We found a fucking alien! Cheers!
Director : Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Cast : Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Trond Espen Seim, Kristofer Hivju, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jorgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Roise and Kim Bubbs
“Wait, what?” I imagine some of you are exclaiming right about now. For a site that specialises in reviewing films that are barely heard of, I agree that it does seem strange that I am going to review arguably one of the better known horror films of the current decade and a prequel to one of the most respected and beloved horrors and all time, but those who go back to my first time of doing 31 reviews in 31 days will see that to break it up a bit, on the 10th, 20th and 31st days I reviewed well known horror films.
For me it breaks up the tediousness slightly, even if it does go against what I write about for the majority. The 1982 version of “The Thing” is not only one of my favourite horror films, but is one of my favourite films in general, so when a prequel was announced just under ten years ago I was excited and skeptical at the same time. It’s the same reason that I hope they do never remake 1986’s “The Fly”, it just wouldn’t be the same or anywhere near as good.
For the purposes of the review and any point I need to compare the two films, I’m simply going to refer to them as 1982 and 2011, it seems crazy that they would name the prequel the same as the 1982 version and has lead many shops in my native England to mistakenly call it a remake.
Kate (Winstead) gets a visit one day from Dr. Sander Halvorson (Thomsem) who wants her to join him and his team in the Arctic as they’ve uncovered something incredible. She eventually agrees and travels down, discovering that it was an alien spacecraft that has been found in the ice. Whilst away the team reveals that they have also found a body. Everyone on the base celebrates that night but the alien defrosts and starts attacking the team. It kills Henrik (Haavind) before they eventually set it on fire, thinking that they have killed it.
The next day Kate performs an autopsy and sees that the alien was consuming Henrik, but rejected a metal plate that was in Henrik’s arm. She then finds several teeth fillings covered in blood in the shower and realises that the alien is still alive and potentially imitating someone. She flags down a helicopter that was leaving to get help, only for one of it’s occupants (Paul Braunstein) to mutate and seemingly kill everyone else on board.
Kate gathers everyone into a room for a meeting in which she discusses her theory about the aliens imitating other lifeforms but can’t replicate any metal that was on or in them. They laugh it off until Juliette (Bubbs) transforms rapidly and kills another researcher in front of several members of the crew. This convinces them that what is happening is real and they must figure out who is still human.
Is it anywhere near as good as the original?
Let’s start with the glaring difference and the use of CGI compared to practical effects that were in the original. Whilst the CGI makes transformations seem more polished, the practical effects of 1982 was actually more bone-chilling and methodical. Transformations were slow and that only added to the horror and tension, something that 2011 got so, so wrong. Every creature in 2011 seems to be a big hurry, and for lack of better words the CGI is a bit awful.
I’ve read about 2011 and watched videos on it enough to know that it was originally practical effects that were used and they only got changed late on, but for me (and I suspect many, many others), this would have been far better with practical effects. For example, the first transformation in 2011 is that of Griggs and whilst his face splitting open is admittedly cool and inventive, it just looks fake as hell. It says it all that there was a 29 year gap between the two films and yet 1982 looks far more realistic.
There is no tension when you compare it to 1982. For example, when Juliette tricks Kate into a corner, you can hear her transforming whilst not on camera, meaning there isn’t a surprise when Kate turns around to see what is effectively a giant mouth with Juliette’s head on top. Compare that to 1982’s method of showing that Norris was now a creature. It literally comes out of nowhere as his stomach turns into a giant mouth. There are no clues at all beforehand.
The character building in 2011 is significantly inferior to 1982. Admittedly it is a different set of characters and a slightly different circumstance, but even then character building seems limited to the main characters and feels a bit forced. If it was stand alone film then the lack of development for anyone other than the main characters wouldn’t bother me as much, but when you;’re dealing with a prequel to such a good thing everything little bit helps.
On the positive side of things, I was never bored by 2011. It had some interesting ideas, such as the lack of being able to replicate metal and that is ultimately how Kate is able to tell if another character is still human at the end. Whilst the scene where she checks fillings doesn’t come close to having the same tension as 1982’s equivalent scene with blood specimens, it is still one that leaves you unsure as Finch points out that you can’t just assume someone is an alien simply because they take care of their teeth (therefore not needing fillings).
Speaking of Finch *minor spoiler*, he is one half of the split-face alien that they find in 1982. The creation of split-face is actually kind of creepy as you watch as Finch is completely helpless as Edvard forces their faces to merge. You see their cheeks fuse and you realise that Finch, who is a likable character, is now screwed as there is no possible way for him to escape.
The second half of the film is significantly stronger than the first, especially a scene in which split-face is moving from room to room and it becomes a game of cat and mouse.
Arguably the most important thing that 2011 got right however is all things that prequels like this need to do. Most prequels just try and shove in as many references to the original as possible, whereas 2011’s seems to be very natural in terms of what happens. Everything that you see in 1982 is set up in 2011, whether it be corpses where they are in 1982, or even an axe in the wall with blood spots. Everything seems methodical and purposefully executed to be relatively seamless.
Whilst it was never going to be as good as 1982, there was something there that suggests that with a tiny bit more care then this could have been a worthy addition to the franchise. It’s certainly not a bad film, I wouldn’t own it on DVD if it was, but ultimately you could argue it was a film that didn’t need to be made.
As a stand alone film 2011 works, but the problem with any sequel, prequel or reboot is that it is automatically going to be compared to the original, and 1982 is a significantly better movie.
2011 certain isn’t a bad film, for a mainstream horror it is actually relatively decent and it gives great fan service, but the main reason that I’m not giving it the approved stamp is just how bad it looks because of the use of poor CGI. There is no reason why a film released in 2011 should look worse than the original that was released a massive 29 years earlier.
I certainly wouldn’t say give it a miss, but if you can only watch one of the two, watch 1982.