The Thing (2011) Review

A block of ice holds the alien creature in this remake of The Thing, an aspect referenced in the 1980’s remake and a crucial device of the 1951 film original. Scientists stare down this discovery when the idea is hatched to drill into the frozen block to retrieve a sample. Protocols be damned as everyone stands around plain clothed while this potential other worldly creature could be wiping them out with an unknown bacteria or virus.

It’s not that The Thing is stupid, just that it’s blatant in disregarding the little things. People standing around holding an unknown piece of a foreign body carries more tension logically than a half-human, half-alien running around screeching. Carpenter’s Thing loved science and loved the idea that something like this could exist. This modern remake seems more concerned with getting out the flamethrower.

This annoyingly titled prequel has a job to do, and it’s not to clone or remake a horror classic, but to set up (and effectively eliminate) the mystery that permeates the first act of the next chronological film. It adds things, like a run through the alien ship that only makes one question why a singular alien being needs a saucer that could rival the mothership from Independence Day. It begs the question of how, in its released form, it could have ever have flown something of this nature, let alone build it. For all of the ’51 version’s sometimes clunky James Arness attacks, at least it had hands.

The Thing is an answer to a question no one ever asked, but if Hollywood determines its viable, then audiences and fans sort of have to go along. So be it, and strangled is this do over by being backed into a corner of re-creation. Events have such a startling similarity that quite honestly, this could end up as a remake if marketing didn’t know better. The alien kills a dog, and seemingly for the hell of it. If Carpenter did it, then it must be effective, right?

Off the plot goes into a land of distrust and questions as to who has been infected. Tense scenes as Icelandic scientists stare each other down over dental fillings (seriously) doesn’t quite have the horrifying charm of the blood test, even though the end results are entirely the same.

Special effects are unbound from physical limitations, yet it’s a prime example of how restrictive methods become a breeding ground of creativity. This 2011 Thing will forever be remembered for giving birth to an alien with a sick passion for turning itself into a walking vagina with fangs, not an unholy hell spawn. There’s also the the question of why it would need teeth in the first place if the ultimate goal it to take over a living host.

You could say the 1982 film went to far, bursting a dog painfully in two or ripping heads from their bodies and using them as some type of colorful décor. If that’s the case, then this Thing doesn’t go far enough, finding it sufficient to reach status quo while relying on past ideas, merely swapping the sex of the lead and calling it a day. The Thing deserved better.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Universal issues a capable VC-1 encode for this modern update, mercifully avoiding the needless idiocy that plagued the 1980 film’s transfer to HD. This one avoided a pressing the Universal DNR button, even though mot enthusiasts probably picture it as a giant red blinking attention grabber that says, “Use me!” Kudos to them too, because there are moments where The Thing spikes in its grain structure, and the compression doesn’t quite reach an acceptable peak. Noise begins to obscure the frame for a few seconds before settling down.

Even if the encode has its lapses, it never begins to squander the exquisite exterior Canadian photography or the ripe fine detail in close. Medium shots don’t quite hold themselves to the standard, although when the camera begins pushing itself into the face of the actors, this one is impressive. Side lighting schemes offer up the high-fidelity detail for the taking. Profiles are textured flawlessly, and head on, facial definition is all precision, almost all the time.

The Thing has other needs though, namely black levels that need a precise richness in order to maintain interiors lit more by exterior moonlight than anything else. That’s where this transfer excels, and with few gaffes to break the illusion. Much of those dimmer moments come in the second half, and before everything returns to a rock solid status for the critically underlit finale. Shadow detail is preserved and depth is substantial.

Despite the arctic chill, The Thing employs warmth to the flesh tones, tinging them orange if only because it’s the “in” thing to do. Why should the palette match the environment, right? Logic issues aside, much of this frigid piece is kept dim, clothing selections avoiding any bold primaries and the base interiors comprised of dull grays, teals, and blues. Until the flames start to roar with a vivid orange, there’s not much impact from anything other than the black levels.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Despite qualms with the actual designs, The Thing virus spawns a number of creepy crawlies that scatter about. From a tentacle whipping around to a hand/spider thing, the wooden interior sounds both reflective and conducive to picking up the spine-tingling pitter-patter of alien forms. Sound mixing is gracious for its opportunity to scare, spreading stereos wide to position objects, people, and creatures alike in their exact location sonically.

Flamethrowers roar as they eject a stream of fire, rumbling the sub enough to give the impact without blowing the effect out. In some ways, this DTS-HD mix can be quaint, explosions registering with only a mild thump. Where the low-end can excel is ice cracking during the opening drop through the surface, and near the end as the ship begins to power itself. Some type of aerodynamic panels begin to open up, each one becoming increasingly louder as they near the characters. It’s that type of design that gives a sense of space where the two-dimensional visuals cannot.

The Thing keeps itself in check, a purposeful jump scare or two brightened to enhance their volume. Action is fitted to the tenser dialogue through balance, nothing feeling exaggerated or overstated. Audio exists where it should, when it should, and how it should.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman put together a commentary track, extras then flowing into a series of seven deleted scenes running a bit over nine minutes. The Thing Evolved is the general studio making-of and thoughts on making a prequel in the first place. Fire & Ice details the actors on set having way more fun than they should burning stuntmen with flamethrowers. Universal’s picture-in-picture U-Control has some exclusive material, D-Box support is here, and so is a BD-Live portal.

Extras ★★☆☆☆