If you just have to make a prequel to a classic remake that is in itself a remake of a classic, then this is how you do it, folks. Apparently the movie gods have deemed that John W. Campbell’s classic short story “Who Goes There?” – first published in the pulp magazine Astounding Stories way back in 1938 – must be remade, and made well, every thirty years or so. Well, according to the calendar, the new take on The Thing is right on time, and it’s just as chilling and thrilling as Howard Hawks’ 1951 landmark The Thing From Another World or John Carpenter’s beloved 1982 update (okay, so he was late by a year), which initially bombed, some may recall: unjustly maligned by clueless critics who wrongfully compared it to the justly revered ’51 film than to the literary source material, to which Carpenter’s film was much more faithful. In fact, I always preferred Carpenter’s version because it wasn’t creatively restricted by mid-century censorship or that era’s relatively primitive and prohibitive production values, though nobody can beat or even compete with Hawks’ rapid-fire wit.
The 2011 Thing details the events leading up to the very first scene of the 1982 Thing, which are referenced in that film, but the only indication it’s still 1982 is the fact that the main character (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who turns out to be a rich woman’s Kurt Russell) listens to Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” on her Walkman. But let’s face it: it’s easyto make a period piece set in the Arctic, because snow has alwayslooked the same, ever since the Ice Age. Otherwise, this Thing has the same timelessly claustrophobic atmosphere as the previous Thing (which gained its audience and reputation over time), replicating (wink wink) the basic plot and story structure, but adding in crucial narrative elements like the organic appearance of the shape-shifting, body-snatching alien before it assumes a human’s physical characteristics (and it is nasty), as well as the interior of it’s massive crashed spaceship. I can’t imagine fans of the Carpenter film won’t find this tautly terrifying tribute satisfying, and wind up cheering the final scenes inter-cut with the end credits, which could dovetail right into the beginning of the Carpenter film, even reprising Ennio Morricone’s pulsating, and now iconic, electronic score.
You could (and should) watch the ’82 and ’11 versions of The Thing back to back (in reverse but chronologically correct order) and they wouldn’t seem all that aesthetically incompatible, even though the amount of time separating these two films equals the three decades between Hawks’ version and Carpenter’s, which seem to exist in totally different universes. That’s one reason the new film works so well as both a companion and a standalone piece. A lot of things have changed in cinema and the culture since 1982, but movies generally look pretty much the same, except for the technical improvements, whereas 1951 and 1982 don’t even feel like they’re from the same century – and in fact, even though 1982 and 2011 share a lot of cosmetic similarities, they are from different centuries! This kind of stuff just blows my mind. Maybe it’s just me.
Bottom line: this film so much more reverential, and relevant, than the abysmal 2005 remake of my personal favorite Carpenter movie, The Fog (1980), or the so-so 2005 (the year of recreating Carpenter) remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) or even Rob Zombie’s two well done but rather redundant Halloween remakes. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, I can’t pronounce his name out loud, either), obviously a Carpenter fan as well as a talented filmmaker in his own right, gets all the details right, from the mix of American and Norwegian characters to the somber, foreboding mood to the spectacularly freaky special effects, which are just as impressive and inventive as they were back in 1982, even though they’re using CGI to basically duplicate the original’s old school practical effects – which is, again, an ironic fact, considering the effects in both films focus on a being that biologically mimics the visage of its victims. The Thing 2011 actually expounds on the mythos introduced in 1982, rather than merely re-treading familiar frozen terrain, so it doesn’t feel like a warmed-over rip-off, but a crucial addition to an ongoing saga.
Hopefully the next version of The Thing will be just as good as the first three, and pick up where the ’82 version leaves off. We’ll just have to wait until 2041 to find out, I guess.
The Thing is now playing at the Alameda Theater, Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and other Bay Area Theaters.
Will “the Thrill” Viharo is a pulp fiction author and B Movie impresario.