Russell of this movie: charming, strong, and resourceful. He and Winstead have good chemistry and a palpable sexual tension between them.
Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen (Duplicity) has the thankless role of the arrogant boss who makes the wrong decisions and puts everyone in danger's way. He serves his purpose, but the character is simply too predictable to make any impact. Eric Christian Olsen (The Backup Plan) has a better time with his amiable would-be love interest for Kate, plus he has one of the best scenes of the movie. Trond Espen Seim (The Frost) leads a fine cast of Norwegian actors in this production, including Jorgen Langhelle (Betrayal), who plays Lars (the character also appeared in the 1982 movie) with great intensity.
The screenplay, written by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), takes great pain in recreating and expanding on the 1982 movie. It's not just a prequel and homage, but a companion film. What impresses me is that Heisserer manages to match the details of the John Carpenter film and devise a plot that explains these details logically. Best of all, we don't have to watch that film to understand this one, but by watching both films together (which I did upon returning home from the theater), we get a sense of completion and understanding.
But time has changed. While the John Carpenter movie unfolds slowly, this has a much faster pace. The plot takes off immediately and keeps going. Because of the inherent limitations (since most people have problem seen the original), Heisserer doesn't waste too much time building the suspense or trying to over-explain what the alien can do or how to kill it -- we've seen it already in the 1982 film. Also, the tone is different. The original was all about paranoia and desperation. This is more about the horror and confusion of first contact, while the characters figure out what is going on and trying to survive.
Sure, there are cheesy dialogue, predictable moments and plot holes (what horror film, especially a prequel or sequel, can avert that fate?), but the screenplay is surprisingly coherent and taut. Suspenseful even though we already know so much about the alien and what may happen. The thrill is more in what exactly happened, instead of what will happen.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (Zien) is a surprising choice because of his short resume. However, I think he's succeeded in creating a new movie that matches so well the original without losing its own identity. The tone is intact. The production is generally good, matching the original movie to create a coherent continuation. While the direction lacks John Carpenter's finesse, patience, and cinematic effects to induce suspense and awe, it does the job nicely. The upgraded CGI, together with physical effects, serve the film rather well.
While this prequel lacks the suspense, tension and dread (and pure horror) of the original, it is solid entertainment and holds up very well against the classic. As a companion film, it's a thing to behold.
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Jorgen Langhelle, Trond Espen Seim
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Writers: Eric Heisserer (based on short story by John W. Campbell, Jr.)
MPAA Rating: R for strong creature violence and gore
Running Time: 103 minutes
Script - 8
Performance - 7
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7
Total - 7.5 out of 10.0