Universal // 2011 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 31st, 2012
It's not human. Yet.
In 1982, director John Carpenter (They Live) unleashed a remake of Howard Hawks' classic 1950s sci-fi flick The Thing From Another World, aptly shortened to The Thing. It was a flop upon initial release, but soon gained a heavy cult following on VHS, DVD, and eventually Blu-ray. Thirty years later, Universal went back to the well and churned out a prequel to Carpenter's beloved film, The Thing (2011), now available on Blu-ray care of Universal Home Entertainment.
When an international group of scientists accidentally stumble upon a buried ship hidden beneath Antarctica's tundra, they call in paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Wistead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) to help unearth their new discovery. Disaster strikes, when the creature bursts free of its icy prison and hides inside the chilly walls of the outpost. The crew suddenly find themselves at the mercy of an organism that can easily change shape into anything it wants...including humans. Kate slowly comes to the realization that if the alien comes into contact with the rest of humanity it could easily have apocalyptic consequences. Now it's a race against time, as each of the survivors eye the other with distrust and dread, trying to figure out exactly who is...The Thing!
I'm not sure where the disconnect lied for audiences and The Thing (2011). The theatrical release was a dud, playing to empty theaters and garnering dreadful reviews. In fact, I don't think I've talked to a single soul who has seen this prequel, much less liked it. The law of movie averages seems to state that for beloved cinematic classic there must be an equally horrific remake/sequel/prequel. For all intents and purposes, you can just click off this review and consider the case closed. Right?
Well, actually...no. The fact is The Thing (2011) is a surprisingly good follow-up (or I guess lead-up is a better phrase) to John Carpenter's seminal 1982 favorite. Though far from perfect, this is a logical prequel that does a good job of telling a story audiences only caught glimpses of thirty years ago. Fans of the original won't be surprised at how this new version ends (it's a foregone conclusion), but even armed with that knowledge I found The Thing (2011) to be tense, fun, and -- above all -- good at not crapping all over hallowed ground.
John Carpenter's classic is lauded as one of the best sci-fi/horror films of the past thirty years, and with good reason -- decades later the film holds up remarkably well, showing only the slightest trappings of time (outdated computers being the main culprit). It's a movie that hits all the right beats and makes you jump more often than not. Carpenter considers it his favorite film, which says a lot with classics like the original Halloween and the cult favorite Escape from New York on the roster. But The Thing stands heads and shoulders above the rest.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen (working for the first time in America) seems to understand what made Carpenter's tale work...maybe a little too well. One of the criticisms I read about The Thing (2011) is that, much like the titular outer space threat, this one relies too heavily on homage, even going so far as to rip off the famous "blood test" replacing it with teeth fillings (you'll know what I mean when you it). While I won't argue that point, it's done with enough style and fun that the filmmakers make it work. Yes, this is essentially the same movie Carpenter made, but at least it's connected to the same universe. I'd rather have that than a pale remake any day.
Credit the producers with being smart enough to hire famous Norwegian actors to play actual Norwegians; Ulrich Thomsen, Trond Espensem, and other international artists give the film a unique flavor that would have been missing had the casting director just slapped on a bunch of Americans with shoddy Norwegian accents. Mary Elizabeth Winstead's role is effective, if sometimes perfunctory; her character was clearly patterned after Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from the Alien series. Much like the The Thing, many of the cast often blend into the background; Eric Heisserer's screenplay doesn't spent much time learning about each character, choosing instead to throw the audience headfirst into the action.
If I have any substantial gripes about The Thing (2011), it's that the computer generated effects work pales in comparison to F/X master Rob Bottin's disturbingly grotesque 1982 creations. Carpenter and Bottin worked hard to offer up set pieces that showcased the effects work without showboating and never at the expense of the story. Here the special effects are sometimes practical but often completed with aid of a computer, lacking the immediacy and tactile nature of on-the-set prosthetics and animatronics. I guess you really can never go home again, and sadly The Thing (2011) proves that.
Matching Carpenter's original aspect ratio, The Thing (2011) is presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the transfer looks excellent. Since much of the film takes place at night, the black levels are the most prominently displayed images. The colors (many whites and blues) are all evenly rendered without any detectible defects or image issues. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as good, with many moments where the mix kicks in with real aggression. Aside of the oblivious moments of screaming or tense music, there are many scenes where monstrous growls bleed through both the front and rear speakers. The mix will certainly keep viewers on their toes, which means the studio gets high marks for turning out a top notch soundtrack. Also included are French and Spanish DTS 5.1 language tracks, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The good news continues, as The Thing (2011) has been given a fair amount of bonus features. Universal's U-Control Picture-in-Picture is just a lot of quick moments of production information cut into the feature presentation. An audio commentary with director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman discusses various aspects of the film and heavily defending it. Two featurettes ("The Thing Evolves," "Fire & Ice") offer little to viewers except for the usual talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. We also get nine minutes of deleted scenes ("2 Phone Calls," "It's True," "That's Not Karl," "Colin," "Two-Heads," "Start the Helicopter Now," and "Come in, Over!") would have added little to the proceedings. And we close it out with a DVD copy, digital copy, and some BD-Live Content.
So, yes...The Thing (2011) is basically a repeat of 1982's The Thing with different characters, a slightly different storyline, and some admittedly large plot holes that are hard to look past (including characters escaping from a helicopter crash that would have taken out half of Kansas). If you were hoping for something completely new and unique, you may end up being disappointed. As a diehard fan of the first film, I believe The Thing (2011) is better than it has any right to be, but succeeds in tying the two stories together without completely desecrating our original memories. For that, fans should be thankful.
Discerning horror fans: don't be snobs; give it a chance and you may be
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Extended/Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site