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How Will “The Thing” Measure Up to “The Thing?”

Last weekend, a group of friends and I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing, a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. I’ve seen the film probably ten times or more and consider it one of my favorite movies of all time, but watching it with several people who had never seen it and knew nothing about it reminded me that, on top of being a personal favorite, it’s also an incredibly enthralling and effective film. During the famous chest cavity scene (you know what I’m talking about), one friend jumped a foot off the couch and let out a noise akin to what you’d hear if you stepped on a fox terrier. “Damn,” I said to myself, to the irritation of my friends, “this movie still works.”

This is what makes me both excited and somewhat reticent for the upcoming prequel/remake/whatever of The Thing, which comes out this weekend. It will either be a lovingly faithful companion to Carpenter’s film, or it’ll just be a pastiche of the original made by people who saw it once. From the trailer, it’s still kind of hard to determine which.


The look of the two films are almost identical, and even some shots in the new trailer are direct references from the old one. But is this a good Thing or a bad Thing? The conceit of the new film is that it follows the Norwegian expedition that discovers the alien craft and the creature who flew it buried in the ice, and these are the same Norwegians we see chasing the alien dog at the beginning of the first film. While in theory this works very well, the inclusion of Americans into the cast of the new film doesn’t make any narrative sense. Why, if there was an American outpost only a short distance away, would American students go to the Norwegian camp? Now, I’m sure there will be some line put into the script that explains that away, but I’d much rather they just made a movie about Norwegians. Cast whomever you want, just make sure they can sound Scandinavian. Also, the whole reason what happened at the beginning of the first film happened is because the Norwegians didn’t speak English and couldn’t communicate with the Americans to say, “Hey, this dog’s a fucking alien!” Surely, that goes away if you’re already in a camp with a bunch of Americans.

It appears a great deal of attention was paid to make sure the new film replicates the overall look and atmosphere of Carpenter’s film. That’s fairly impressive, but again, there’s no reason for both outposts to look exactly the same except for the reference to the original. Sometimes I worry that they do stuff like that just so, subconsciously, we draw comparisons between the two films, and ultimately think that the new one is good because it looks like the old one we already like. And by “worry” I mean “know that’s exactly why they do it.”

I suppose, ultimately, the reason I’m most worried about this version of The Thing is that I’m worried it will just have the look of Carpenter’s and none of what made it great. The 1982 film is all about paranoia and mistrust. Anybody could be The Thing at any given moment, and it’s merely a matter of when you’ll find out. The aforementioned chest cavity scene and the arguably more famous blood-testing scene are done beautifully and are all about misdirection and lulling audiences into a false sense of security. Then, when we finally do see the creature, it doesn’t jump out at us; The camera lingers on it and allows us to see the awesome, gruesome gore effects by the genius Rob Bottin. From what I’ve seen, the new one is a film about two things: jump scares and CGI.

There are a couple of jump scares in Carpenter’s movie, but generally they are just tension builders. The new one looks like it’s all people looking scared and slowly turning around to see nothing, only to have something grab them and pull them away into darkness. What’s the point of having a creature that can perfectly blend in if it’s just going to hide in the shadows anyway? And, let’s face it, CGI, no matter how good it is, still looks like CGI. There’s nothing visceral or corporeal about computer graphics the way the Bottin’s models do. I understand it’s cheaper to use CGI, but there’s a real art to making practical effects that’s sadly been lost. And they’re still effective, as evidenced by my dog-yelping friend.

It’s entirely possible this new version of The Thing will be the same type of movie as this summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that stands on its own, but is also a gift to fans of the original. However, what worries me about The Thing is that it will be made up of the weaker parts of the Apes film. The direct line references and situations were way too on-the-nose and hokey. Did Tom Felton have to say ALL of the classic Charlton Heston lines? This is what I don’t want from The Thing. If even one person says “tied to this fucking couch!” or “You gotta be fucking kidding,” I’m gonna roll my eyes until they go all the way around in my head. Nostalgia is great, but if you get too referential, you may as well just watch the first one.

Despite my griping, I’m excited to go see The Thing this weekend and expect my fears will more or less be assuaged, but it’ll really be a shame if it’s just a string of references to the older film and a bunch of CGI monster limbs. If it’s going to reference anything, I hope it references being a good, effective movie.

-Kanderson sure does worry about movies a lot. Follow him on TWITTER

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17 comments

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  • @Ian,
    I see your point. There are people who are concerned about how the movie will turn out because they enjoyed the first. They must be trolls.
    I see a lot of the comments on this page hoping the movie will be good, but I also understand that what Hollywood has brought to us (for the most part) over the last ten if not more years has been utter shite.
    I agree that CGI is a great resource, as it makes anything possible. I disagree with its use in situations that would be better served with physical effects. (see: Tron: Legacy) I have just seen far too many studio abuses of the availability of it to believe that “it will be better this time, Honey”.
    @Luneowl, Thank you. I had not heard about this adaptation. (see what I did there?) What a brilliant and fresh take on a classic story. I can’t wait to watch it again now, with new eyes.

  • All Norwegians speak English buddy. Silly point you made about that. It might be the ONLY thing wrong with the ’89 version of the flick, but then perhaps that scientist was so terrified, like most humans, he speaks in his native tongue.

