- May 9, 2003
The Thing is a fairly unremarkable movie. It’s presented as a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter horror film of the same name, but can more accurately be thought of as a remake – the latest in a string of such efforts which have included Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dawn of the Dead. (The producers of that last remake title are also responsible for this one.) As a sci-fi/horror film, The Thing isn’t a bad film – it’s just not that interesting. If you’ve already seen the Carpenter film, much of this material will be familiar territory, which makes a viewing unnecessary. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen the Carpenter film, this may seem fresh – but it would be a better use of 2 hours of your life to just watch the 1982 film instead.
Studio: Universal/Morgan Creek/Strike Entertainment
Release Year: 2011
Length: 1 hr 43 mins
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror/Remake of 1980s Movie
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, VC-1(@ an average 30 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.6 mbps, up to 5.2 during big scenes), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Film Rating: R (Strong Creature Violence, Gore, Disturbing Images, Language, Inventive Uses for a Flamethrower)
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Adewale Aakinnuoye-Agbaje, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Trond Espen Seim
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., and the 1982 screenplay by Bill Lancaster
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen
From the 1982 film The Thing:
“How long you figure this has been in the ice?”
“Well, the backscatter effect’s been bringing things up from way down around here for a long time. I’d say the ice it’s buried in is a hundred thousand years old – at least.”
“And those Norwegians blew it up...”
Review Rating: 2/5
The short version of this review is that The Thing just isn’t that interesting of a movie. It’s another pass at the classic sci-fi story of scientists encountering a malevolent alien in the ice in Antarctica, filled with the requisite blood, gore and creature effects. It’s not a bad movie, and there are attempts at finding interesting new twists on the story established in the 1982 John Carpenter film, but this one just falls flat, particularly in comparison. The cast does what they can with very little material, but that doesn’t amount to much in the end. There are some interesting creature effects, accomplished this time by a combination of on-set work and CGI, and there are a couple of nods to the Alien franchise that remain murky in the undercooked script. And there’s a few attempts to tie the story directly to the 1982 movie – setting this one as a prequel to the earlier movie and showing how the Norwegian camp of that film wound up the way we originally saw it. Unfortunately, the attempts to do all this work ultimately fall flat – there just isn’t an interesting story here, and the few promising ideas that do happen are quickly dropped or forgotten without much fuss. Viewers interested in the premise of this movie are better advised to watch either the 1982 John Carpenter film instead, or to go back to the 1951 Howard Hawks movie. Either would provide a more worthwhile experience.
SPOILERS HERE: The basic story here is built from John W. Campbell’s classic 1938 sci-fi novella “Who Goes There?”, in which a scientific team in Antarctica discover a long-buried alien spaceship and thaw out its pilot. The alien turns out to be not only hostile, but also a shapeshifter who can take the form and place of anyone it attacks. In short order, the group becomes completely paranoid as to which of them are still human and which are alien replacements. It’s a great story of paranoia and it still holds up today. In 1951, The Thing From Another World, a loose adaptation from producer Howard Hawks, was released to movie theaters. This version featured a young James Arness as a plant-based alien unleashed by the research team and ended with the alien’s destruction and a tense warning to “Keep watching the skies!”
MORE SPOILERS: In the early 1980s, John Carpenter was given a chance to do a new adaptation of “Who Goes There?”, and he put together a much darker and more nihilistic movie. Carpenter’s The Thing was actually more faithful to the Campbell novella than the 1951 movie, in that his film featured a shape-shifting alien and many of the characters and situations from the novella. Carpenter’s film was notable for the creature effects work of Rob Bottin, who generated some extremely gory and disturbing transformations for Carpenter. Carpenter’s movie features an American outpost visited by a stray dog and then a crazed pair of Norwegians who shoot up the place trying to kill the dog. When the Americans visit the Norwegian outpost, they find burnt wreckage and bizarre corpses, including one giant smoldering mess in the snow. Further investigation shows that the Norwegians had found a spacecraft in the ice, and in a moment done as a nod to the 1951 movie, video home movies show the Norwegians spacing out the size of a flying saucer in the ice and then blowing it up. Of course, in short order, Carpenter’s film establishes that the dog is not what it appears to be, and that the retrieved Norwegian mess is actually still alive. And by the time the Americans have realized what is happening, the Thing is already loose in the camp and has replaced some of the team members. At this point, the Rob Bottin makeup effects begin to really cut loose and some spectacularly gory scenes ensue. Events generally deteriorate from there until the movie’s apocalyptic close, which leaves little to no hope of survival for any of the characters left by then.
