The Thing DVD Review
Written by Daniel Benson
DVD released by Universal Pictures UK
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by Eric Heisserer and John W. Campbell Jr.
2011, Region 2 (PAL), 103 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 26th March 2012
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd
Joel Edgerton as Sam Carter
Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Sander Halvorson
Eric Christian Olsen as Adam Finch
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Jameson
Paul Braunstein as Griggs
There’s nothing more likely to get horror fans’ backs up than Hollywood taking one of their favourites and remaking or re-imagining it. So that put Universal’s prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic on the back foot immediately. I wonder if in 1981 there was a huge outcry in the horror community that Carpenter was remaking a 1950’s sci-fi monster movie (in turn adapted from a short story)? I guess not.
For some unknown reason, Universal chose to use the exact same title as the Carpenter movie it precedes. Although you might not be aware that, where Carpenter truncated The Thing from Another World to simply The Thing, Universal has done the same with The Thing that Happened to The Norwegians Before MacReady Showed Up. True story.
So this is a prequel, and at the same time a bit of a remake because you really can’t have a story about a shape-shifting alien breezing through a group of Arctic scientists without a teensy bit of crossover to the original. Let’s call it a premake; a bit of what you know mixed with some new stuff. It takes place immediately prior to the ‘82 version with a Norwegian research station finding an alien craft beneath the ice and the frozen remains of an alien nearby. In order to examine their find in greater detail, the head scientist drafts in an American palaeontologist to analyse the remains and handily force the Norwegians to speak English for most of the film. But when their seemingly dead find escapes and makes off through the ceiling, the group begins to realise that no-one can be trusted to be who they really are.
The familiar themes of isolation, mistrust and paranoia ring through as clearly in this movie as in Carpenter’s and the cast of mostly unfamiliar faces adds a sense of tension. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd is the biggest name, but her look is austere enough that you’re not constantly thinking “That’s John McClane’s daughter from Die Hard 4.0”. The rest of the cast is male, mostly Norwegian and mainly hidden behind beards, so no worries there. The film probably gives the closest glimpse of what a ‘thing’ looks like au naturel. It’s a spiky little bugger and mostly black, so how it manages to curl up inside soft, squidgy humans is a mystery.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read of the The Thing is that there’s too much CGI, and that’s true to a point. There’s some pretty damn good CGI in a couple of scenes, but the rest of the time you’d be forgiven for thinking it was low-rent digital monsters. Given that Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking effects (under the tutelage of Stan Winston) were the cornerstone of the original, and still stand up as arguably the pinnacle of physical effects work, you would have expected Universal to really make an effort to get it right in the premake.
However, when you finish the movie and check out the extra features there’s a shocking revelation that a large portion of the monsters were achieved with practical effects. In this respect the film has failed miserably to hold a candle to the ‘82 version. The impressive models and animatronics are wasted by being overlaid with digital enhancements. Rob Bottin made a severed head sprout legs and scuttle off across the floor thirty years ago, surely this isn’t beyond the skills of modern effects artists?
Gripes about spider-heads aside, The Thing stands up as a pretty decent slice of isolation body-horror. The tension within the group is tangible and there are a few surprises in store when those who have actually been ‘thinged’ reveal themselves. There’s a slightly misjudged sequence towards the end, where characters get on board the downed spacecraft, but overall it’s an enthralling experience. Something that the filmmakers have done is to actually respect Carpenter’s version as a point in time. They’ve taken things that MacReady and Co. found in the Norwegian base and made sure that they all feature; the fire axe in the wall, the empty block of ice that MacReady finds and the frozen guy in the chair with his throat cut are all things that cross between the two films. It’s rare to see such respect shown when it comes to modern-day dabbling in horror films, so I tip my hat to those that maintained it.
It’s been some time since I watched Carpenter’s movie and if you own a copy, beware. As soon as you watch the closing scene of the guy shooting at the dog from the helicopter, you’ll be reaching for your copy of the ‘82 version. Go on, you know you want to.
Video and Audio:
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is crisp and clear with no problems in either the very bright snow scenes or in the dark gloom of the research station. 5.1 audio is well-balanced and effective.
There are a selection of deleted and extended scenes, most of which are extra exposition that makes little difference to the enjoyment of the film. There are two worthwhile documentaries on the disc: The Thing Evolves, delves into the special effects and Fire and Ice shows how most of the fire gags were done. The Thing Evolves is both a blessing and a curse. It shows in detail the physical effects work, but also brings to your attention how they were ruined with digital. Fire and Ice is fun if you like to watch stuntmen get set on fire (and hey, who doesn’t?). There’s also a feature commentary with director Matthijs Van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman for those that enjoy the authentic cinema experience of someone talking all the way through the film.