Apocalypse Week: Review: The Thing (2011)

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Yesterday, Brian M. Sammons reviewed the 1982 version of The Thing. Today, I tackle the 2011 The Thing. When is a sequel not a sequel? Apparently, when it calls itself a “prequel” and uses the same name as a movie from the 80s.

The Thing takes place before the John Carpenter film of the same title (Really, studio? Couldn’t you call it “The Thing: Origin”? This means that comparing the two movies without causing confusion is going to be a lot harder). Yeah, remember how, in the 80s movie, they find a dog that these crazy Norwegians are trying to shoot and that’s how the alien gets to the base? Well, here we see how, exactly, the alien became acquainted with the Norwegians.

In defense of The Thing (2011), the director seems to have watched both Carpenter’s version and the black-and-white adaptation, and shown some love for them. The prequel is stitched with elements from both movies. The bad news? It’s stitched from both movies with little original thought or much zest.

I am an unabashed fan of the Carpenter film. It is a tight, tense, scary ride. Much like the creature in its midst, The Thing (2011) tries to imitate the original, but the copy eventually splatters into gooey pieces.

But let’s see what we have to work with here: It’s 1982 and a couple of Norwegians stumble onto a huge spaceship buried underground, complete with its alien passenger encased in a block of ice. This opening sequence and the closing sequence that appears with the credits constitute the two best moments of the film. Things begin to falter after the first few minutes, when we are introduced to our heroine: Kate, a paleontologist hired to oversee a dig in Antartica. Out comes also the cannon fodder: the Norwegians digging out the alien.

One of the great things about Carpenter’s film, aside from the tight pace and good direction, were the characters. Everybody seemed tri-dimensional, stretching beyond the boundaries of the film. And, of course, Kurt Russell was just awesome as the reluctant leader of the band of Americans, who takes charge and tries to fight the alien.

Sadly, the cast here is not fleshed out. They’re there to be killed (especially the Norwegians, since we want the English-speaking members to explain everything without subtitles) and that’s about it. I read that Kate, our heroine, is modelled after Ellen Ripley, but it sure doesn’t feel like that. One wonders if Noomi Rapace was too busy filming Sherlock Holmes to step in.

The movie does have one great character: Lars, played by Jørgen Langhelle. He is, ironically, the only Norwegian who doesn’t speak English and, thus, spends the movie silently drifting on screen and basically stealing the movie from under Kate’s shoes. I wanted to see more of Lars. I did not necessarily want to see more of Kate. She wasn’t annoying, but she did not compel me.

Otherwise, the script hits all the beats Carpenter’s hit: gross special effects, paranoia, and even a scene where all the characters gather to try and determine who is human with a little test.

I guess people who have never bumped into Carpenter’s version might be taken in by this version, but those of us who have seen the 1982 film won’t be too impressed. It’s a prequel that does not offend its parents, but it does not transform and own the mythology in an exciting, fresh way. In a way, it almost feels like fanfic. Though the sad part is that the fanfic I wanted to see was the story told from Lars’s POV.

For fanfic with a soul, I recommend that people read “The Things” by Peter Watts, if they are interested in seeing a “What if?” sort of scenario.

One thing, before I go: Hollywood, you need to give Jørgen Langhelle his own movie, killing zombies, vampires, sharks, or insane tomatoes. I do not care what it is. That man deserve to have a vehicle of his own. The name, once again, is ‘Jørgen Langhelle’.

Hey, maybe he can show up in A Game of Thrones as one of the Vikings. I mean, dudes of the Iron Islands.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

About Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia lives in beautiful, rainy British Columbia with her family and two cats. She writes fantasy, magic realism and science fiction. You can read her stories in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, The Book of Cthulhu, Evolve 2 and Tesseracts 13. She is the co-editor of Candle in the Attic Window, Future Lovecraft and Historical Lovecraft.

Silvia Moreno-GarciaApocalypse Week: Review: The Thing (2011)