STILL MORE SPOILERS: The new 2011 film is designed as a remake of John Carpenter’s film, albeit cloaked as a prequel set at the Norwegian outpost. The general thrust of the movie is identical – the research team encounters the hostile alien, and multiple gory scenes of alien attacks and transformations are presented until the apocalyptic finale. Many situations and ideas from the Carpenter film are repeated here, including the liberal use of flamethrowers, the layout and look of the camp, and the pitting of one team member against the rest to find out which ones are human and which ones are not. There are a few interesting twists added here. One is that the main character of the movie is female paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). There’s an obvious nod to the Ripley character from the Alien franchise in that Kate’s warnings are repeatedly ignored to everyone’s detriment, and that she winds up of course being the one facing off against the hostile alien when we get to the climax. (There’s a real lost opportunity there, by the way. The whole reason her character is brought to the camp is because she’s a paleontologist. And yet her expertise is pretty much ignored and then forgotten very quickly after she arrives. Any discussion of the paleontological issues is minimal, at best.) There’s also a new bit of information established about the alien creature, when Kate realizes that the alien can imitate the organic parts of the people but cannot imitate non-organic things like dental fillings or earrings. (Of course, this is also partly lifted from the first movie in the Terminator franchise, where the gag of the time travel machine was that only living flesh could make the trip...) When the group finally go inside the flying saucer established from the 1982 film, hints are laid out that the hostile alien was not the pilot of the ship but instead a specimen that got out and killed the crew – either when the ship crashed or as a cause of the crash. A message beacon is shown in the ship, which seems to be displaying the shape-shifting attributes of the creature as a warning. This beacon is of course what draws the Norwegian team to the ship in the first place, thus setting the situation in motion. (All of that is another lift from the first Alien film, and it really doesn’t get examined here, unfortunately.)
FINAL BATCH OF SPOILERS: By way of presenting itself as a prequel to Carpenter’s movie, the new film tries to make itself match the 1982 film as closely as possible. So the movie ends with the dog-thing running away from the smoldering Norwegian outpost and the helicopter taking off after it. And we are shown just how the giant smoldering split-headed thing in the ice got that way. We are also shown how the block of ice wound up in its condition, how an axe wound up in a wall, and how one of the Norwegian camp team members killed himself in the manner found by Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart in the 1982 film. Of course, the new movie has two massive mismatches, one of which is openly acknowledged by director Matthijs van Heijningen – the 1982 film shows that the Norwegians blew up the ice and the flying saucer, creating a giant ice crater for the Americans to briefly explore. The new film shows the saucer in a giant ice cave, whose roof is only taken out by the alien trying to activate the ship’s engines and the team members setting off an explosion inside it. The 1982 film also makes fairly clear that the all-male Norwegian team were not English speakers. The records and materials found in that camp are all in Norwegian, and the only survivor to speak to the Americans yells at them in Norwegian. Yet in the new movie, the Norwegian outpost mostly has English speakers, including their radio operator. A few people speak Norwegian here and there, including, conveniently, the man who will wind up shooting at the Americans. (In fairness, Carpenter’s film had the man played by two people – on the ground, he was played by Norbert Weisser – whose Norwegian dialogue is quite specific about what’s wrong with the dog – and in the air, he was played by assistant director Larry Franco – whose attempts at Norwegian dialogue were laughed about by Carpenter and Kurt Russell.) And we’ll avoid the subject of the female team members here, as that would be a completely separate discussion. So it’s not a full match to the 1982 film, and in most cases, it’s simply a retread of the same material, with more updated effects. And the new effects simply aren’t the equal to Rob Bottin’s ghastly creations for the 1982 movie. Just as the reheated story elements aren’t as interesting the second time around.
