Postmortem: The Thing (2011)

With John Carpenter’s The Thing–based on Christian Nyby’s 1951 movie The Thing From Another World and the original John Campbell short novel, Who Goes There?–we got to see a director at the peak of his powers.  Carpenter was able to combine Rob Bottin’s extraordinary creature effects with a taut story of an otherworldly threat that had the ability to mimic whomever it killed.

So you can imagine that when Universal Pictures decided to do a sequel in 2011–without Carpenter’s input–that fans would probably not be too keen on it.

And that’s a bit of an understatement, with many–myself included–hating the movie on general principal.

Having recently re-watched Matthijs van Heijningen’s prequel, it’s actually pretty good.  And while I wished that it had more in the way of practical effects–though as far as I can tell the CGI is based on designs from Alec Gillis and Bob Woodruff (who are credited) and while it’s not as innovative as the practical special effects of Rob Bottin, They’re okay.

Carpenter’s movie was more interested in how a bunch of men would react when one of them wasn’t quite what they seemed, so it was focused intently on characterization.  Heijningen’s prequel?  Not so much.  There’s an acknowledgement of the alien’s ability to mimic its prey, but it’s not an area the movie spends all that much time dealing with (at least in a manner that keeps viewers guessing).

And that’s fine, because it differentiates if from Carpenter’s effort, though what would have been even better is if they took it further, because the movie plays less like a prequel than a remake (despite the addition of Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  It would have been interesting to see if the scientists had found different ways–such as the aliens inability to mimic artificial materials, which was a clever touch–of detecting the alien than those from Carpenter’s movie.

Also for some odd reason the prequel also changed how the alien craft was discovered–in Carpenter’s movie thermite charges were laid, which uncovered the alien ship, which sat at the bottom of a canyon–while in van Heijningen’s prequel it was discovered in a ice cavern when a snow cat fell though thin ice.

It’s doesn’t make or break the movie, though as far as I could see it wasn’t a terribly necessary change.

The cinematography by Michel Abramwicz is pretty effective at mimicking the work of Dean Cundey, though it lacks a certain vitality (and lens flares, which Cundey uses economically, unlike J.J Abrams).

Marco Beltrami’s music uses cues from the original movie, which was scored by Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, which has an unfortunate effect of making you want to hear more of the original music (which makes Beltrami’s work sound pedestrian).

Sometimes it’s all about timing, in that if Heijningen’s version were the definitive version, we’d probably be sining its praises.

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