When a group of geologists at a Norwegian research facility in Antarctica find an unusual-looking spacecraft frozen in the ice, they’re not sure what to do. They put the call out to some scientists, and then they bring those guys in to check out the thing they’ve found. After some research, grad student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is summoned from her cozy office at Columbia by Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) for a very special job.
As it turns out, those Norwegians found a spacecraft and the body of an extraterrestrial, and they need Kate to pull it out of the ice. But why use a grad student? Well, Dr Halvorson wants to keep all the credit for himself, of course! Plus, if word of an alien got out, well, there’d be a pretty big freak out, right? Needless to say, they’re all going to keep all this information under wraps.
They’re not as successful keeping the creature itself under wraps. The Thing, as Things are wont to do, get free from its icy tomb and goes on a killing spree. After it kills, it becomes its victim. Like a virus, it works on the microscopic level, as well as a macroscopic level. Who can you trust when the bad guy looks just like you? More importantly, how do you stop the Thing?
It’s hard to take on the task of updating a modern classic (or for that matter, a black and white classic like The Thing From Another World), so you have to give credit to all involved for giving it their best shot. At certain points, The Thing is a near-perfect representation of John Carpenter’s version. At certain points, it’s a SyFy movie of the week complete with mediocre CGI monster. That’s the trouble with taking on one of the best movies of all time, with some of the best practical effects ever captured.
Having something there to look at and act against is a huge benefit for the actors. You can see this by watching any of the old Star Wars films, then watching a prequel. The actors with a lot of stage work are able to put in consistent performances. The actors who don’t have it aren’t able to act convincingly with a computer-generated pal. In the scenes where actors have their hands in rubber entrails or have a big crusty dead shape shifter to work with, they’re fine. When they’re shrieking and running in terror from digital creatures, the effect just doesn’t hold, because they can’t really focus on a point.
That seems to affect the movie most in the second half, when The Thing morphs from a tense, paranoid thriller to an action movie. When the movie apes Carpenter, first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr does a fair imitation. The movie moves well, and they do a good job of milking the search for the alien and playing up the tension between the multinational crew.
However, as a monster movie, The Thing doesn’t quite work. The monster would be horrifying if it didn’t look so fake, but the pacing is a bit wrong. The abrupt change in styles undoes all the good stuff about the first half and conclusion of the movie. The over-reliance on jump scares is also a negative against this movie.
When The Thing works, it’s very good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and her troop of anonymous European actors work well together when they’re at one another’s throats, but the rest of the time? They’re just a little flat. The script, from Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5, A Nightmare On Elm Steet), doesn’t really have any kind of character development, so the actors don’t have a lot to work with, but they all seem to try to do something.
Unfortunately for all involved, this isn’t a TV movie, it’s The Thing, and that means the flaws stand out just a little more. When you copy this much of the original, the changes (for better or worse) always shine a little brighter in comparison. There are just a few too many problems with this movie for me to highly recommend it. It’s decent, but let’s not push it: you’re better off watching The Thing again, or checking out the version from 1951.