The Thing: Exacerbating the Worst Prequel Trend

The Thing II

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The 1982 John Carpenter’s version of The Thing has gone down in movie history as the very definition of an Antarctic alien horror movie. This new prequel documents what happens at the Norwegian station immediately preceding the events of Carpenter’s opus.

It actually more follows the storyline of the 1951 The Thing from Another World version that inspired the 1982 classic. I re-watched this original recently and I must say, I was impressed by its structure, dialogue, and plotting. Sure, many old B&W movies compare unfavorably to modern fare, seeming trite and unsophisticated, but this was really quite entertaining, keeping me involved from the opening credits to the end.

Apparently I’m not alone in this opinion, either. In 2001, the Library of Congress cited the movie as “culturally significant” and a copy was placed in the National Film Registry.

So that’s an intimidating pedigree to live up too. Unfortunately, The Thing 2011 doesn’t quite hit the high mark its lineage set.

Obviously, the structure of the movie is bound by the terminal bookend that opened its predecessor, and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. valiantly attempts to get us there, but nothing original really occurs. There are a couple of little twists here and there, but it does seem more like a remake than a prequel.

A Norwegian Antarctic base discovers an alien spacecraft buried in the ice, with the body of an extraterrestrial similarly encased nearby. Obviously, foreigners can’t be trusted to dig stuff up with anything approaching aplomb, so they call in a couple of American digging experts to appropriate the lead in the movie and guarantee a higher domestic box office return.

The monster invariably defrosts and begins tearing the crew a new one. It achieves this goal by absorbing its victims’ cells, thereby replicating their appearance. This doppleganging creates all kinds of distrust, ramping up the tension, but no real scares: the lacking character development creates little empathy. In movies, indeed as in any other narrative format, until you give the audience a reason to care about a character, they’re not going to.

The plot progresses much the same as the ’82 version, with much evisceration, dancing tentacles and insectoid legs growing out of things they really shouldn’t. The special effects are impressive, but nowhere near as groundbreaking as those seen in its predecessor.

One of the Americans, Kate Lloyd (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) evokes notes of Alien‘s Ripley as a woman working in a man’s world, but doesn’t quite pull the protagonist role off with the same authority. I felt some angst for her character in particular, as opposed to when the other anonymously bearded members of the crew began dropping like ninepins; it felt more like the filmmakers were checking off a list.

A credible attempt at a prequel from a first time director, but I can’t help feeling it could’ve been done so much better.

Rating: R. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. Opened on October 14th.

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