Opening Friday, October 14
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
The relative worth of remaking old horror movies is something that’s been analyzed and critiqued endlessly over the past couple years, but what about a prequel to one of the more respected remakes, John Carpenter’s 1982 reworking of “The Thing”? It’s actually easier to conceptualize how to do this than the recent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” because all that’s necessary is for the alien virus to come to earth and be brought to the Norwegian base to create the destruction that was hinted at in Carpenter’s movie. That’s the general concept behind this prequel and for the most part, it does seem to work in a similar way.
As it opens, we see a group of Norwegian scientists discovering a giant spacecraft as well as an alien creature on ice. They bring an American paleonthologist, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, to help determine what they’ve found, but ignoring her warning, the base’s head scientist, played by Ulrich Thomsen, insists on taking a tissue sample, allowing the alien to escape. It starts to kill members of the base, replacing them with identical copies that give away their identity by transforming into horrifying mutations.
Because the original movie never got too scientific about how the alien kills and replicates its victims, it was never entirely clear what was going on, and that confusion carries over into this one, as much as it tries its best to explain the “rules” of how the alien works. Confusing matters is the fact we actually see an alien creature this time, which some may assume is the alien that starts things off rather than another victim.
Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.does a competent job with the film, recreating the look and feel of Carpenter’s film, which is an achievement in itself. Once again, the Antarctic setting plays a large part in this, but also maintaining a slow build helps to create more tension before things explode whenever an alien replicant is exposed. A similar level of paranoia develops as no one knows who may have been replaced by the space invader, although it’s not quite as novel the second time around. This means that the movie doesn’t work as well on its own, because having seen the original, you’ll get some idea of what kind of craziness to expect, and they still find a way to create some surprises like a clever twist on the “blood test” scene in the Carpenter film. (Though no longer credited, the original screenplay was by Ronald Moore of “Battlestar Gallactica,” though credited writer Eric Heisserer did a fantastic job revitalizing the “Final Destination” franchise recently.)
It’s fairly normal to not expect much from the cast of a horror movie, but Carpenter assembled an amazing cast for his movie giving one high hopes for this prequel. Joel Edgerton’s helicopter pilot Carter seems like the obvious choice to take on the Kurt Russell hero role in the movie, but his part is fairly minimal compared to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, probably because he and his partner Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from “Lost”) disappear for a good chunk of the movie. None of the three give a particularly convincing dramatic performance, though, yet Eric Olsen isn’t bad. The problem is that there are way too many characters, mostly Norwegians speaking in Norwegian, which makes it hard to keep track of anyone other than those four actors and this becomes more of an ensemble piece where we spend equal time with all of them.
On the other hand, there definitely seems like there’s more action this time around, maybe because the “infected” are much faster on their feetâ€¦ and handsâ€¦ and spiny pincers. The complexity of these transformations means there’s a lot more CG involved in bringing them to life, which is a double-edged sword, since it avoids the odd cutting between animatronic creature effects but it also loses some of the low-fi charm that comes with doing things practically.
All these problems are fairly minor though and the only thing that really feels like a letdown is when the survivors return to the spaceship to try and defeat the alien, leading to the most obvious climax possible, throwing in one last twist before the end credits, which offers the anticipated but oddly-realized bridge to the opening of Carpenter’s film.
The Bottom Line: