“The Thing” Movie Review

      When the prequel for the 1982 version of "The Thing" was announced, I first thought this was not unlike George Lucas doing the same thing with Star Wars.  Not as much hype of course, but for the hardcore science fiction fan, your talking about important back story to one of the most well respected Sci Fi / Horror films of all time.  Next to "Halloween", "The Thing" stands as John Carpenter's best work and any new version of the story, prequel or not, has got to pay more than just homage.  In other words it shouldn't be a task taken lightly.  Fortunately the filmmakers were up to it.  "The Thing" (2011) has a similar feel to it as did last year's "Predators" in that it is a solid effort, bringing what is essentially the same story to a new generation.

     The famous John W. Campbell story "Who Goes There?" is the basis for all three of "The Thing" films.  You see, its looking like we'll get one of these every 30 years or so.  If your not aware, the first film to use this title and story was the Howard Hawkes version in 1951.  John Carpenter's version is actually the remake that everyone thinks is the original, using the same story but taking advantage of the latest advances in blood and gore effects.  You may recall the 1982 film opens with a Norwegian helicopter frantically chasing a dog across the snow covered peaks and valleys of Antarctica.  A rifleman is clearly trying to kill the dog, but not before it reaches an American outpost.  The Americans see the helicopter as a threat to them and kill the pilot and rifleman, happily taking the dog in.  If you ever wondered how the Norwegian story went down, now you will know.  The new version covers the Norwegian discovery of the alien space craft, all the way to the point  I just described.

     Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., working from an Eric Heisserer script, competently tells the story of an ambitious Norwegian scientist whose men happen upon a space ship buried under ground that he believes has been there for thousands of years.  He enlists the help of another scientist who is said to be an expert in digs and specimens found in ice.  That scientist's name is Kate Loyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and from minute one you know her function in the film is to act as the "Ripley" of the cast.  There were no females in the 1982 film and Kurt Russell's character was clearly in charge.  In this film, I suppose Joel Edgerton's character Braxton Carter would be closest to the Russell character, but he and the rest of the cast are second fiddle in screen time to Winstead.  Right away that means you can through originality out the window since the plot devices and story are recycled.  The fact is, the Norwegian story presented on screen uses basically the same narrative outline as the 1982 film, though there are a few notable differences that work well in keeping the audience guessing as to who "The Thing" is at the moment.

     Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff are credited as the creature effects designers and as usual they have come up with some pretty good stuff.  In 1982, with no computers at his disposal, makeup artist Rob Bottin did all of the effects live and on set.  I can't imagine what that must've been like for the actors seeing all of that in person! Now in 2011, the actors likely didn't have much to react to, as the majority of the creature effects are CGI.  Nonetheless, they are still effective and just as creative.  There are several legitimate scares in the film and the filmmakers are not shy about showing the audience the many faces of their creature.

     I dug Winstead in "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" and she excels in her first horror outing as well.  The characters overall are not nearly as memorable as the ones from the 1982 film, but the movie is nonetheless entertaining, especially if your a fan of the genre.  Much has been made about the payoff at the end being lame, but I disagree.  Winstead's character seems adept to figuring things out and her cleverness throughout the film is what essentially breathes new life into something that feels very familiar.  Her character's inventive nature creates a nifty anecdote to counter the famed blood test scene in the Carpenter film. From a nostalgic point of view, there was nothing better than the end credits sequence that starts with the familiar John Carpenter "The Thing" theme and the Norwegian helicopter begins chasing the infected dog.  It's at that moment you know the story is now complete, at least until they make another one in 30 years. GRADE: B-