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5 Reasons The Thing Prequel Isn’t As Good As Carpenter’s Movie

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It’s almost impossible to talk about director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s take on The Thing without talking about John Carpenter’s 1982 film. Matthjis seems to be inviting the comparison with his movie, crafting it so that his story isn’t just another installment but a direct extension of Carpenter’s movie.

This 2011 film is a prequel and by the time it’s over you’ll know everything there is to know about what happened to the Norwegians only mentioned casually in the 1982 freakishly horrifying thriller. In the process of connecting itself to Carpenter’s film this one demands you compare it, and by doing so pales in that comparison. So rather than review The Thing 2011 on its own, I’ve decided to analyze The Thing the way it seems to want us to see it: by comparing it to the movie that came before.

No matter how much it wants to be, here’s 5 reasons the new The Thing just isn’t as good as Carpenter’s.

The Freakish Effects
John Carpenter’s version of The Thing was shot in 1982, long before anyone was really using computer animation. That means every single special effect shot in the film is a practical effect. It’s all puppetry and goo and hideous, horrifying makeup. The new one resorts, all too often, to computer generated effects and… those just are never as scary. It’s especially true, though, when it comes to The Thing where the awkward, strange, herky-jerky motion of those practical effects actually adds to the whole bizarreness of what’s going on in Kurt Russell’s movie. You look at those writhing masses of flesh and ichor and it’s as though your brain can’t process what’s going on. All you can really do is look at it and think… oh god what is that thing. In the new movie you look at the screen and, at best think “hey there’s some really gross computer generated tentacles”. They don’t move the way those freakish practical effects do, they don’t ooze the way those practical effects did. They don’t because they can’t, because much of what made those practical effects so freakish was a product of their limitations as much as it was an intention of their design.

The Oh God What Is That Thing
Speaking of special effects, a lot of the terror of Carpenter’s film is derived from the shock and horror of the creature itself. Rarely does Carpenter’s movie ever resort to jump scares, because it doesn’t have to. Instead all the terror the movie could ever need is generated by the horror on its characters faces as they attempt to comprehend this unimaginable horror confronting them. Its awful, it rips at your soul, and the way the film’s characters deal with it isn’t by a lot of running around but by standing in shock or locking themselves away, or tying themselves up out of fear of each other. It delves into deep paranoia and confusion, people rendered mentally unstable by encountering something evil beyond comprehension. Most of Carpenter’s The Thing’s best moments are spent with everyone simply wondering who’s the monster. This new The Thing can’t do any of that. Instead this one turns out to be more of a straight up monster movie. Carpenter’s feature would only reveal the monster when it was on the attack, this one literally has ten or fifteen minutes with the creature in monster form chasing people around the base. A lot of the new movie works more on the level of those chase sequences in Jurassic Park involving in-door velociraptors. Carpenter’s movie was just different.

The Kurt Russell
Kurt Russell was John Carpenter’s leading man. As R.J. MacReady he’s all bearded determination and weird, sombrero wearing swagger. He wasn’t like anyone else you’d seen on screen anywhere else, he kept his cool, he fucked things up when he had to. He was a badass who carried whisky with him everywhere he went. The new version has replaced him with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd, who’s chief asset seems to be that she’s a bit more clever than everyone else. Kate’s a plucky little girl but she’s not exactly quick to action. It takes her awhile to even decide that something needs to be done about the Thing, once she realizes what’s going on. MacReady never fucking hesitated. You’d expect that, from the kind of guy who’d wear a sombrero in Antarctica. As a character he’s weird, as are just about all the other characters in Carpenter’s film. The new one fills the cast with a sort of clever girl and a bunch of surly Norwegions. There’s not a Windows or an elderly, nose-ring wearing doctor anywhere among them. This new movie needs a little Wilford Brimley and instead it has the trying very hard to be Kurt Russell, but not hard enough, Joel Edgerton.

