I haven’t seen The Thing until now. I know it’s a classic but somehow I’ve managed to miss it. Last weekend I decided to rectify that, but while looking it up on IMDB, I realized there is also a remake that came out back in 2011, and since I like to make comparisons between similar movies I just had to see that one too.
For a movie that is over 30 years old, I think there’s little point in a spoiler warning but in writing this very sentence I have inadvertently made one, so consider yourself warned.
In case you don’t know, the basic story is this: a group of researchers in Antarctica are attacked by an alien creature that modifies itself to mimic its victims. Not knowing who to trust the researchers face off against each other, trying to figure out who is human and who is alien. As one by one gets killed off, either by the creature or their colleagues, they realize that survival is no longer an option, they have to stop the creature from reaching civilization no matter what, even if that means that they will die themselves.
The 2011 film is ostensibly a prequel, but in every aspect that matter it is essentially a straight up copy of the 1982 original, it has the same themes, the same plot, and several scenes are reconstructed almost beat for beat, using the same camera angles, very similar set designs and the same dialog; it’s like someone has gone through the original script and done a copy paste of all the good bits. The difference between them lies in the details.
The original movie starts with a crazy Norwegian in a helicopter trying to chase a dog who takes refuge in an American research base. The Norwegian shoots at one of the Americans and they proceed to kill him in self defense. While investigating what the Norwegian was doing there, the Americans find the Norwegian base deserted and partly burned down, and from there the story unfolds step by step as they slowly work out whats going on, building up towards the climax. While I think the movie is categorized as a horror movie it actually plays out more like like a thriller; the main tension doesn’t lie in the conflict between man and creature, but rather in the conflict between man and man, and is heightened by the fact that neither the audience nor the characters know who is human and who is alien. The creatures themselves are only onscreen sparingly, enough to keep the suspense up but not so much as to bore the audience. When they are, it is done using high quality practical effects that make them seem real and let the actors have realistic reactions. It’s worth noting that the creatures have a very creative design that gives the movie an iconic look.
The remake on the other hand starts with the Norwegian researchers almost literally stumbling on the alien ship and the creature frozen in the ice. They dig the creature up and transport it back to their base for further study. This matches with what we see of the Norwegian base in the original but apart from that, there are almost no other tie ins to make it a prequel. The creature spontaneously burst from the block of ice and starts killing people. Soon there after the researchers figure out that it is able to absorb other creatures and turn itself into a near perfect copy. At this point the film switches gear from mystery to straight up creature feature, except with the added element of the characters not being able to trust each other. The plot follows all the major points of the original but with most of the mystery removed as the creature shows up far more frequently, resulting in more and bigger action sequences (a lot of the deaths in the original happened off screen). The problem with showing the creature that often is not just that it lowers the suspense but also that the audience gets to see a lot more of the not so fantastic CGI. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, it just doesn’t look as convincing as the practical effects of 1982.
As for the ending, the original keeps up tension and uncertainty all the way, having the two remaining characters face each other, not knowing if the other is an alien or not and then simply fading to black. The 2011 version gives the main character and her love interest a rather trite Hollywood ending where they blow up the last alien together. The movie does redeem itself slightly though, with a mid credits scene showing how one of the characters who simply disappeared along the way, turns out to be the crazy Norwegian from the beginning of the original.
To sum it up, I think the 2011 version isn’t a bad film in itself, not particularly good either, but watchable. As a remake though it’s a waste of time, there’s nothing about it that’s better than the original and the minimal prequel tie-ins are just there to answer questions that nobody asked in the first place. Just a general thought, if a movie is a classic, maybe don’t bother remaking it.