Grae Drake is currently off exploring faraway lands. Reviewing this week's releases in her place is William Bibbiani, CraveOnline's senior film critic and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast.
I’m a little surprised that the most pointless remake of the weekend – that’s just this weekend, mind you – isn’t Footloose. Well, I guess they’re both pointless beyond selling tickets based on nostalgia appeal and youthful ignorance, but The Thing feels like the most redundant movie in recent memory. The idea, or at least what the filmmakers are masquerading as an idea, was to make a prequel to John Carpenter’s classic “original,” which was itself a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World. In practice they’ve remade the 1982 movie without any of the characters, suspense or innovative special effects that made it so memorable in the first place; or more accurately the second.
If you’ll recall, before Kurt Russell and the Quaker Oatmeal guy were attacked by that shapeshifting space monster in 1982, they took a trip to the Norwegian Antarctic outpost where the alien was first discovered. There they found just enough scientific evidence to qualify as exposition and a carnival of horrors straight out of H.P. Lovecraft, including a charbroiled corpse with two faces. Universal Pictures and hard-to-pronounce director Matthias van Heijningen Jr. apparently saw The Thing and said to themselves, “Selves, the only thing better than imagining what happened here is to see it with our own eyes.” Precisely the same logic – oh sorry, I mean “logic” – that brought you the Star Wars prequels.
So here we fill in those blanks, and guess what? It turns out that they thawed out an alien space monster and everyone pretty much died. We learn nothing we didn’t already know before, and don’t experience any situation that we didn’t basically see the first time. It couldn’t be more “by the numbers” if it were written in binary. Right near the end this version of The Thing tries to take a hard left turn into Predator 2 territory, briefly threatening to show us something absent from the first movie but then copping out completely. It’s the lamest exercise in futility since that sit-up I did a year ago.
The plot, such as it is, follows a team of Norwegian scientists who uncover an alien spaceship and thaw out its sole survivor. The alien attacks, copies their DNA and frequently mutates into grotesque carnivorous perversities that would probably have been scary if they weren’t made from implausibly shiny computer generated effects. But before the fit hits the shan they recruit an American paleontologist played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ostensibly for her expertise but mostly so these foreigners will have an excuse to speak English.
Strangely, Winstead literally doesn’t have anything else to do for a while. It turns out they didn’t even need her there in the first place. It’s only once the action starts that she finally reveals her true purpose: to assume command and propose wild theories that turn out to be 100% accurate every single time. Warrior’s Joel Edgerton also shows up for no other reason than to be American (Yay! This movie totally gets us!), and looks and acts so much like Kurt Russell from the last movie that it takes half the film to realize that they’re not actually playing the same guy.
The Thing isn’t awful and it doesn’t sully Carpenter’s classic film. It’s diverting, but it lies somewhere in the dark nether regions between “good” and “not bad,” which is the worst possible place for a movie to set up camp. The Thing would have had just as much impact on the world if it didn’t even exist. Sadly, that’s the most horrifying part of the movie.