It is a truth universally acknowledged in Hollywood that a successful film must be in want of a remake, sequel or prequel and no movie company is more familiar with this than Universal Pictures, having originally built its fortunes on its hugely successful Frankenstein, Dracula and Mummy series of pictures of the 1930s and 1940s. When John Carpenter’s big budget remake of THE THING was released in the early eighties, however, it was a financial disaster, as would any film about a hideous shape-shifting paranoia-inducing creature in an isolated Antarctic setting have been in the Summer of Steven Spielberg’s feel-good ET THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Time and critical attention have, however, been immensely kind to Mr Carpenter’s film and it is now rightly recognised as a classic, considered by many (including myself) to be better than the original 1951 version, which in the world of horror films is a nigh on impossible feat to pull off. When word went out that it was itself to be the subject of a remake the first word that sprang to my mind was ‘pointless’, especially when it turned out that the new film was to be a prequel to Carpenter’s picture, with the ending therefore being necessarily pre-determined. So it was with my expectations at rock bottom that I went to see the new version of THE THING, presuming that I may well end up bored, annoyed, frustrated and to come out of the cinema having wasted time and money. So it pleases me greatly to say that I really rather liked it.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about THE THING the prequel is not that it’s actually okay, but that it’s a movie that has been made with fans of the previous film in mind. In fact someone who loves Carpenter’s THE THING is going to get a lot more out of this than someone unfamiliar with it, and with any luck it will send those latter audience members scurrying to pick up the quite stunning BluRay edition of the 1982 film that’s now available. There’s nothing at all original here and the plot is entirely predictable, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the Kurt Russell role surrounded by hairy Norwegians with an increasing propensity to turn into huge Lovecraftian monsters at the drop of a dental filling. In fact the first scene in which we discover the creature’s inability to regenerate inorganic material (in this case an internal fracture fixation device) provides a nice lead-in to the discovery of what the creature that has just been dug out of the ice, been defrosted and gone on a killing spree before being gunned down, is actually capable of. Making the original form of the thing insectoid doesn’t go any way to explaining how on earth it piloted the ship we get to see, and there’s still no explanation for why a monster presumably capable of operating such hi-tech equipment is happy to want to splodge around and randomly kill people when it could just as easily slope off back to its flying saucer and fly away. But the number of touches that are there to ensure consistency with Carpenter’s film, plus some impressive special effects mean that you would have to be an extremely unforgiving and demanding horror fan not to have a good time with this. I was expecting ropey CGI but instead I had difficulty distinguishing the prosthetics (there’s a long credit roll at the end for the prosthetics teams which had me feeling quite nostalgic in itself) from the digital work. The music by Marco Beltrami opts for mainly orchestral work this time out, only segueing into synthesisers at the end for a final sequence that’s the best writer Eric Heisserer and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr could possibly have done with the brief they were presumably given. There are quite a few reviews out there at the moment trashing this film which is partly why I felt like writing this one up as it really isn’t bad at all and, in a rare thing for sequels and remakes these days, seems to be acutely aware of its appropriate place in the movie scheme of Things.