The Bum bum.
The new version of The Thing starts out with an homage to that dark, screwed up, utterly simple yet frightening score of Carpenter’s movies. You remember it: bum bum. Bum bum. The sound hammered in the background of Carpenter’s masterpiece at key moments, like a heart beat, pumping it’s last pint of blood. But the new movie quickly abandons that to go with a proper, standard, Hollywood musical score. It’s not a bad score and if I’d never seen the Carpenter version there’d be no reason to suspect that the score could be any better, but I have seen it and I know. This 2011 movie has the kind of score that’s meant to tell you how to feel. Carpenter’s score never told you how to feel, it just kept beating, as if to tell you that somewhere in this movie, someone was still breathing. That bum bum told you movie was still happening and that you should be ready, because there’s no way to know what fucked up direction this thing will go in next. With the new film, you know. You always know where it will go.

The Ending
Carpenter’s film ends with a question mark. You never really know for sure who’s The Thing and who isn’t. The credits roll and we’re left with two men slowly freezing to death. Either one of them could be The Thing. Maybe they both are. Maybe neither of them is. You don’t know. Bum bum. The new version leaves no such ambiguity. In part this is because it’s a prequel, but in spite of that it does find a way to leave at least one door open. But there’s never any question of who’s the Thing and who isn’t. By the end of the new movie you know who’s who and what’s what and which little doggie is about to run over to the Americans and royally fuck things up. Part of the genius of Carpenter’s movie is that you’re never really sure who’s the Thing and who isn’t at any given minute. The new one tries, but it’s never as ambiguous, and that’s just not as fun.

Still, you’ve got to admire the balls of a film willing to go toe to toe with an iconic classic like this, and the truth is that this new Thing is a decent enough piece of horror. If you’re a fan of the 1982 movie, I’d even recommend seeing it, if only for another look at how the background of Carpenter’s story fits together. But that 1982 movie, that was special. Really special. If ever anyone needed evidence that Carpenter’s movie is the definitive take on this story, the only one we’ll ever need, The Thing 2011 provides it.

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nate-Perrin/100000118655466 Nate Perrin via Facebook

    I just saw it. It was amazing. Not quite John Carpenter, but it’s very good on its own merits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lin-Rhys/100002803789126 Lin Rhys via Facebook

    I’m going this weekend…!

  • Gary Musselwhite via Facebook

    I saw ‘the thing’ in the early 1970′s on black & white tv as a young teenager. Scared the crap out me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Jarema/1294797591 James Jarema via Facebook

    John Ford’ s version is still a classic!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wesley-Tucker/1595724615 Wesley Tucker via Facebook

    .
    It ain’t got Marshall Dillon so why bother?

  • Jorel Ramirez via Facebook

    I prefer 1982 till this day its still creepy

  • http://www.facebook.com/deathwatch.beetle.repairman Matt Riley via Facebook

    Carpenter’s was so good that I talked my uptight parents into watching it when I was a teen in 1982 and THEY liked it. Its just a very well done movie. I would say his best movie

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-DeGroot/100002169717761 John DeGroot via Facebook

    Carpenters version is truly a modern horror classic. The effects are deffinetly some of the best of all time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jhwalsh1 James Horsey Walsh via Facebook

    I really hope it pays the correct anount of respect.

  • Diane Vkb Gudgel via Facebook

    This IS NOT a new version of The Thing! This movie takes place in the Norwegian camp who found the monster and ship first. This movie shows what happened to them then leaves off where the 1982 movie of The Thing takes place when the Norwegians are chasing the dog and trying to kill it. So this movie is what happens before that. FYI ~ The original movie of The Thing came out in 1951. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jhwalsh1 James Horsey Walsh via Facebook

    That was a genuine spelling error.

