No one involved with THE THING 2011 understands what the words imitate or replicate mean. There’s a moment where Mary Elizabeth Winstead, supposedly a pre-eminent paleontologist/grad student, and Eric Christian Olsen are staring down a microscope at a part-human, part-alien blood sample. In it they see two objects; a normal, circular blood platelet and what looks like a poorly rendered, undulating ball of spikes. The spike ball cell then approaches one of the platelets, attacks it, wraps itself around it and then changes its spikey shape to look like what it just ate. Meanwhile, these two academics stare at it in disbelief while stammering about how they just watched an alien cell imitate another cell. But that’s not what we the audience just saw happen. There was no copy made. The original was consumed entirely and then replaced.
This may sound like arguing semantics about a fleeting scene, but it’s not just a discrepancy in word choice. This moment is indicative of how glazed over the entire film is. The whole thing reeks of being a studio horror movie that only exists so it can bilk a few bucks out of horror fans who rightfully put John Carpenter’s THE THING on a pedestal. And it’s not because 2011’s THE THING used the word imitate when it meant consumed and replica when it meant replaced, it’s because no one took twenty seconds to say, “Hey, wait a second, shouldn’t it be…”? Not one of the film’s five producers made a note about it. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer obviously wasn’t bothered by it. Winstead and Olsen didn’t turn to the script supervisor and ask if the line made sense. The effects team responsible for rendering the blood cells didn’t bother to actually animate a sequence that showed a cell being copied instead of devoured.
Somehow this easily-fixed piece of poor word choice made it into the final film. Now just think about how inadequately conceived the rest of the film must be if something that minor, something that could have been corrected by a two-sentence conversation, made it into the final cut AND I was withdrawn enough from the movie to notice it.
And that’s what makes THE THING 2011 so damned aggravating. The entire movie is riddled with bullshit that could have been averted had anyone stopped to actually think about the movie they were making. Sure, it starts small with contradictory word choice, but then it continues with contradictory ideas and just barrels ignorantly forward without reservation until the whole thing kersplats into a very stupid showdown on the inside of a poorly designed spaceship. It’s Winstead fighting for her life against a full-on monster, but instead of feeling any concern for her plight, the audience is more likely thinking to themselves, “Why does the alien have a Tetris-based navigational system?” or “When did the Thing get a chance to time travel into the future, watch LOST IN SPACE and think stealing Gary Oldman’s alien-spider-face look was a good idea?” or “If the spaceship still works thousands of years after crashing, why did the alien leave it in the first place?” or “Why the hell does the entire exterior surface of this massive vehicle designed for travel in a vacuum open up like a pair of blinds?”
To put it bluntly, THE THING is not an intelligent movie. Oh, it’s well shot and it’s well acted. The set design is great, the locations are great. It’s got a solid sound mix and it pulls off a few decent effects gags when it’s not turning the Thing into a faster-than-sight blur. But those are all just components assembled from a blueprint that was made nearly 30 years ago. The trouble is that neither director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. or screenwriter Eric Heisserer have any idea how to bring anything of substance to the table. The whole production is capable, yes, but I’ve also seen children follow Lego instructions and build a general facsimile of the Death Star. Sticking laboriously to a plan and precedent established by others has its own merits, but the resulting product is only vaguely memorable because it’s too afraid to do something bold on its own.
On one hand, I respect that the movie doesn’t dare mess with the continuity of Carpenter’s original film. I’d much rather see a prequel/remakes this beholden to its reason for existing than one that shits on fans of the original. But you can still have the roguish helicopter pilot, and the obsessive dog watcher; the cagey doctor and people imprisoned for being unable to account for their time, and you can even keep the beat-for-beat pacing of the first half of the movie. That’s fine. But at least understand that what made the original so great is that it wasn’t just going through the motions. Carpenter’s THE THING is analytical. Every inch of it has a reason for existing. It doesn’t make mistakes.
This new THING, however? Practically all it does is make half-assed decisions that crumble under barely strenuous scrutiny. It flies in a hot chic grad student and then has the person who demanded she be there literally tell her that she isn’t there to think. It has very gnarly designs for its creature, but then they’re executed with not-quite-there, but occasionally impressive, CGI that only serves to instantly date the film. It has a good idea in its alternative to the blood test, but as soon as you think about it, the whole thing crumbles apart: Apparently the Thing’s biology won’t let it copy inorganic materials, but it does have a laundromat hidden somewhere inside. I can see the Don Draper pitch now: The (New) Thing– it won’t duplicate your fillings, but it’ll get the horrible blood stains out of your mutilated clothes in a jiffy!
And yet, even with all of this complaining, I don’t think THE THING is a terrible movie. The problem isn’t that it lacks entertainment value, it’s that it’s just a dumb monster movie that happens to have a better budget and a better premise than most other dumb monster movies. And that really disappoints me. Other talents could have done something genuinely interesting here, but instead all involved played it safe and cool, just as we all feared they would.