CONS: Blew the opportunity to add anything to the original. Since it was a prequel and not a remake, it followed the original film way too closely. Distinct lack of any Kurt Russell level personality.
THINGS I LIKED: The Thing autopsy early on gave some interesting insight into the creature. I thought the people stuck at the camp responded pretty realistically, all things considered. Arm bugs.
NITPICKS: The inside of the ship was all very interesting looking but what kind of beings would pilot it and what was the purpose of anything we saw there? I think the answers to both those questions is ‘the filmmakers had no idea’.
When I saw this movie get more or less panned, I was ready to dismiss it outright but one thing stopped me. That thing was that the majority of the reviews I read seemed to be holding up the original on a pedestal, then taking an almost hipster glee in declaring the slick new entry was inferior to the original despite its fancy-ass CGI. It’s not that this isn’t necessarily a valid complaint to make about a movie – I felt the same way about the Star Wars prequels vs. the originals – but it just seemed like a lot of the people who panned The Thing prequel were focused on hatred fueled by love for the original, and not on the movie on its own merits (or lack thereof). So, I decided to watch it and judge for myself.
I’ll say up front I don’t think it deserved quite the thrashing it got (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 39% score) but that said I thought the film did have some significant problems. After watching it, I felt like it was really well done – the acting was good, the productions values were good, and nobody said or did anything batshit stupid. The Thing was upgraded with a mix of modern CGI and ‘real’ props that was all pretty effective while still staying true to the spirit of the original, and there were some nice tie-ins to the original (like the origin of the ‘double faced’ corpse Kurt Russell’s team finds at the Norwegian base). That all said though the movie just never really grabbed me. I thought about why that was and this is what I came up with:
The first (and main) reason was, I think, there was just a lack of any majorly engaging characters. In the original I just felt more invested in them. Maybe it was because there were more in the prequel so none of them got much love, I don’t know, but there was no MacReady or Childs, or whatever the hell Wilfred Brimley’s character’s name was. The woman who kind of took charge was okay, but I don’t remember her character’s name or any of the other character’s names either. They weren’t bad actors, and the movie was directed competently enough, so I’ll blame the script for that. It provided characters who behaved realistically (if the word applies in a movie like this), but who didn’t do or say anything that ever made you care about them. They ended up more or less being fodder for The Thing.
The second reason was that it just followed the original too closely. The people at the Norwegian base went through a lot of the same motions that the people in the first film went through. Right down to coming up with a blood test, only to have a Thingified copy trash the blood before it could be done. Some of the scenes felt lifted right out of the original, but this was supposed to be a prequel not a remake.
The third reason kind of goes along with the second, and this was the one I thought was really too bad – they completely missed a golden opportunity to get deeper into The Thing, its biology, and its origins. Near the beginning it looked like they were going to go there – they do an autopsy that opens a Thing that has a human actually half inside it, as it was in the process of either copying him, absorbing him, or whatever it was attempting to do exactly. They notice a surgical pin that had been in the man’s arm is now floating in the Thing’s guts, despite the fact that the body inside it still seems to have both arms intact. It really looked like they were going to take the opportunity to get into some of the questions the original movie raised like ‘how complete are they copies really and how much is absorbed memory etc. vs. mimicry?’, ‘The UFO that brought The Thing here was, presumably, originally piloted by non-Things who got Thingimified themselves…or were they?’, ‘Where did the UFO come from and where did the Thing come from if they weren’t one in the same?’ In the original, the guys trapped in the Antarctic base with The Thing weren’t research scientists, but this team knew about the UFO and the frozen creature, it’s why they went there. They assembled a special team specifically to study them…they could have uncovered tons of interesting stuff that the guys in the original just never found because the Norwegian base got trashed.
Needless to say, they didn’t do any of that. They spend the whole movie being paranoid, getting grabbed and ripped apart, and hiding in the dark – they do it all well, but we already saw a lot of that in the original. This movie didn’t bring anything new to the table. Like, nothing. So, that leaves it being compared directly to the original, which was ultimately more interesting because its characters were more interesting and it had the advantage of being the first.
Near the end, we actually delve into the alien ship itself and it looks like at last we’re going to have some questions answered, but it still doesn’t happen. The ship’s interior just becomes the new setting for some more hiding, chasing, etc. then we leave it almost as soon as we entered it. As Hollywood alien ships go, the ship is classic crap – full of weird, utterly bizarre architecture designed to look alien but leaving you to wonder ‘what kinds of creatures would design and use a craft like that?’ Why are there tunnels all through it? Or were those air ducts or something? Why do the seemingly metallic walls and structures break apart like concrete when The Thing punches them? Why does the woman fall through some kind of engine manifold and the guy go in through the actual hatch but they both end up in the same place? We’re just offered up this stock movie alien ship interior while no new information is given, and nothing interesting happens.
It did tie in nicely with the original – in fact it ends pretty much hours before the original began – and I do give it credit for respecting the original, although I think it could have gone a little more in the direction of being its own beast while still maintaining that respect.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a fan of the original I don’t think you should be *offended* by the prequel. It was enjoyable enough in its own way, but didn’t quite have the allure of the first largely because it never took the chance to make its own mark. By sticking too close to the original’s formula it avoided fan rage at contradictions and established rule violations, but it didn’t provide much reason for being made either. It’s been done before, better.