  • Kabookieslap

    The thing was good. First, as far as the CGI, Carpenter had used stop motion animation in a deleted scene that he cut out due to it looked like Stop motion animation. See that scene herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Eddyhq8uNACarpenter is on record as saying that had he had CGI back then, he would have used it. The film is a companion piece to Carpenter’s and explains everything that happened to the Norwegian camp set up in Carpenter’s film via the video tapes and Macready and the Doc going to it, and some of the tapes. Some of what we thought of them using thermite in for one purpose was for another ting. And some things are not shown in the film as they happened after the pre-credit scene, but before the after credit scene. The tension is there, and trust me, I saw The Thing before anyone else in 1982 when Universal Pictures sneak previewed most of their summer films in Hawaii a month before they were released at the Varsity Theater. So I saw it pre-release and the tension was the same.No the second half is not a retread of the first film. We know that from Carpenter’s film that there was a battle at the Norwegian Camp much the same as what happened at the American camp due to the hysteria. Part of it is due to the language barrier between the Americans and the Norwegians who does not speak English. The test they come up with is set up in the film and is different from the test in the Carpenter film. Much different. But it is set up from the remains of the first victim and a major plot point of the film. It is how the first character who realizes what is going on realizes what is going on. But as you can see in Carpenter’s film at the Norwegian camp is explained here, and from the aftermath it is clear that there was more of a battle at that camp. You can see the remains here.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGgUkKT54qoThe fact that the second half of the film is the creature being in attack mode (reviews saying it is like predator) is that at that point The Thing has a way off the planet and is attacking in survival mode to get to it. In the Carpenter film, that is no longer an option for it’s escape. So it has to go into hiding mode to scroung parts from our technology to build the second ship. It also had used a few methods in Carpenter’s film. At first it attacked and got burned in the dog pen. Then it tried hiding as it had to bide time. Norris was a Thing and went and really hid, refusing to even take the gun. He was only revealed as he replicated Norris’ bad heart, and only when that heart had a heart attack and was being attacked with the pads did it reveal itself, and even used misdirection to try to get away. Palmer waited until he was found out and then changed on his own. Blair had been building a miniature version of the ship, and when they started blowing up the camp before it was done, and was blew up his ship, he went into attack mode. So this movie was good, and if you loved Carpenter’s, you will love this film. Remember that Carpenter’s film was not received well when it first came out. The audience I saw it with liked it but you can tell when it came out that it was too ahead of it’s time and people expected more of a monster film, and the effects were too much for people to take. By the time of Cronenberg’s The Fly, people were more used to gore from the films that came out between Carpenter’s film and Cronenberg’s film. When Carpenter’s film came out was too much to take at that time.So go see it and make up your own mind, but it is a good companion piece to Carpenter’s film. As far as similarities to the first film, they were dealing with the same monster doing the same thing with 1982 technology, and tech that would have been at an Antarctic Base. Since there is ice to deal with, they would have both had flame throwers. As far as explosives, the American Camp had sticks of dynamites, and the Norwegian Camp had the grenades that the two had on the chopper at the beginning of the film. Also the actors who’s characters do show up in Carpenter’s film either dead or alive from the camp actually look like the actors or sculpted bodies that are in Carpenter’s film. At no time to you think this is a different actor. And do stay for the end credits as it does directly tie into Carpenter’s film.

    • Kabookieslap

      When this film’s creature goes into attack mode, it is not over a long period of time. Half of the movie takes place in a very short period of time with the humans actively hunting it, and it actively hunting them to kill them so that it can get back to it’s way off of the planet. So it is not like a Jason movie, it is just a in the moment battle that takes place within probably a half an hours time in real time.

    • Kabookieslap

      Here is the 1982 stop motion animation shot that he cut out as it looked like stop motion   

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Eddyhq8uNA

      He is on record saying that if they had CGI back then, he would have used it.  

      • JT

        Which perhaps explains why Carpenter hasn’t made anything worth watching in a long time.

        • Maryhotgirl911

          Carpenter’s Thing was far more ominous, mysterious and creatively smarter. The thing was more cunning and I loved the personality given to his characters.

          • Alwdct

            So true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Patrick-OShaughnessy/1656353378 Thomas Patrick O’Shaughnessy via Facebook

    You should read “Who Goes There” the original Sci Fi novel that they all come from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wesley-Tucker/1595724615 Wesley Tucker via Facebook

    .
    Original short story by John W. Campbell published under his pseudonym Don. A. Stuart. For reasons we’ll never know it somehow got accepted and published in ASTOUNDING STORIES.

