Silver Screen: The Thing **1/2
Another week, another remake.
Make no mistake, the 2011 version of The Thing is indeed a remake, even if the producers have made a series of convoluted moves to give it the gloss of originality. The original movie version of The Thing was sometimes referred to by that foreshortened title, but the full version was called The Thing from Another World. Released in 1951, it was very loosely based on John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There. The 1951 incarnation features one of the great second-tier movie monsters, a tall, bug-eyed ghoul reminiscent of Doctor Frankenstein's creature, but this one a form of plant-based life crash-landed from another world and frozen near a research base at the North Pole. The creature is suspended in a block of ice, but when he breaks free and comes to life he terrorizes the base, mostly by stiffly walking into things and swatting at people in an awkward effort to drink their blood before he's burned to bits. Alas, without a couple of cheapie sequels to follow, the poor Thing never got franchised out, never became one of the icons, and never got to hang with Abbott and Costello.
In 1982, John Carpenter remade The Thing under the same title but stuck closer to Campbell's story, in which the alien can take the form of people or animals and replicate specific individuals, adding a twist of paranoia. Carpenter's version is one of the great remakes in that it truly differs from the original. A team of Arctic researchers happen upon a helicopter chasing a dog and firing at it from the air. The chopper explodes and the researchers take the dog into the camp only to discover that it's the alien, and it infiltrates their ranks. The film is noteworthy for its spectacular gore and special effects; the monster is rendered as a kind of writhing mass of teeth, tentacles, and guts that often form half-shaped humans with disparate appendages and screaming half-heads. Pretty badass.
Which brings us to 2011, in a film that is technically a prequel to Carpenter's 1982 version. It's basically a long windup to a Norwegian guy in a helicopter chasing after a dog, since, as a prequel, that's where it has to go to match the continuity of Carpenter's movie. So-- follow along here-- it's a prequel to a movie that also has the exact same title. The prequel to The Thing is The Thing.
Said prequel, meanwhile, essentially replays the Carpenter film, with the same gore effects and the same group of researchers getting killed by the same monster. Its big innovation is to incorporate elements into the 1951 version, namely the big creature thawing inside a melting ice block, and stitch it onto the beginning.
The result is a perfectly competent, watchable horror movie that has no reason to exist. It is in effect a remake of the John Carpenter movie, not a prequel, as the only significant difference aside from the already-done-in-1951 beginning is a very slightly different conclusion involving characters we never really care about. (Lead actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character must be accounted for, as Carpenter's movie notably featured only male characters.) Those simply looking for professionally executed scenes of gore and a few decent startles won't be too disappointed, although the digital effects, if more elaborate, aren't as slimy and effective as the old-school effects in Carpenter's version. It's thoroughly adequate. Take that as a compliment, or an insult.