Okay, so how many people out there still haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)? Well, if you are one of those unlucky few, trust me when I say that you’re missing out on one of the finest examples of a good horror/science fiction film in cinematic history and arguably, John Carpenter’s best film ever. Period. Carpenter’s film is great for many reasons, all of which I will get into in the coming paragraphs. My question is: why mess around with perfection? Was this new film necessary? Was an effort made to make a film worthy of its legendary predecessor?
Poster for John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
When Universal announced that they’d be making a new film that would connect with Carpenter’s The Thing, I was screaming “sacrilege!” Yup, I'm one of those guys. You see, to me the first film is so damn perfect that I just couldn’t even fathom the idea of a remake or a prequel or anything. I mean unless these guys were really serious about making a worthy film, more likely than not we would end up with another bad remake on our hands. But the question remained: would this new film be good enough to stand proudly next to John Carpenter’s film and say “I am just as good!”? My doubts were always there. In my mind, nothing could come close to what Carpenter and crew achieved with their film.
Rob Bottin (left) One of the many creatures in The Thing (middle) John Carpenter (Right)
It is my opinion (and this is something that all sci-fi/horror fans and film buffs agree with) that Rob Bottin’s and Stan Winston’s make up effect work on Carpenter’s film remains undefeated to this very day. I mean, have you ever seen anything as remotely outlandish and monstrous as the creatures on Carpenter’s film? Nothing! The make up effects work on that film is indisputable! So my first fear with this new film popped up: would they put as much of an effort in making the make up effects work on this new film truly special? I mean, it’s been almost 30 years since Carpenter’s film, surely make up effects have improved by leaps and bounds? Surely they were aiming at making something that would surpass Carpenters film? I mean knowing how much everyone reveres the work done on that film?
Make up effects master: Rob Bottin!
Here’s where we reach this new films first stumbling block. The make up effects work was nowhere to be seen. I don’t believe one single creature was practical. Nothing was tangible or real, everything, and I mean everything was done on a computer. It didn’t have that tangibility that Rob Bottin’s creations had. That glimmer, that sweat, the shine, that squishy looking yellow stuff pouring out of the creatures pulsating veins. I mean, there was nothing remotely like that on this new film. And that was my first real disappointment with this new film. But I will say this: the computer generated images where not bad, not bad at all. What the filmmakers attempted to do (and curiously enough it fits the theme of the film) was imitate Winston and Bottin’s make effects work and creations, but with computer effects. Damn knuckleheads!
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is this films 'Ripley' in The Thing (2011)
I mean seriously, how hard could it have been to get a make up effects genius to come up with the creatures for this film? I mean what about the KNB guys? Surely they are still around? My point is they could have gotten someone to do something real, tangible and ultimately more convincing. It’s not that the computer effects were bad (they weren’t) it’s just that while watching the film we know they are computer images; we know that this image wasn’t even on the set with the actors, therefore, a lot of credibility simply goes out the window.
But, to this new films credit I will say that they did manage to pull off a lot of gory looking images. And the stuff they did with the computers was fun to watch. There is one scene in which this guy rips open, we see his face and whole body splitting in half, I thought that was a pretty cool sequence. I mean, for things like that, sure, computer effects work wonders. But they didn’t have to go and do everything with CGI. They could have done what Guillermo del Toro does in his films, mix practical with CGI. Use CGI to enhance or fix certain things, but not do every single creature in the computer. But enough bitchin’ about the effects, when it all comes down to it, I didn’t think the computer effects were bad at all. It’s just that when compared to the work put into the original, and the legendary results, well, this new Thing pales in comparison.
So what else? Was the suspense as nail biting as in Carpenter’s? That’s one of the things that distinguished the original; you can cut the suspense with a knife. Carpenter set his film in such a dreadful place; you could literally feel the isolation and paranoia taking over these guys. The characters in Carpenter’s film felt like they were angry, on the edge. The actors conveyed that angst ridden feeling you get when you’ve been locked up in a place for so long. You could tell that the harsh environment they were living in, the loneliness and xenophobia was really starting to get to them. Did this new film achieve that same level of intensity? Hell no it didn’t! And why not? I think it had something to do with the pacing of the movie which was pretty fast, and the choice to fill the film with an orchestral score. In Carpenter’s film, you never got the feeling that the music is telling you how to feel. The score on Carpenter’s film was very subtle and used sparingly. Some of the most dramatic moments in Carpenter’s film had no music whatsoever. What we did hear was the storm blowing outside making all sorts of spooky sounds. What we heard was the alarm blaring away; we heard these men screaming and fighting. We heard the creatures alien screams. These were the sounds that inhabited Carpenter’s film. There was no place in it for a musical score because the setting and situations were spooky enough. And I think that this absence of music in Carpenter’s original was a key element that enhanced the isolation/fear factor. On this new film we have this music all the time reminding us we are watching a movie. It took away from the dread.
Kurt Russell wannabe
Question remains: did this new film get anything right? At all? To tell you the truth, I didn’t think this new film was a bad one, I found myself walking out a satisfied fan. This new film isn’t a remake, but at the same time it is? Let me make myself clear here: this new film takes place before the events on Carpenter’s film, so we get to see what happened to those crazy Norwegians who first found the alien space craft. And to be honest, I enjoyed that whole aspect of the film, seeing what happened before. If you are a huge fan of the original and know it by heart, then you will get all the connections to Carpenter’s film. It feels as if these characters are once again walking in the world that Carpenter and crew created, so kudos to these new filmmakers for achieving that. It also goes places that Carpenter’s film never went, and that was awesome as well, trust me, there are a few surprises in store for fans of Carpenter’s film. Also, the creatures are pretty cool looking. Even though they were all computer generated images, I think they still managed to be quite impressive. It’s like, okay this isn’t a film that will impress you with it’s top of the line make up effects work (because there was practically no practical effects work) but it might impress you with its computer generated creatures none the less. So rest easy: you will be seeing some wonderfully grotesque creatures on this new film. And at least conceptually, they do go into the grotesque and monstrous territories that Bottin’s and Winston’s creations went to.
You can see this new film and see Carpenter’s film right afterwards in a double feature and you will feel like you are watching characters inhabiting the same universe. I thought that was this new films major achievement; that cohesiveness. The only problem is that the film says it isn’t a remake, yet it feels like the same film. It goes through the same motions and situations, only slightly altered. There are a couple of entirely new situations, but for the most part this new film feels a heck of a lot like Carpenter’s film. Bottom line is that this new film wasn’t the disaster we all thought it was going to be. It’s a film that could stand proudly next to Carpenter’s film; only its not a better film. Carpenter’s classic is so awesome; such a perfect horror film, that there was no way it was going to be beat. The bar had been set to high by Carpenters film. But still, this new The Thing was an enjoyable monster movie, and one that a fan of Carpenter’s film can enjoy. Just don’t expect a better film.
Rating for The Thing (1982): 5 out of 5
Rating for The Thing (2011): 3 1/2 out of 5