    (As an aside, Campbell’s wife’s name? Donna Stuart. Ain’t he clever?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/God.Man.1993 Bryan Kim via Facebook

    all remakes and tie ins suck

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shawn-Richey/1000247017 Shawn Richey via Facebook

    I’m looking forward to this. I grew up on Carpenter’s take, but I’m still *really* looking forward to this. The original 1938 story is available online at http://nzr.mvnu.edu/faculty/trearick/english/rearick/readings/manuscri/Who%20Goes%20There/Who%20Goes%20There%20Index.htm – Carpenter definitely upped the Lovecfractian elements in his retelling of the tale.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lazarus.mitchell Lazarus Mitchell via Facebook

    I like all 3 versions. This one a little more due to more sci fi angle with spaceship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/giantfreakinrobot Giant Freakin Robot via Facebook

    Lazarus Mitchell The ship was in the Carpenter movie too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Patrick-OShaughnessy/1656353378 Thomas Patrick O’Shaughnessy via Facebook

    The ability to clone itself and gain the mass of the various victims is closer to the original story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lazarus.mitchell Lazarus Mitchell via Facebook

    Difference is that you went deep inside the spacecraft and this added the Alien sci fi angle that I felt should have gone on longer perhaps. I personally am not into horror, but like sci fi horror. So the space alien ship angle I dig…like in Preditor, Alien, Event Horizon, and Sphere. More power to the Hardware-Spacecraft. Missing in many films. Give me a Great plot. Awesome acting. Kewl EFX…and please dont waist a Sophisticated set. ( ex: Mothership )

  • Alwdct

    Awesome commentary! I could not agree more!

  • Baz

    Being a huge Carpenter fan and an even bigger fan of The Thing, I had a bad feeling about the remake/prequel, so much so that I put off watching it until very recently. Its a terrible film with no sense of the paranoia and dread that permeated through Carpenters version. Its as if they took everything that was good about Carpenters film and then removed it. I totally agree with everything you say.

  • jimz

    i literally cant believe how critical everyone is being about this film, its pathetic. i thought it was bloody fantastic for what it is and am just thankful for the fact that the ‘thing’ legacy is still being celebrated and added to today, 30 years on from its making. look mate (the reviewer), you sound as though you hated the film before you’d even watched it, as i suspect too with most of the other nay-sayers. ‘ooh, its nowhere near as good as the original, how DARE they’ being the pre-decided mantra. i will admit you have a few good points about your assessment, some i can even concur with a bit. i like your point about the music- carpenter’s score was more ambiguous and not as pre-emptive as the new one’s, perhaps could have worked on that a little. i have to admit even as a firm lover of the new film, i was very aware i was watching CGI at times and it would have of course been better if they were spot on frame for frame. but in reference to POINT 1) yeah, the effects for the original were revolutionary for its time and i respect how they managed to slam any critics even on a budget, but lets face it, they wouldnt exactly make the same splash nowadays, would they ?? do any of you genuinely expect a hollywood film nowadays to try and rely solely on animatronics for the full duration without the viewers just going ‘what the … ?!’ and doing one out of the cinema? and come on its not like they were bad; far from it, i was shitting myself at some of the improved fluidity and unlimited carnage made possible by the cgi incorporated. point 2) um… well i dont think thats strictly true really, one of the main things i respected about the new one was the fact it held true the fundamental tension and broody, dark hopelessness that was key to the original. there was still a LOT of standing around, throwing each other shiftys and musing about who was going to burst open any second- as well as a few high tempo stand-offs to mix things up a bit. surely you wouldnt want it to be EXACTLY the same as the original anyway, what the hell would be the point POINT 3) again, what? so… you’re saying it should have just been the same cast in the remake as in the old one? POINT 5) how else could they have done it though , really? obviously it had to tie in with the sequel, and we find out that the whole norwegian camp is basically dead in JC’s opening scene. theres not a lot of … wiggle room there. and we dont know what happened to the heroin as you said.
    all in all youve actually only got about 2 subjective points in total as to why ‘the new movie isnt as good as the old one’. well played sir. well actually, as a thing loyalist myself, i am proud to say that i thoroughly enjoyed the new AND old one. you should all just stop picking nits and atleast fucking try to enjoy something new and created with the best intentions before banging on (proudly , for some reason- almost as if youve all somehow played a role in the making of the original personally) about how you’re all set in your own, stubborn ways. (cue gay passionate replies. bit like mine haha)

    • mikeE

      Jimz you hit the nail on the head. I thought the review was a bit negitive too. I Just watched the new Thing and loved it. It made me go out and buy the 82 Thing just to watch them together. I like the contrast between the two and at the same time they seem together almost perfectly. If they do make another I hope its as good as this one.