This Thing Sucks – Prequel Reviewed

In the summer of 1982, Universal Studios released John Carpenter’s The Thing. Fresh off major genre landmarks (Halloween, The Fog and Escape from New York), Carpenter was about to hit his zenith with a film no one in their right mind could have expected. The Thing oozed 1970s-era paranoia and mistrust as much as it did alien slime.

Only it was about to be outdone by a cutesy little candy-eating alien fellow from the other side of town.

That same summer, Steven Spielberg released E.T. on a public that was eager to put those dark ’70s behind them and jumpstart the carefree, fun-loving ’80s.

Before you could stick out a finger and say ouch, The Thing was critically lambasted, destroyed and in and out of theaters. Universal was embarrassed. It had given Carpenter a whopping (at the time) $15 million budget. They threw their hands up and pointed fingers, blaming JC and his auteur filmmaking style and labeling The Thing a colossal failure.

And then something strange happened. Through the years, geeks, you and I alike, found it, dusted it off and loved the film. It became us, shunned by society. But we knew its secret – that this, not the autopilot response of The Exorcist, is the gold standard for horror films. Others followed suit: Dark Horse released a series of comics, a videogame was created and even head figurine geek Todd McFarlane did a series of characters.

Flash forward to 2009 and the rumblings start. If there’s money to be made here, Hollywood’s going to find a way. Why not make a sequel? No, Kurt Russell’s too old. Carpenter’s too cranky. Escape from L.A., anyone?

What about a prequel? There was that Norwegian camp in the film, after all. And thus an idea was born – an idea that was unfortunately the child of accounting, bottom lines and boardrooms (remember kids, this is show business, not show art).

Now, if you’re a geek like me, you’ve seen The Thing (probably multiple times). If you’re insane like me, then you’ve seen it a few hundred times.

If you wondering why you’re reading a review of The Thing prequel but I haven’t even gotten to that film yet, it’s because I’m scared. You see, if this thing (ha ha) blows chunks, it will infect me. I’ll never be able to watch the original without thinking of this film.

Think I’m crazy? I’ve got three words for you: Han shoots first.

Tell me every time you watch Star Wars that little turd nugget doesn’t creep up from the basement of your subconscious. Thanks, George.

So just in case, I’ve snuck in a bottle of Ketel One, which should help ease this horse pill down. The lights dim, my Outpost #31 Thing shirt is on, the bottle’s cracked, drinks poured and the film begins.

The first thing I notice is that the Universal logo animation is not the current one. It’s an older one. End credits would later inform me that this was the 1997 logo. Why? Let it go, there’s going to be a whole lot more unanswered whys coming down the pike. [drink]

The opening shot actually isn’t bad. Nice wide exterior shot, the faint strumming chords of Ennio Morricone’s End Credits Theme. Off in the distance, a truck makes its way across a snowy landscape. The titles start, and they’re even using the original Thing font.

And that’s exactly where my enjoyment of this film ends. [drink]

Inside, two Norwegians are driving, but it’s one of those old bad movie driving shots where the background is just on a green screen behind the actors and someone’s outside the truck rocking it.

Yeeeuuuup. That bad. [drink]

The Norwegians tell each other a vulgar joke about a young boy who discovers his father bumping uglies with mom. The kid runs out of the room. The father follows the boy and upon entering his room, he finds the kid banging his grandmother. Kid turns and says, see? Not so funny when it’s your mom. Rim shot and drink.

To have this joke be the first thing the audience is exposed to sets us up; it tells us this will be a different kind of Thing. As if your 1982 Thing is yours and I’m gonna take it and fuck it all up. And boy, do they. [drink]

I would linger longer on this joke but I’m quickly distracted by the fact that every button inside the truck and on the equipment (in fact, throughout the entire movie) is written in English. All the dials, the boxes, everything in the background.

Yes, this movie is that dumb. I drink and start to weep quietly in my seat.

After finding the spaceship, an American paleontologist is convinced to come to Antarctica for the discovery. When we first meet Kate Lloyd (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Men At Work’s first hit, “Who Can It Be Now” plays on a nearby radio.

