THE THING (2011)

STARRING: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Jonathan Lloyd Walker, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

2011, 103 Minutes, Directed by:
Matthijs van Heijningen

The slim and none-too-imposing shadow of John Carpenter's movie of the same name still casts itself over The Thing . . .

The third movie based on John W. Campbell Jr.'s novella Who Goes There? (The first, course, is 1951's The Thing from Another World, and to make things easier, Carpenter's movie will be referred to as the "original" here), this prequel-as-remake watches as members of the research camp in Antarctica from the first act of Carpenter's The Thing (at that point, abandoned and decimated) undergo a string of startles and attacks that are suspiciously similar to what befalls the research camp in the 1982 movie. The two bases even share the need for a roguish helicopter pilot with a natural tendency toward leadership at the barrel of a flamethrower.

What's changed in cinema since 1982 is the reliance on computer-generated visual effects to create the grisly and the grotesque, and director Matthijs van Heijningen uses them exclusively to fashion a series of increasingly diabolical representations of a shape-shifting alien making a mockery of the human form. Whereas Carpenter's command of practical make-up wizardry led to some truly disturbing and bizarre spectacles, van Heijningen's creatures look refined, despite the abundance of sticky gore and waving tentacles. When a man's torso splits into sections here to reveal a treacherous and toothy mouth, the underwhelming nature of the sight is only in part due to its familiarity; the rest is because of how shockingly clean it plays.

In the winter of 1982, a group of researchers in Antarctica are following a strange signal. Upon reaching the source, the ground opens beneath them, sending their snowcat plummeting down a crevice through the earth until it is wedged between rock and more rock. Below, they spot a strange sight: an otherworldly craft that has been sitting for millennia. Don't ask how they get out of their precarious situation, as the movie provides no answer (a shame, really, considering that it has the potential for a neat set piece). Not too far from the site, the body of an alien creature rests frozen in the ice.

"The CGI creatures look refined despite the abundance of sticky gore and waving tentacles!"

The Norwegian doctor in charge of the work Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) recruit paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, her character introduced while listening to Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" — a fairly decent joke considering what is about to transpire) for her expertise in excavating specimens. While the majority of the other characters at the base are indistinguishable fodder for the creature, there are Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a pair of American helicopter pilots whom the rest of the camp inherently distrusts when all hell breaks loose because of their nationality.

And break loose all hell does. While the residents of the facility celebrate the discovery of an alien being, it breaks free from its block of ice (with James watching, though, no one—not even the person who just prior walks away after scaring him with a literal "boo" moment—hears it) and devours its first victim (neither the last victim nor the last boo moment). After some quick investigation of the creature's cells, Kate learns that the Thing imitates its victims on a cellular level, meaning that anyone in the camp could actually be a beast from another planet.

Like in the original, paranoia sweeps across the surviving inhabitants, and the encampment is placed on lockdown. No one leaves; anyone who reappears after an extended absence is immediately distrusted. Pools of blood appear and then disappear after an unknown replica cleans up after itself. Characters give each other sideways, suspicious glances during the downtimes that they aren't running for their lives and burning the camp to the ground. Is there possibly something in the shadows behind a character? You'd better believe it. All the while, Eric Heisserer's screenplay seems so fixated on staying true to the original that the movie never develops its own niche. There's even a scene in which Kate tests everyone's authenticity, though this time, it turns out that the Thing can only replicate organic tissue. This leads her to a conclusion: check everyone to see if they still have fillings.

Also like the original, this practically duplicate story only pushes its paranoid concerns so far before devolving into a standard chase movie with a monstrous combination of two former camp denizens crawling around like a spider after the even fewer survivors remaining. The scenery changes drastically for the climax, which has one character surviving a great fall (then getting up and walking in perfect condition) and lots of further running around—though now inside a spaceship.

The movie's most effective scene, which plays during the closing credits, is the one that directly ties the two movies together. Most of that comes from a reprise of Ennio Morricone's thumping, minimalist synthesizer score (Marco Beltrami's for this one is brassy and obvious) that plays under it and perhaps a bit of relief that this The Thing finally has a reason for so closely aping the original. It would be far too easy to compare the movie to the imitative qualities of the titular creature, so we'll just leave it at the suggestion.

- Mark Dujsik



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