The Thing does not immediately jump to mind as a flick that should be atop producers’ lists of properties ripe for the retooling. John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name flopped upon release, but has since gone on to foster a fervent following of obsessed individuals who consider it one of the all-time great pieces of horror (I’m among them). Those elements seem to be the exact opposite of what should inspire a reboot; surely they’d rather focus on a picture that had been a success at the box office back in the day and whose brand still inspires name recognition, but has no crazed fans who will lose their mind at the idea of anyone trying to improve upon the original. But, that is not the version of the world we live in, so instead we have Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing 3.0 (even Carpenter’s version was a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 The Thing From Another World, and all three are based on John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?).
Technically, Heijningen’s take is a prequel rather than a reboot, though it shares enough DNA with Carpenter’s classic you’d be forgiven for not realising. The action takes place in the days before R.J. MacReady and co. had to face off with the eponymous (yet actually unnamed) creature, over at a Norwegian camp of scientists stationed in Antarctica. Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) and his team have discovered an intergalactic spaceship and alien specimen buried beneath the ice, and they celebrate their groundbreaking find with all the debauchery and elation you would normally attribute to a group of icy scientists (not much). They’re a fairly placid bunch actually, and not even the arrival of gorgeous paleonthologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) can get their blood boiling. When the creature inevitably thaws and escapes, it begins picking off – and posing – as the isolated campers, which also includes Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Jorgen Langhelle, as varying degrees of Thing-fodder.
Winstead is a great heroine, the creature effects remain impressive (although not any more impressive than the ones we were given back in 1982), and the expansion of the ‘thing’s’ mythology is more than welcome. Where the film falters – and even saying it ‘falters’ feels unfair, as it is indeed solid and serviceable – is when it calls back too obviously to previous instalments. Needless to say, this flick’s ‘checking for metal fillings’ sequence will not go down in the history books as the legendary ‘blood test’ has. Heijningen and screenwriter Eric Heisserer also mistake what it was that made the last film so great. Carpenter’s picture was a paranoid ‘cold war’ parable that placed character interactions (and betrayals) above cheap scares. Here, we get very little of that suspicion and mistrust, and instead watch Winstead and Edgerton stalk hallways as if they’re on the hunt for (or hiding from) a generic slasher-flick antagonist. The Thing passes the reboot/prequel ‘blood test’ – as in, it’s worthy enough to not have to incinerate with a flame-thrower - but, as you’d expect, it’s far from an improvement on what has come before.
The Thing arrives in Australian cinemas October 13, 2011.