    I f this was the PREQUIL that would be awesome. Seriously. See why the norskies died.. but remakes of great movies, like Psycho? Or Manhunter… are just puke. I konw the remakes I want. Stars I II III!!!!! (yes i really am using the Lucas numbering here… ) Maybe we will be blessed with remakes if lucas dies.

  • What I love about this is that you are already trolling a movie that isn’t even out yet. And you’re right that (1982) was as close to a perfect movie as it can be. But, that by no means says that (2011) is going to be a bad movie. It’s the same defense I make with the SW prequels. You have to shut off the fanboy part of the nerd brain and say to yourself and say, “this is a different movie.” That doesn’t mean you can’t compare the 2. It will probably be hard not to. But go into the theatre with the perspective that this movie is entirely different than the first. It’s made by different people, for different people. CGI has made anything possible. Yes if it’s done poorly, on a poor budget, it will not look visceral or realistic. But there are plenty of movies, even horror movies, that have had extraordinary CGI. You don’t comment about them usually, because you don’t notice the CGI. That’s how good it is.

    I’m not saying this movie isn’t going to be good. I don’t know. But if you walk into the theatre with this kind of attitude, you will not enjoy yourself.

  • @Luneowl: Thanks for that podcast! I’ve actually read Watts’ story twice–thanks, of course, to links provided by like-minded folk (the AV Club, in that case). Looking forward to giving it a listen, too.

  • Vote #10 that The Thing is an awesome flick (and holds up much better than most movies from the time). There was a Playstation game based on The Thing that was actually pretty sweet, if memory serves. Anyone play that?
    Speaking of great practical effects, I just re-watched American Werewolf in Lodon. No wonder they INVENTED the makeup Oscar for that. When his buddy first shows up as a “zombie” his neck looks INCREDIBLE all chewed up. Great stuff.

  • I remember watching it for the first time, completely, on Christmas day a few years ago. As strange as it was to watch the movie with all my younger cousins we all liked it and were creaking out. Sadly the prequel is missing what I feel was the best part about that movie which of course was the practical effect.

  • I was disappointed when I saw the trailer, I really was. I really don’t see the need to remake a movie that was great the first time. The original Thing is a sci-fi classic, and it’ s as watchable today as it ever was.

    Boo.

  • What made Carpenter’s “Thing” for me was all of the nifty one liners the film was marbled with. “Is that a man in there…. or somethin’?” or “… it wakes up, probaly not the best of moods…”

    Amazingly, it was almost BETTER when it was on TV and there was Childs saying things like” I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullstuff.” Just beautiful.

    MST3K goooold…..

  • We have an old video guide book that describes Carpenter’s film as “so scary it’ll crawl right up your leg”–a description so apt & well-phrased that it’s been my go-to for years.

    Like Mr. Anderson here, I recently re-watched The Thing, with a friend who’d never seen it. I hyped it quite a bit, & then got nervous that I’d OVER hyped it. Nope–it more than lived up to my memories (I hadn’t seen it in, geez, maybe 10 years?), & very much impressed my friend.

    REALLY hoping this iteration at least comes close, though I’m sure it won’t equal, let alone improve on, Carpenter’s. Color me cautiously optimistic.

  • I first saw Carpenter’s “Thing” while babysitting for a neighbor who had HBO circa 1984–I don’t like horror films, but I loved this one. The transformations were amazing and really interesting, but the tension was it. The scene where Kurt Russell has everyone tied down and is testing their blood….

    When I was a high school English teacher, I once used it for a horror unit and it was satisfying to see students react as audience members should. They didn’t lap up the violence, or get grossed out, but sat on the edge of their seats like you’re supposed to do in a good film. It’s just pure suspense.

    As fun as the film was, breaking it down was amazing. Just focusing on that thumping beat–heart beat–as it came and went…. Genius. Unfortunately, I teach middle school now and half the class wouldn’t sleep for a month if we used it. It’s too good!

    I also want to give props up to the casting director. Donald Moffat, Wilfred Brimley… If you look at the list, and Wiki-link to what else they did, you would never think a movie with this cast would be good, regardless of the genre. The cast is perfect, and not a star in the bunch, but each is memorable and distinctive and no who you expect in a horror film. Kurt Russell comes in many forms, and here he plays it just right.

    I couldn’t believe they made a remake–and even stole the font–but then I found out it was a prequel and relaxed a tad. I still have hope it’s really good. Hope.

  • The Thing is damn close to perfection. I’m looking forward to the prequel, but it would have to be pretty freaking amazing to measure up to Carpenter’s. I’ve never heard JC say so, but I always wondered if it wasn’t the thing’s spaceship that crashed, but the ship of another alien species the thing had mimicked.

  • Cant agree more.

    The best part of carpenters thing was the mutation scenes. Actually seeing flesh tear apart and burn. Hearing the distinct screaming alien (still gives me shivers). Watching everyone lose it.

    In my opinion this new thing isnt going to make it especially for your aforementioned reasons. But mostly because of the CGI. While it can be a great special effect it does nothing in comparison to practical models. Fifth Element and WTWTA are great proponents of why practical models create a better looking film.

    As much as I hope this will be a good movie i feel that in the end i will be disappointed.

    great article