Yes, the horror in this movie is that on the nose. [drink]

In fact, there are more evil sneers in this movie then any in recent memory. You know what I am talking about: eyebrow arched, lip curled in a snarl, “mweh, heh, heh” gurgling up from the throat. At one point, it got so bad that I thought cartoon villain Sam Snidely was going to jump out, twirl his mustache and tie a damsel in distress to a set of railroad tracks.

And a little bit more of my soul dies. [drink]

When Mary’s helicopter lands at the Norwegian camp, we have one of the very many core flaws of this film. Six people get out, making the total number of people stationed there 18. There are shots of crowded rooms, people coming and going – it’s so busy you have no idea who is who. You never get to know any of the characters or their roles. At one point, the Thing kills a dude and his buddy screams, “It got Sven! It got Sven!”

I scream back, “Who the hell is Sven?!”

[drink] [drink] [drink] [drink]

When the team finally assembles at the crashed spaceship site, they do not form the circle around the spaceship and blow the ice up as in the original. This is a major deviation from the storyline, and I sit there stewing as to why they would make such a major change. [drink]

The creature overall in this Thing is very different from how it behaves in the original. It’s all CGI (mostly bad CGI at that). This Thing can grow an 18-foot stabber tentacle with a blink of an eye that kills many a character.

It is no longer vulnerable out in the open; in fact, in one scene – oddly reminiscent of The Relic – it stalks around the camp all aliened out like a mutated panther. [drink]

The main theme of paranoia and mistrust is buffoonishly handled. Instead of having characters wonder who might be human, the creative team decided to change it to “we don’t really believe this is happening.” It’s a huge shift in how fear can be portrayed and it just truly misses the mark. [drink]

Overall, the film is peppered with small winks at the camera as if to say, “See? This is how this got this way.” I can almost picture the film crew, giddily punching each other thinking, “Oh, this will satisfy those Thing fans. [drink]

By the time we get to the start of the third act, I’m tired and nearly drunk. Shadowy suspense and tension is replaced by loud bombastic stings of music, over-the-top melodrama and exterior snow sets so bad they look like they’ve been borrowed from the Ice Capades. [drink]

In the beginning, the breath from the cold air is CGI’d onto the actors, by the midpoint it starts to wane and at the start of the third act it’s just completely gone. Whereas in the original, they couldn’t go outside, here at one point they look like they are about to cook S’mores around a campfire. [drink]

Huge chunks of dialogue are lifted from the original and then manhandled. [drink]

A storm threatens to come and never arrives, and the finale plays out as a chase scene through the alien spaceship. When the final monster appears, not only does it break its own rules, it more than a little resembles the final demon in Hellraiser 2. [drink]

There’s so much more to say: the flawed logic, the overlit rooms, the digital film processing that makes the film look flatter than the two-dimensional characters onscreen – it’s making my head spin and I fear I’ve wasted enough time here.

To pound in the final nail as I finish the last of the vodka, a scene plays through the end credits in a feeble attempt to tie this film to the original. It is so depressingly bad – they even use shots from the original film, but since the aspect ratio is different, the shots appear stretched and distorted.

The ushers find me curled up, in a fetal position, under my seat.

As I stagger away from the theater, it dawns on me: This isn’t a movie made for me. It’s made for horror virgins, for people who like their vampires glittery and their Potters hairy. And that’s a shame because there was a story here to tell and an opportunity to expand mythos.

I originally bitched that there are much more experienced horror teams out there – del Toro, Rodriguez, Neal Marshall Stevens (hell, even J.J. Abrams credits The Thing in Super 8 – who would could have handled this better. But in Universal’s eyes, they had been bitten once before by hiring an auteur and so they went with a director who had never made a horror movie before and the writer of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

As they saying goes, you get what you pay for. What we got is run-of-the-mill, paint-by-numbers horror crap that is more at home next to Debbie Gibson and Mega Shark then R.J. MacReady, who’s off in the ice somewhere, polishing off the last of that bottle of J&B.

You know what? That sounds pretty good to me right now.
I think I’ll join him.

Matthew Giaquinto
Helicopter Pilot
U.S. Outpost #31
Signing off

———

Visit Matt at his real outpost, The Loop Lounge, for some Ketel One, J&B or any other preferred funtime spirits. A word of warning: If you mention The Thing, just make sure it’s prefaced by “John Carpenter’s.”