The Thing will be released on Blu-ray and DVD this comingTuesday. The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie and a healthy dose of extras, including a U-Control function, a commentary, two featurettes and some deleted scenes. The usual Blu-ray functionality is here, including pocket BLU and BD-Live. A digital copy and ultraviolet copy can be accessed via instructions found on an insert in the packaging. The standard definition DVD is also included in the packaging.
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
The Thing is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p VC-1 encode that presents the icy locations and the onscreen carnage in loving detail. The CGI work tends to stand out as such, but that’s a reflection of the production and not of the transfer. A variety of flesh tones are presented with accuracy.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
The Thing gets a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which has plenty to do, given the nature of the movie. There’s plenty of atmospheric detail, and plenty of work for the subwoofer throughout. Music shows up liberally in the surrounds, although my own favorite moments were when Ennio Morricone’s music from the 1982 film could be heard. DTS tracks in French and Spanish are also available. An English DVS track is also available, which has to be a really interesting listen, if you think about what they’re trying to describe half the time…
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Thing comes with a commentary, a pair of featurettes and a few deleted scenes, presented in high definition. A U-Control PIP function is also included. There’s also the usual Blu-ray functionality. Instructions for downloading a digital copy and obtaining an ultraviolet copy of the movie are included in the packaging. The standard definition DVD edition is also included in the packaging.
Feature Commentary with Director Matthijs van Heijningen and Producer Eric Newman – This scene specific commentary finds Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman in a pleasant and chatty mood. They discuss the production in detail, including both the attempts to match continuity to the 1982 film and their deviations from it.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (9:15 Total, 1080p) – Seven deleted scenes are presented in high definition. Much of this just extends existing material or adds a new bit of information. One scene shows the fate of a character not revealed until later in the movie as finally set in the theatrical cut. An extension to the ending shows one or two crucial beats of that scene left out of the theatrical cut. The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.
The Thing Evolves (14:00, 1080p) – This featurette generally covers the making of the movie, including interviews with much of the cast and the creative team. The usual mutual compliments are shared among everyone, in between on-set video and clips from both the new movie and the 1982 film. Executive Producer David Foster offers compliments on behalf of a non-interviewed John Carpenter.
Fire & Ice (4:47, 1080p) – This short featurette focuses on the stunt and fire work done for the movie, including some in-depth material about the safety features of the flamethrowers used in the movie.
U-Control – This PIP function is available for most chapters of the movie. In it, you can find more interview footage and more on-set video of the appropriate materials to each chapter. Most likely, this is the rest of the material assembled for the featurettes being presented in a nice fashion along with the movie.
pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present here.
D-Box – D-Box functionality is available for those viewers who have this capability in their home theaters.
BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present, including a few online trailers that play as soon as you put the disc in your internet-connected player.
Digital Copy/Ultraviolet – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie or obtaining an ultraviolet copy are included in the packaging. The copies must be accessed by June 27, 2012.
DVD Edition – The standard definition DVD of the movie is also included in the packaging. It presents the movie in standard definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix (at 448 kbps), and presents the same featurettes and deleted scenes from the Blu-ray, in standard definition.
The movie and the special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.
IN THE END...
The Thing is an unexceptional remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi/horror cult film (which was itself considered a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks picture). It tries to present itself as a prequel to the 1982 film, but it follows the story beats of that movie so closely that it’s not completely accurate to term it a prequel. Enough liberties are taken here that what we’re really seeing is a 2011 spin on the material developed by John Carpenter 30 years ago. It’s not a bad movie, but viewers would be better advised to just watch the 1951 or 1982 films instead.
January 28, 2012
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer