The Thing: The Assimilation Can Only Go So Far…
During the opening scenes of John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing, we follow a two man crew of Norwegians chasing a dog across the Antarctic tundra by way of helicopter. The Norwegians land near an American base camp, getting killed due to mental errors and a language barrier that prevents them from conveying the danger that will follow the Americans if the dog lives. This leads to an investigation about what happened at the Norwegian camp, with the pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) discovering the smoldering remains of the base, dead bodies with some looking only partially human, and tapes that show the bigger discovery the Norwegians found: an alien spacecraft and a creature encased in ice.
The fear of the unknown, not knowing what really happened at the base camp or what the Thing is truly capable of. In this early stage of the original Thing creates an air of impending dread by the time things get out of hand. Often, the audience will want the mystery or the backstory uncovered, thinking that the story will be interesting enough on its own along with not diluting the mood of the original story.
And this leads into the prequel film, The Thing (2011). Directed by Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and written by Eric Heisserer, the goal of this film was to take as much information and detail as possible to create a prequel that would be consistent with the 1982 film. This included recreating the base camp with dimensions based around fan info and screen caps, making sure every little thing was in its place when MacReady would see the camp sometime after this film’s events. There was also the desire of the production to use mostly practical special effects that built upon the work in the previous film by Rob Bottin, which was the job of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. The score by Marco Beltrami was also influenced by the work of Ennio Morricone, so from the start, The 2011 Thing was created as a labor of love that was meant to be respectful of the 1982 Thing.
When it comes to the story of the prequel, it borders the line between prequel and remake with how close the story mirrors the original tale. The setup differs greatly after the opening scene of the Norwegians stumbling upon the spacecraft when we are introduced to Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American paleontologist who gets recruited by Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to help in the investigation. On the way to the Norwegian camp, we meet the American helicopter crew led by pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton). At this point in the film, the inclusion of all these Americans in a story that is meant to be primarily Norwegian (or mostly European, at least) can be seen as alarming. This is one of the main gripes with this story, as we are barely given much time with the actual crew of the base camp that it becomes difficult to differentiate the majority of the crew from one another, leaving Kate (and possibly Sam) as the main characters we are meant to relate to. This point is understandable, given that this was a production meant for a primarily American audience, but it can feel a bit disappointing that the different perspectives we could have gotten was lost.
When the Thing manages to escape from the ice block and attacks the camp, it functions quite differently in this film compared to the 1982 film. While we were given the impression that the Thing would prefer to isolate itself with its prey in order to absorb and imitate in a devious fashion, in the 2011 film, it often attacks in the open or against multiple people, leaving itself exposed far too often to be effective. Because of this, an unfortunate flaw of this film caused by studio interference is brought to light: the overlaying of the practical effects with rushed CGI that often looks terrible. It is up for debate whether the practical effects would have made this film a good movie. From what can be gathered in behind the scenes footage, it could have benefited in some degree. The constant exposure of the Thing seems contradictory to the idea of being paranoid of whether one or more of the people you know were imitations. This is further brought up when this film’s form of identifying real from the Thing is that the creature cannot imitate inorganic matter, such as dental fillings and jewelry.
The inorganic matter identification functions well as its own thing while also being comparable to the blood test from the 1982 film, but this is one of the only times where the 2011 Thing feels like it can function on its own without taking too much influence from the original. Recreating the setting of the Norwegian base camp meant that we would see how certain things came to be, such as the axe in the wall and the man sitting in the chair with his throat and wrists slashed, but the tale that surrounds what happened feels too familiar to the point where the necessity of the prequel is brought into question. Even going back to the axe, which was caused by Sam attacking a small version of the Thing when he tries to get it out, Kate tells him not to touch it, almost as if to say leave it for continuity purposes. The reverence the production team has for the Carpenter version is admirable, since far too often there are remakes and prequels that bastardize the original films they are meant to be connected to. When it comes to The Thing (2011), it might have gone too far into the other direction where it fails to create its own identity and becomes nothing more than a pale imitation.
The Thing (2011) Trailer