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  • Brian

    I loved your review. You have a great attention to detail, and a fantastic tone. The humor really sells this piece. There are things in this movie I would never noticed had you not pointed them out. I'm still intrigued to see it, only because I'm interested in the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" nods to the first movie. But I'm also intrigued to see just how bad it is. And, if possible, I'm going to sneak some Jim Beam in with me. Nice work!!

  • Jon

    What about the 1952 original? I love JC's version , but I really love the original with Kenneth Toby and Margaret Sheridan!! Meow!!!

  • frank

    this is the kind of writing we need more of.

  • Mooretallica

    Like you, I've seen jc's the thing 1000 times. The new movie wasn't great, but it couldnhave been a whole lot worse. People were always gonna slam this movie because of it's name sake. Like you say, the thing is the gold standard of horror. Here is only one way to go when a franchise is at the top.

  • Pookiefreak

    I'll never forget the moment in 1982, sitting in a theater, when Copper's hands went through Norris' chest and those huge jaws chomped them right off. I'd never jumped out of my seat in a movie like that, and I never have since. To then have it topped by the 'spider-head' – priceless.

    Years later while working on the show 'Grace Under Fire,' I told Charles Hallahan about Anne Billson's incredible critical studies book which was done for the BFI Modern Classics series. When he heard the cover photo was his head tearing itself off the Thing body from the 'spider-head' scene, he burst out laughing. He asked if I could get him a copy of the book. When I admitted that 'The Thing' was one of my favorite films, he sighed. 'No matter where I go in the world,' he said, 'That's the one I hear from people. It's either 'that's my favorite film' or 'you were in The Thing' or 'you're the dude whose head came off his body and turned into a spider in 'The Thing.' ' He then said, 'That was a wild movie to have been a part of. People either love that movie or hate it – there's no in between.'

    Over the years I've gotten to know some people who were at Universal when the film was being shot. Some loved going down to the stages. Some dreaded it. They say it was the same for the crew. It was also the same over a decade later when it came time to document the making of the film for home video. I was surprised when I got to know some of the key people who gave us the definitive history of 'The Thing' in the DVD and HD-DVD supplements. They loved the talent behind the camera and in front of it, but they dreaded even watching the film for work purposes.

    With all this in mind, I found it shocking when funding was pulled together for this prequel – on the filmmaker's terms, not on the terms of those putting the money into it. With the trend of remaking cult horror films of the 70's and 80's with 'flavor of the year' tween TV, music and movie stars, and just enough violence and T&Q to score a PG-13 and barely avoid an R rating, the backers of the new Thing were taking a huge risk from the outset.

  • Pookiefreak

    First, they committed to an 'R' rating. Today, in the horror market, unless its a 'Saw' picture, odds are that's the kiss of box office death. Making it a prequel really backed them into a corner. It basically meant anyone who had seen the 1982 Carpenter original knew the story, and its final outcome. Furthermore, with Carpenter's film having such a hardcore fan-base, the filmmakers knew they had to carefully analyze the 1982 film, document every element of the Norwegian 'prequel' story shown or mentioned in Carpenter's film, and determine how they were to be creatively addressed and explained in the new prequel.

    When it was announced it would be shot in the classic 'Carpenter' style (widescreen, long tracking shots, effects in wide master shots) with on-set, practical make-up and mechanical effects in the Rob Bottin tradition, it didn't make sense. Carpenter had nearly a year for pre-production on the original, and extensive shooting and post period. The new 'Thing' was being rushed through pre-production and being shot on a tight schedule. Even with the top make-up and effects crew they'd assembled, it all seemed like a noble effort was being made to achieve something great without the resources to make it possible.

    That the investors and Universal greenlit the screenplay eventually shot, which was done in this fashion, under the schedule and budget the filmmakers were given, is a kind of experimental insanity. And, according to all the reports that continued to flood the internet during production and post-production, as the film's release date continued to be bumped, the logical problems that should have been anticipated did occur.

  • Pookiefreak

    There wasn't enough prep time for the on-set make-up and effects team. Photographing certain make-ups and effects digitally didn't yield the same realistic results as certain film stocks could with proper lighting and exposure. Everyone had forgotten that Dean Cundy and Rob Bottin battled throughout the shooting of Carpenter's picture over light levels – Cundy fighting to make sure there was enough exposure so the audience could see the damn creature, and Bottin to make sure the light levels were as low as possible to make the damn latex and materials look realistic.

