John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of the 1951 classic The Thing From Another World, is one of the best adaptations and remakes of all time. And it’s a personal favourite of mine. Originally based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? the film followed an American Antarctic research team who struggle against an alien parasitical organism, that perfectly replicates lifeforms. With the modern trope of regurgitating sequels, reboots and remakes, it was inevitable that the ‘cult classic’ would fall victim to modern cinema’s latest phase. Unfortunately, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s version fails to distinguish itself between being a genuine sci-fi horror film, a prequel or simply trying to recreate Carpenter’s cinematic opus.
The prequel follows the events that transpired in the Norwegian research facility, which was briefly explored in Carpenter’s film. Set in 1982, palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to join a team of Norwegian scientists in Antarctica. They have discovered an alien spacecraft and the frozen corpse of a creature that crashed there 100,000 years ago. After excavating the body, they soon realise that the life form isn’t here to make friends. It is hard to ignore the fact that Heijningen Jr’s The Thing has an uncanny resemblance, structurally and narratively, to Carpenter’s version. We’re introduced to the setting, the characters, the ‘Thing’ makes an appearance, hell breaks lose and people start getting killed off. His and screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s clear intensions were to create a ‘remake’ in a similar style to the ’82 version within the confinements of a ‘prequel’ story. However their unequivocal and flawed attempts to mimic the predecessor become the film’s major downfall.
Bogged down in trying to replicate the styling and visual demeanour of Carpenter’s work, it soon becomes apparent that the same care and attention weren’t devoted to the screenplay. An overzealous nature to show every death scene and the constant exhibition of the ‘thing’ itself, completely removes the psychological element that the ‘assimilating alien’ concept allows for. The sense of mystery and paranoia amongst these characters is never a continuous notion that descends into the ‘cabin fever’ madness that Carpenter perfected. Individual scenes attempt to recreate those memorable experiences, but don’t have the same visceral impact and substance to successfully accomplish the same significance. The film’s ‘horror’ element therefore and unsurprisingly boils down to jump scares and predictable revelations, culminating in a horrendous third act.
The lack of character development, in particular, is a major missed opportunity with The Thing. We’re introduced to lead characters far too quickly and never have sufficient time to build an attachment to them. Thus, their imminent deaths become far less shocking, which has become a frustrating failure of most modern horror films. While the acting isn’t memorable, its competent and believable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does well with Heisserer’s lukewarm script, providing a realistic and understandable protagonist who avoids turning into a typical action-hero. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuouye-Agbaje are unarguably rehashes of Kurt Russell’s and Keith David’s characters from Carpenter’s film and while pale in comparison, they offer humour and charm to the proceedings. The Norwegian cast members adds believability and realism to the narrative with Jørgen Langhelle character Lars, bringing much needed madness and intensity.
The cinematography and sound design are top notch. The extensive set design conveys the claustrophobic nature and drab interiors of the research base, while the long establishing shots emphasise the remote and hostile surroundings. Marco Beltrami’s soundtrack manages to capture the chilling tone of Ennio Morricone’s original score and the iconic synthesised repetition, whilst adding his own mixture of sharp and flowing notes. The gory depictions of the ‘thing’ sound fantastic, however the same can’t be said about the visuals. Heijningen Jr’s employment of CGI in order to realise the creature’s transformations and assimilations, while inventive, don’t have the same awe-inspiring impact as Rob Bottin’s effects in the ’82 version. Prosthetics and practical effects are used, but the constant CGI showcase of the creature quickly takes away any suspense and anticipation, and looks more ridiculous than genuinely terrifying.
As a sci-fi horror film, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. efforts fail to scare and shock, nor does he bring anything original to the genre. While it’s an entertaining and competently acted romp, its predictable nature and failure to evolve from the basic genre elements, result in a shallow experience. But as a prequel to John Carpenter’s film, it tries too hard to follow in the footsteps of the 1982 version. Numerous references, the soundtrack, the narrative structure will undoubtably and momentarily satisfy fans. But plot-holes and a disregard for the principle concepts and themes of its predecessor create further criticism towards its purpose and existence. Go watch Carpenter’s version.