The Thing 2011 – first thoughts (warning: plot spoilers)

Just watched this film today. For the first fifteen minutes I had my usual aesthetic gripes in line with modern features – excessive use of hand held cameras when stationary cameras would suffice, forced depth of field (too much stuff intentionally out of focus in the foreground and background in nearly every shot, giving it that shampoo commercial look), characters trying to appear cool with cliched posing and cocky dialogue – but once the story got going the director stopped relying excessively on those gimmicks.

From approx fifteen minutes in I started to enjoy The Thing 2011 and my enjoyment lasted for a good hour. The special effects were better than expected; there were only a handful of moments where the CGI aspect spoiled it for me. While it can be argued that the film makers show too much of the creature and have too many action scenes, the minimalist approach may not have worked here being that we’d already seen many of the horrors of the creature in the first film.

There were lots of monstrous transformations and some very creepy moments. Drilling into the block of ice to acquire a sample of the frozen Alien was an effective and unnerving scene and some of the group arguments had a very effective feeling of paranoia. To my surprise, the inclusion of American characters to justify English dialogue brought a new element of conflict; people siding with each other according to nationality instead of logistics of who was likely infected. It would have been nice to see paranoia of nationality “fleshed out” into a social, rather than incidental, theme. The language barriers would also likely have been more menacing if subtitles for Norwegian dialogue were not given.

The film doesn’t use much of the slow burning paranoia of Carpenter’s “sequel”, in which many events are not shown but creepily link together; hinting at the creature’s frighteningly intelligent tactics. Instead it bombards the characters with several threats going on at once, and in some scenes it works. When suspects have been reduced down to four people out of a room full of eight, not only do the pressures of loyalty based on nationality interfere with the situation, but the entire group, suspects included, are suddenly forced to work together to fight an unexpected and immediate threat elsewhere. The Thing 2011 is more about panic than paranoia.

During the hour long section in which I mostly enjoyed the film, occasional yet unnecessary lapses of logic and the odd cliche “scare”stopped it from being thoroughly engrossing. A character sneaks in to look at the block of ice encasing the creature and is startled in a standard “boo”-from-a-joking-character moment. It’s a tired old build up followed by anticlimax technique, completely unnecessary here. The Thing itself, still encased in a block of ice, somehow manages to thaw out while the surrounding ice remains frozen, allowing for a bog standard long-silence-followed-by-screaming-creature-bursting-out-of-something moment.

Two very important story devices from the first film were almost entirely omitted. The first is temperature. The unrealistic creature thaw isn’t the only instance of this. It’s now able to assimilate other creatures in the freezing night time outdoors. I could be wrong on this, but the impression given in the first film was that a room temperature suitable for humans was required for an assimilation to take place. How can the creature assimilate in an environment that can freeze it? The first film made effective use of temperature in that we saw characters shivering and near frost bitten, but in this “premaquel” (as I’ve heard it referred to on my forum) characters mostly don’t react to the cold. The other lost story device, which is heavily referenced in my updated analysis of Carpenter’s The Thing is clothing. It was made completely clear in Carpenter’s film that the creature tears through clothes when it takes people over, yet assimilated characters show up in this new version wearing the same clothes they were in while attacked, without a tear mark or blood stain.

On the other hand a new addition here is that the thing can’t imitate tooth fillings, ear rings or other inanimate objects when assimilating people. It’s a nice little plot device that wasn’t in the first film and it had me wondering about other possibilities such as tattoos and birth marks that could have been used to discern humans from imitations. In fact it raises an important factor about the scientific plausibility of such a creature existing. The human body is full of dead material. Bone, hair and skin all contain dead cells. The creature would have to be able to imitate them to be a convincing replica of the victim.

A missed opportunity that I thought might have been played on as a new device is sexuality. Imitating a character of one gender, the creature could have seduced an opposite sex character as a lead up to assimilation. And what a horrifying scene it would be, bringing a new dimension of sexual fear that wasn’t in Carpenter’s version. The only film I can recall that did something along those lines is a forgotten 80’s horror called Society (which is begging for a high budget remake).

I found the last twenty minutes of The Thing 2011 very disappointing. The film gets away with its female hero lead for the most part (actually that’s an understatement, she’s pretty good), but making her survive beyond the events that lead to Carpenter’s film seemed like a cop out. The ending leaves little sense of mystery because almost all plot elements are neatly tied up. I say almost for two reasons. In Carpenter’s version we see Norwegian footage of a massive explosion used to uncover the alien ship, but in this version the ship is hidden beneath the ice until just two characters chase it back to the ship at the end of the film. They certainly wouldn’t have time to set up cameras, blow up the ice and deliver the tapes back to the now virtually destroyed Norwegian camp, nor would there be a motive to. And that brings me to the other loose end. In this new film the alien ship is in working order. The alien tries to get the ship started again to take off. If that is the case then why did it crawl out and freeze in the first place? And why, in Carpenter’s film, would it bother creating a new ship out of helicopter parts when it could have stolen a helicopter and gone back to the original ship to get parts or simply start the engine? The inclusion of a good ten minutes of the ending taking place inside the alien ship, with its design almost a rip off of the ship in Ridley Scott’s Alien, broke any sense of reality for me personally. Suddenly I felt like I was watching Aliens Versus Predator. The maintenance of convincing environment and character interactions was essential in making Carpenter’s film believable.

These may seem like finicky gripes, but straight narrative films that become classics usually have these kinds of issues worked out. I’ve only watched The Thing 2011 once, so there may be aspects of the film I have wrong here. It’s worth a watch though.

For a long time I’ve had a treatment in the back of my mind for a Thing sequel. Maybe I’ll post a breakdown of it sometime.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.