In 1982 director John Carpenter made a horror film that involved aliens that were able to change their form. Basically shape-shifters causing a lot of death and mayhem. As is often the situation with films lately the 80s is being mined for remakes and ideas. Why not make another The Thing? 2011’s version of the film is a prequel and isn’t directed by Carpenter. Matthijs van Heijningen takes over in the director’s chair for his first feature film.
Cleverly (regretfully not a word I’m going to use very often in this review) the film is set in 1982 in Antarctica. Norwegian researchers have stumbled upon a giant spaceship at the bottom of a crevasse. Near to the ship, frozen in the ice, there is a creature with claws akin to a velociraptors. Realizing they are in over their head, Dr. Sandor Halvorson (Ulrich Thomson – Hitman, The International) travels to the U.S. to conscript the help of forensic paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Live Free or Die Hard, Final Destination 3), a specialist in thawing out thousands of years old cave bears. He convinces her to travel to the site and help thaw out the creature.
Everyone of us watching the film realizes from the beginning that this is not a great or even a good idea. Of course, as this is a horror film the people involved in the story are boobs who don’t see danger anywhere. That is until blood starts spurting and bodies start piling up and then panic reigns. The resulting panic leads to even stupider behavior.
To make things even more difficult for the isolated group of scientists, it is revealed quite early (so I’m not spoiling anything) that the alien has the ability to take on the form of the human it has just killed. Kate teams up with the helicopter pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton – Warrior, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones), in an effort to keep this thing from killing all of them. Because it can take on the shape of whatever it touches the scientists begin to become quite paranoid as they are not able to tell if what is in front of them is human or alien.
All this is just fine and dandy as it is an interesting concept and the inability to tell human from alien really brings tension to the watching of the film. Problems (and boy, are there problems!) crop up due to a lack of character development and a reliance on special effects. A bunch of loud special effects is not enough to call something a good film. This version of The Thing is filled with one dimensional characters that we don’t care about and that diminishes the chance of enjoying it.
Carpenter was a master at building up tension and suspense with a slower and thoughtful pace. Van Heijningen doesn’t take a cue from this and decides to go his own way. That would be fine and dandy if his path was not a meandering up-and-down bumpy one. The first part of the film is an almost exact replica of the original. That is good thing. Then suddenly van Heijningen decides to do an about face and strike out on his own. From that point on the suspense and tension is dropped and CGI special effects are the focal point. Tsk! Tsk! Why change from a psychological thriller to a sci-fi film? Makes no sense. Something potentially good becomes a run-of-the-mill monster film.