I waited two days before going to see the prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Don’t get me wrong, I was overcome with anticipation, but there was just too much hoopla in the air for me to view it objectively. There are so many people, dead set on hating this film, and they’ve been slinging their wares since the film was announced. Determined to classify it a remake, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, these people managed to find their way underneath my skin. Had I went opening day, my agenda would have been “prove these people wrong”, and my experience would have been tainted. I waited, steered clear of reviews from other writers(as best as I could), and finally made the plunge at an early Sunday afternoon matinee. Having seen the preliminary box office numbers moments before heading to the theater, I wasn’t shocked that it was just myself, my movie going compadre, two kids that bought tickets to something else and snuck in, and a family with two small children that walked out within the first 30 minutes. It’s telling that, despite the piss-poor box office performance of The Thing, it still creeped by at the number 3 spot, a fact that takes some of the wind out of the argument that is being made that The Thing “flopped”.
At the risk of becoming a walking parody of a horror fan, it would be unfair for me to not alert you to the fact that Carpenter’s “The Thing” would find it’s self close to the top were I to craft a “Top 5 Horror films Of All Time” list. It’s a powerhouse of a film that I’ve loved since I was a child. It’s always scared the shit out of me, and has just the right amount of paranoia to be an extremely tense viewing experience. Couple that with the showcase practical special effects, that are considered top-notch still to this day, and The Thing is just a holy grail of a horror film. When you have feelings as strong as that, going into a film based on the same subject matter, prequel or no, it makes it hard to not compare every little thing, and not just watch the film on it’s own. Plus, I HAD to watch the original before going to see the prequel. From early interviews with the writers, it was clear the amount of love they had for the original film, and the level of detail they put into their script would create a constant barrage of references to the first film. It was good to have the original fresh in my memory, and have the ability to spot even the smallest nod to the original.
I want to go ahead and address my main source of annoyance, as far as this film goes, and then we can get on with the rest of the review. As mentioned before, there were legions of “horror fans”, and trust me I use that term lightly, that were determined to tear this film down from the moment it was announced. Convinced that it was a remake, rather than the prequel that it clearly is, these people even created new words to explain away the inconvenient counter to their claims, terms such as “premake” and “Premaquel” etc, were created in order to bash this film as a remake, while cooler headed objective people explained to them why it’s a prequel, and not a remake. Every film has it’s detractors. I’m not saying that a person can’t legitimately dislike this movie. The people that were talking about how shitty it was before actually seeing it are the ones I’m referring to. Those, and the ones that actually did see it, but reviewed the film from a closed minded point of view, and continued the “remake” drivel, despite having just been proven wrong by the film itself. I realize I should just ignore people like this, and completely disregard anything they say, but it just gets under my skin. I hate seeing people, claiming to be fans of the genre, that seem to have an agenda to the contrary. Every new film that is released, has to go through almost a full year of hatred, from people who know little about the project. I suppose it’s just the way of life in the digital age, but it’s becoming annoying. I guess I’m not really trying to make a point with this rant, I just wanted to take a minute to get a few things off of my chest.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to notice the hatred. To borrow Heather Seebach’s observation, The Thing actually has a few moments of self awareness. One scene in particular builds up in a way that makes you think it’s a carbon copy of a scene from the original, and then it pulls the rug out from underneath your feet at the last minute, and goes a completely different direction. It’s actually quite clever. The filmmakers here get the last laugh, and address the “remake” complaints in a way that mocks the proponents of such conspiracies. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a brief moment of vindication when I realized what was going on. It’s a ballsy thing to do, to mock an entire group of people that paid to see your film, despite doing so with malicious intent, and it felt good.
One question that’s bound to be on the minds of those that have yet to see the film is, how are the special effects? Well, it’s a mixed bag, unfortunately. Carpenter’s The Thing is such a showcase film for practical effects. It’s a movie you put in the player when having a discussion about the efficacy of practical, versus CGI. Early word on the film was that it was going 100 percent practical. Even though this excited me, I knew a high profile film like this had little chance of actually delivering that. Those studio brown shirts really love their CG. And, to be honest, who could blame them? From a business standpoint, it makes all of the sense in the world. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it takes less production time to create. If you’re not a hardcore nerd like we are, it would be hard to see a reason not to go this route. And lets be honest here, us dinosaurs are in the minority here. Kids love the CGI, and it serves it’s purpose with a mainstream audience. We don’t represent enough ticket sales for executives to take our advice.
The special effects are a decent enough mix between practical and CGI. There are a couple of scenes in particular that could be explained as BAD CG, but for the most part, it’s handled effectively. There’s enough practical used for actors to have something to react to while filming, and CG is used to make it pop on-screen. One thing that I missed was the sliminess that was created by the effects in the original. Not only did it look amazing, but the ooze and slime made it look disgusting. The morphing in the prequel is a little too clean for my liking. The use of CG didn’t turn me off as much as I thought it would though, to be honest. I did wince a time or two, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film. If this is the main reason you’re iffy about the prequel, try not to focus solely on this one factor. I loved the effects of the original as well, but there is a film built around the effects, and it is certainly possible to enjoy it without expecting the effects to be as memorable as they were in the original. It is what it is, and there happens to be an enjoyable film here, despite a few shortcomings.
One thing I think the makers of The Thing 2011 did right, was to develop the characters a little more this time around. Don’t get me wrong, the performances in the original are outstanding, but the characters lacked depth. In the prequel, everyone is friends, everyone hangs out together, and everyone has their own very distinct set of behavioral mannerisms. This means, not only does the audience notice a change in their behavior if they’ve been taken over by The Thing, but it’s a bit more shocking when you discover who is actually who. It has more of an impact, because that character had a back story, and relationships to the rest of the characters. It certainly heightens the paranoia, and overall elevates the film to an unexpected level of enjoyment.
The Thing 2011 has been described by many as “The perfect companion piece” for the original. Despite things I would have done differently, I can agree with that. It’s certainly not the remake people suggested it was, and the work they put into the visuals and the script to explain such little details from the first film, such as the ax in the door, bullet holes in the wall, and the general state of chaos the Norwegian camp was discovered in in the original is certainly appreciated. You would do yourself a favor by revisiting the original before you see the prequel. There’s a lot to appreciate here, and it’s definitely going to take repeated viewings to catch all of the references. Though I experienced a little bit of disappointment, I would definitely recommend this film to any fan of the original, or just horror in general. If all of my grievances were addressed, this would be a perfect film. As it stands, it’s just really damn good. My October has been solidified by seeing such an enjoyable nod to one of my favorite films of all time, on the big screen. What are you waiting for? Get to watching.