Are You ‘You?’: ‘The Thing' (2011) Retrospective
Original Film Poster
It's Not Human, but It Will Be Soon
This one I hadn’t had as much experience with as the original. This film was originally supposed to be a remake, though the producers opted for a prequel instead. It somewhat sounded like a good idea, for reasons that I’ll get into in a bit, but what followed through was an average film that confused fans of the original with its title and was subpar with its execution and how things were done. The film is called The Thing, a science fiction horror which came out in 2011 and was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
As I mentioned, the title confused fans of the 1982 film of the same name. This film is not a remake, reboot, or sequel to that film. It is a prequel to the 1982 film which shows what happened at the Norwegian base the American researchers visited in the original. Also, for reference-sake and to give a better understanding, I’ll be comparing this film to the 1982 film. Just like the original film, this one is also based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell.
The film’s plot revolves around a Norwegian team in Antarctica who discover both a large spaceship and an alien frozen in a block of ice. They take the alien back to their base for further study. While they celebrate, the ice thaws and the alien, which the team thought was long dead awakens and breaks out the ice. It then goes through the base absorbing all lifeforms it encounters, from the team’s snow dog to the members of the team themselves. The team must use their available resources and their wits to determine who’s still human and who has become the thing.
Just as with the previous film, this film too has lots of characters. However, I won’t describe every single one since they mostly serve as red-shirts for the thing to kill. I’ll only talk about the major ones. I will say, unlike the previous film, the characters in this one aren’t as interesting or as diverse. They all have little to no personality, nor are they relatable so you don’t feel for anyone when somebody dies.
The film begins with a snowcat falling through an ice fissure in Antarctica, where it discovers a spaceship. Several scientist and doctors are brought in to investigate the finding, including the protagonist, paleontologist Kate Lloyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s portrayed as intelligent and brave and is one of the few sane people once things start falling apart.
The research team is led by Sander Halvorson, played by Ulrich Thomsen. He’s a minor antagonist who makes sure the team knows that he’s top dog. He looks down upon Kate for expressing her opinion, even going out of his way to remind her that he’s in charge and to not embarrass him in front of the others.
So the team checks out the spaceship and are obviously amazed by the finding. They’re even more shocked once they discover a frozen block of ice just outside the ship, which contains an alien. They take the alien back to their base where Kate takes a sample to study. She learns that the alien can eat or assimilate the cells of other living organisms and replicate them perfectly. As the team celebrate their discovery, one of the pilots, Derek, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, checks out the alien and finds that the ice containing it is melting. It suddenly springs to life and erupts out of the ice and through the ceiling. Derek rushes in to warn the team of the newly revived alien, and they all go out to find where it went.
They find that the creature not only killed a dog, but soon attacks Henrik, played by Jo Adrian Haavind. After burning the creature to death, the team performs an autopsy on it to learn more about its assimilating ability.
The titular thing itself behaves similarly as it did in the original film. The main difference between the two films is that the original film showed the thing rarely attacking others out in the open, while in this one it willingly chases after someone even if there’s others around. You can argue and say that this is the first time it encountered people, so it didn’t know how to behave around them, which is why it’s more cautious in the original film. That’s not to say that it doesn’t still hide itself in this film, which it does. It still only reveals itself when it’s alone or exposed. The thing’s presence does create paranoia between the members of the team, as they all wonder who’s still human, though it’s not the film’s driving force like in the original.
Because of the way the creature behaves, this film does have more action than the original. As the team fight against the thing with guns and flamethrowers it rushes at them with large mouths formed in its host’s bodies that are filled with large sharp teeth and several tentacles that resemble Twizzlers. The film’s final battle is also more drawn-out than the original.
On another note, in the original film, the team tested who was the thing by scorching fresh blood samples taken from each member to see if they would react. For this film, the thing can’t assimilate metal replacements and dental fillings. Kate gets the idea of checking everyone’s mouths to see if they have fillings. Those who did were shown as humans. The problem with this is what happens if you have perfect teeth? Would you be punished for taking care of your teeth?
Like the original film, this one too was set to feature practical effects for the creature. The special effects team put in a lot of time and effort to create life-like models for the film. When they did a test screening for the film, the executives hated it and made some changes. One was to paint over all the practical effects with CGI. The second, there was going to be a story near the end that showed more of the thing’s origins. On the ship, there was going to be several chambers that featured different aliens. One of them was to feature the thing, which would have escaped and taken control of the ship. The ship’s Lovecraftian pilot would had been shown as still being alive on the ship. The executives didn’t like this idea and dropped the plot. This turned out to be a terrible idea as the CGI looks artificial and plastically. This is somewhat heartbreaking, especially when you learn just how much work the special effects team spent on the animatronics.
The film makers went out of their way to mimic the fate of the Norwegian base’s fate in the original film. It does show how several notable moments happened for when the American research team investigate, such as the axe in the wall, the tub of ice, and the origin of the two-headed body found in the snow. A deleted scene even shows the suicide of one of the Norwegian researchers found frozen in the original film.
While I won’t reveal too much of the film’s ending, there is one thing I must mention. Lars, played by Jorgen Langhelle, is the one who owned the dog that gets attacked by the thing once it emerges from the ice. He is the one who’s on the helicopter shooting at the dog at the beginning of the original film.
Just as with the original, this film’s music score is kept to a minimal. You only hear music during dramatic scenes. I will say that I do like the remix of the original film’s theme, as this one sounds deeper and more sinister. It also helps that the new theme features various sound effects, from the thing screeching, to electric sounds and screaming.
This film is a mixed bag. While the intention of the film was to show just what happened at the Norwegian base, it took that mystery away from the original film. Honestly this film didn’t have to happen as the original did an amazing job being a separate story. It didn’t have to have the Norwegian backstory, nor show the alien’s first contact. I only recommend this film if you’re a fan of the original and are curious about the Norwegian base. Despite being a prequel, you definitely don’t need to see this one to understand the story of The Thing. As a stand-alone horror flick, it’s average and won’t leave a lasting impression. Personally, I think the film would had done better had they focused more on the personal relationships of the cast and stayed with the practical effects for the creature, rather than paint over it with CGI. But overall, missing this film won’t hurt you.