With technology – and big budget dollars – stunning and artistic filmwork is easier in the 21st Century, and with another culture looking at this old classic there are some interesting elements added to what is supposed to be a “prequel”. Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., who cut his teeth on Pepsi, Bud Light, Toyota and other such advertising, understands commercialism, and he is also hip to the Wachowski brothers throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the Matrix series. In this new Thing you’ll find elements of Invaders from Mars, Independence Day, Alien, Day of the Triffids, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Predator, certainly not what the author, John W. Campbell Jr., conceived when his1938 novella Who Goes There? was first published.
It was 13 years before James Arness played the original Thing, set in the Arctic. John Carpenter took the action to the other side of the world – Antartica – in 1982 – and that’s where it remains 29 years later.
The cast is all new, and no one delivers an Academy Award-winning performance – but they adequately tell the tale. Final Destination 3’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not a big name star, Joel Edgerton is in tons of movies – but is still unknown (he appeared in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), and the Thing itself appears to slightly resemble the Horta from Star Trek’s 25th show, The Devil In The Dark. The Horta meets Alien. Wikipedia notes that Winstead is supposed to be identified with Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien series so…
The claustrophobic idea of people abandoned in Antartica with a malevolent presence is ok for one movie, but this 73 year old idea feels like it is on a merry go round. Unlike Rise of the Planet Of The Apes – which went to extraordinary lengths to give something new, fresh and exciting to the work – Heijningen falls a bit short. The spacecraft discovered early in the story is far more compelling as a setting for the drama…and the references to Invaders from Mars will not go unnoticed, but that’s where this film needed to spend its time…in the vast expanse of the technological wonder, not back where Wilford Brimley and the gang were playing around with Kurt Russell. Perhaps they should’ve thrown in some Cocoon as well…it wouldn’t have hurt.
There are some genuinely scary moments in this new “Thing”, as well as two of the guys on the crew melting into each other a la the late Ron Silver (who fell into his other self) in 1994’s Timecop. Kind of gives new meaning to the term “buddy system” and, though gory, the intentional restraint on the blood and guts (somewhat for 2011), makes the emphasis on the creepiness from the cold, dark landscape good for an evening’s entertainment. But if this creature is kept on ice for another 60 years, no one will really miss it.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.