So remember the beginning of John Carpenter's THE THING, when the guy in the helicopter is shooting a a seemingly helpless dog running through the Antarctic tundra. Did you ever wonder about the circumstances that led to that moment? Okay, maybe I did a little, but did you ever feel the need to see an entire movie about it? Well somebody must have because now we have another film called THE THING that has all the beats of Carpenter's masterful sci-fi/horror work, a few direct lifts, and about as much humanity as a block of ice.
I'll admit, the film starts out strong as a group of Norwegians in a remote outpost in Antarctica discover a craft deep under the ice, along with a "specimen." Noted scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson (the great Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen) is called in to examine the discovery and he, in turn, recruits a noted paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (SCOTT PILGRIM's Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to join him. It doesn't take them long to realize that what they have unearthed is not of this world, and then the only question is how famous will this discovery make them.
But Halvorson's eagerness to retrieve a tissue sample from the specimen on ice leads to a series of events that... well, presumably you've seen Carpenter's film, so you know what this lifeform can do. But unlike Carpenter's version, this alien does all of its shapeshifting and other grotesque behaviors via CGI, which appears too clean and quick. I loved the laborious process of watching the duplicated human characters revert to alien form in the 1982 version, but in first-time feature director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s version of events, the changes and attacks happen at lightning speed, not giving us time to appreciate the artistry of the alien form. I realize it has become old hat to criticize CG effects, and what is rendered here isn't terrible, it just lacks any dimension or character.
And then there's the presence of Joel Edgerton as an American helicopter pilot Braxton Carter, who is grossly underused in THE THING, to the point where he literally disappears from the film for a big chunk of the plot. I get that this film is largely an ensemble piece, with Winstead coming the closest to being the film's lead character, but Edgerton is a magnetic performer who doesn't get to really step forward until the film's final third. I was surprised to see Eric Christian Olsen, who has done mostly comedic roles to this point, put in a solid performance as Halvorson's assistant, Adam.
But beyond the CG and remake-esque feel of THE THING, there's something missing from this otherwise good-looking film. There's no heart, there are no moments when the action breaks and we actually get to spend just a minute or two getting to know enough about these largely unknown faces that we actually care when they're absorbed by the alien. I was actually rooting for this film to get it right, and it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that it could have. The director has a good eye for shooting in both blinding white conditions and extreme darkness, and he does an admirable job building a certain level of tension, but that's largely due to him simply following Carpenter's lead. I'm sure the man is a great fan of the '82 remake of Howard Hawks' classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, but this film is a sad tribute to what made the version great.
And then there's the literally tacked-on ending (interspersed during the end credits) that links this movie with Carpenter's opening sequence. It's laughable and so ill-placed that some audience members may have left the theater before it even gets rolling. It feels like a lame afterthought in a movie that offers little in the way of information or scares. The terrifying wonder of the previous version of THE THING looms heavy over this film without actually infecting it. It's like drawing from memory--it kind of looks and feels the same without capturing the essence, and that's a shame.