When I first heard about the 2011 film The Thing, the studios were out front and open about the fact that the film would be a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter directed The Thing. That movie, by the way, was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and all three films were based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. short story Who Goes There?
Hearing that the 2011 film would be a “prequel” to the John Carpenter film, I (along with pretty much everyone else familiar with the film) instantly knew what it was about: A look at what happened to the Norwegian station. In the opening scenes of the John Carpenter film, a helicopter carrying a pair of Norwegian men chases and shoots at a fleeing dog. The dog reaches the American’s Antarctic base and the Norwegian hunters, whom the Americans cannot understand and fear are dangerous, are killed while the dog is “rescued”. Afterwards, crew members of the American station go to the Norwegian station and find it in shambles. They come to realize that something very wrong happened here.
Familiarity with those brief scenes in the John Carpenter film effectively cut any surprise one might experience while watching The Thing prequel. After all, from the Carpenter film we know what’s going to happen to the Norwegian station: Everyone within it dies, it burns almost to the ground, and some strange dead creatures are found lying about.
What else is there to know?
That, in the end, proves to be the undoing of this prequel film. While it has been many years since the original John Carpenter release and perhaps the film’s makers felt this material would mostly be “new” to most young theater goers, for someone who was exposed to (and is a fan of) the John Carpenter film, watching this prequel felt like an exercise in filling in information that didn’t need to be filled in.
Having said that, the film isn’t terrible.
It was reasonably well made and the effects were, for the most part, pretty good, when they weren’t too obviously CGI. The acting was generally good even thought the writers failed to give many of the ancillary characters much of a character beyond victim-hood. The movie’s protagonist was played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and, given the macho-centric John Carpenter original film, her choice as the lead was decidedly different.
There were a few other interesting things to be found, such as the way this group came up with their test for who might be a creature without resorting to what was used in the Carpenter film and the way they replicated the time (the film is set in 1982) and equipment we would see in the Carpenter film.
Overall, the film left me feeling that it was nothing more than a decent time killer. Not terribly bad, but neither was it something that was worth revisiting.
And about that whole prequel thing…I couldn’t help but think it would it have been much more clever on the part of the studios to feed the public misinformation about the film rather than admitting from the beginning this was a prequel.
Think about it: The studios could have insinuated this film was a “remake” or “re-imagining” of the Carpenter classic. Fans would have howled…how dare they remake a classic! How could they?
When the movie is released, it could have hidden, to some degree, the fact that the action took place on a Norwegian station and instead had a couple of Norwegian characters involved in the story. Then, when we reach the end and come full circle with the beginning of the Carpenter film, instead of giving audiences familiar with that movie something they knew would come, they are instead pleasantly surprised to realize they were watching a prequel rather than a remake. At least that might have offered something new and original to this ultimately all too familiar mix.
Ah well. As they say, hindsight is always 20-20.