    Then there was 'generational gap.' Fans of the 1982 original were raised on prosthetic make-up and mechanical effects. They found them more realistic. As digital 'make-up' effects and 'creatures' replaced the efforts of the Rob Bottins and Rick Bakers of the world, these fans found digital effects starting to look unrealistic and fake. For those raised on digital effects, the inverse was turning out to be true. Testing on-set footage with audiences of that demographic revealed their bias towards digital effects.

    Suddenly, the budget was rising as digital effects were being added in to either complement or replace the on-set make-up and mechanical effects. This being a horror film, however, the budget was going to go much higher – and either was the quality of the additional and unanticipated effects.

    There is one final factor that set this new film up to a hard sell – and hardcore fans of the Carpenter original know this better than anyone. John Carpenter's film is about the group of Americans trying to figure out what happened at the Norwegian camp while simultaneously going through what happened at the camp. It's what makes the story work so well. We're shown the ending of the film, in a sense, when Copper and MacCready arrive at the Norwegian camp the first time.

  • Pookiefreak

    Combine having to do this with also having to incorporate all the events and plot points which 'The Thing' prequel had to set up to lead directly into Carpenter's film, and this is what you end up with:

    A film that directly sets up events to be revealed in a subsequent film while telling the same story of that subsequent film – in a setting the audience has previously seen in the subsequent film, and occurring during the same time and in the same location as the subsequent film.

    In short – as fans going in, knowing the prequel story which the filmmakers have set out to tell, the only form of experience which can be aspected by a fan is a sense of 'reminiscing’ on what we experienced in 1982 and have been loving ever since. There is the inevitable ‘check list’ sensation to be expected with regard to everything – the photography, the art direction, the score, the camera placement, the characters, the creature, the attacks, the story beats, and – in particular – how the third act will conclude the story and set up Carpenter’s film.

    In my first viewing of the picture, I was not scared, nor surprised by much. I was, however, transported back to 1982 in some ways. I got some of that same Carpenter vibe as I did the night I saw his film. I was not impressed by the performances nor the special effects – but I was impressed by the obvious love of the original which motivated everything I was seeing on the screen.

    What impressed me the most was the end titles and how, with Ennio Morricone’s theme from Carpenter’s film playing over them, the end shots of the new film cut in with opening shots from Carpenter’s original in such a way that it feels natural that the 1982 should be starting immediately.

    Upon arriving home I watched Carpenter’s original on Blu-Ray. After, I found myself wanting to take a second look at the new ‘Thing’ to try and experience as a ‘movie,’ and not a ‘check list.’

    What I found the second time was that the acting was better than I thought, as were the characters, pacing and writing. I also began to notice more of the on-set make-up effects within the digital shots. More importantly, I had to admit that utilizing the digital effects was the only way the filmmakers could show us aspects of the actual Thing we had not seen in Carpenter’s film, and give the new Thing it’s own vibe.

    Overall, I enjoyed it more and – again – had to put Carpenter’s film on when I got home.

    As fans, we have to admit that this film was made primarily for us. As the guys at Armchair Directors put it, ‘The Thing’ 2001 is ‘a love letter to fans of the original ‘Thing.’

    Stylistically, it’s a homage to the John Carpenter horror films of the late 70’s and early eighties – a time when a slower pace built and sustained suspense. Today’s ADD audiences find such films old, boring, and they become cause for them to start texting. Furthermore, just like in 1982, Universal took a risk in opening it at possibly the wrong time – 1 week before two highly anticipated PG-13 rated films, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 and THE THREE MUSKETEERS in 3-D.

    Above all, just as when it opened in 1982, the reviews for ‘The Thing’ 2011 show that – still today – the original is as loved as it is hated. Even in reviewing the new prequel, most critics who gave it a negative review couldn’t help but get another dig in at John Carpenter’s original. Within the fan community as well, debate will start and continue regarding the love and hatred for ‘The Thing’ 2011.
    However, before you write off the film, you should consider the following:

    The story they set out to tell
    The inherent creative restraints they were forced to adhere to in telling that story due to it being a direct prequel
    That telling the prequel story, setting it in 1982, and striving to duplicate the Carpenter look and feel was done for fans, not mass audiences
    What the film creatively accomplishes as well as fails at
    The fact that, even for a brief moment, you may be transported back to 1982 and your first encounter with ‘The Thing’

    ‘The Thing’ 2011 truly is the most expensive ‘fan film’ ever made. Like all fan films, it’s worth checking out because it comes from the heart.

  • Pookiefreaky

    Dear Pookiefreak:

    Unfortunately this Thing is not the most expensive "fan film" ever made. What it is, is a decision to try an cash in on that while reopening doors to (as the above review states) horror virgins. If perhaps they made a film for us fans, it might have been better, but even on it's own, this thing is crap.
    Now yes I had heard funding was pulled and there where extensive reshoots, hell even the original teaser trailer varies greatly from what the film is today, but a movie is what it is. I you or anyone who goes to the theater is going to see this crapfest and not what the best intentions anyone involved had.
    While of course there are story restraints but they chose to do it, and yes it would have taken a master filmmaker to complete that (look at the star wars prequel and how bad they turned out) but again, they chose to do it. We as an audience can only react to the dinner that is put on our plates.
    If every movie where viewed based on the intentions the filmmakers had when they set out, well gosh golly gee, wouldn't we be happy as shit. But that's not the way it works. They made a shitty movie and it seems like everyone agrees.
    Except you.

  • Jason Stone

    STOP DRINKING!! and lighten up! One thing I was sure off when I heard of the Prequel (there a Graphic Novel prequel of events at the Norwegian Camp published many years ago), was that it would get a lot of negative reviews from long time fans who were always going to find living up to the original and impossible task. I was a little concerned too….making a sequel/prequel after THIS amount of time you are historically speaking setting up yourself up for negativity from hardcore fans who don't want THEIR vision of the THEIR classic movie ruined. Like others when I read what was happening on the set I was "hopefully optimistic" and had a very good feeling they would deliver….and SO THEY HAVE!

    I found your review very negative and misinformed….

    1) There are 18 people there because of the alien discovery…. in the original Fuchs only makes reference to ten being STATIONED there…..(not sure if you were pointing that out as inconsistency or only complaining there were too many characters to focus on?)
    2) Yes (in reference to (1) above they HAD a lot of bases to cover and I would love to see the reaction of the hard core if they had put the axe in at the wrong height or if the two headed Thing had died face(s!) DOWN instead of up!
    3) The Norwegians didn't blow up the Ship they used Thermite charges to melt the ice above the craft…. obviously at some point in between the discovery of the craft and Kate Lloyds et al arrival. The damage was caused at the end during the final encounter with the thing…
    4) That joke during the opening scene is REALLY funny all the more so for being subtitled!
    5) Norway is really NOT a very populace country and almost all of them speak good English… So the fact that so many signs, labels etc are in English is PERFECTLY realistic. (One my little problems with the original was the idea of Norwegian (and I presumed at the time a SCIENTIST) NOT knowing at least enough English to shout out that the Dog was an infected creature of some kind!
    With ALL the hurdles they set themselves a more satisfactory companion piece to the original is hard for me to envision. There are multiple SUBTLE connections and imitations of the original with plenty of new ideas to make it worthwhile. The WHOLE idea of doing a PREQUEL rather than a straight remake (which in some way it essentially is) was INSPIRED. So many of us have wondered what happened at the Norwegian Camp…maybe it would have been better to leave it to the imagination….maybe NOT.

  • Jason

    It will bear the test of time much better than its initial opening….just like the ORIGINAL film…entirely predictable…..

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  • person

    youre an asshole. you went into this movie already NOT wanting to like it.

  • Childs

    There’s also the fact that the ship in J.C.’s The Thing was small enough to fit in somebody’s backyard. Now it’s the size of a mall. What? How? The Thing in the prequel also foils the blood test, but the writer/director obviously forgot about how it wasn’t foiled in J.C.’s version. Plus, most of the time the infected person was easy to tell apart. Please, if you enjoyed J.C.’s The Thing, DO NOT watch the prequel.