THE THING by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. is the prequel to John Carpenters re-make of the same name, which was a re-make of Howard Hawks THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Its a confusion that would seem to have been easily avoidable, but for some reason wasnt taken care of at any point during pre- or post-production, the filmmakers claiming that they just couldnt come up with a better title. That sums up nicely the way this film went wrong: a failure of imagination.
Rather than a crackling tale of Cold War paranoia (Hawks) or a terrifying tale of the paranoia of isolation (Carpenter), there is a slow and brooding tale of growing but rarely acute paranoia in the face of an alien invasion wherein identity is suspect and death is a term that requires redefinition. As with the other two films, the setting is Antarctica, and the bitter cold of the continent is no match for overheated and boneheaded human response to the unknown.
The discovery of an alien spaceship that crashed there 100,000 years ago is met with delight by the bold band of scientists at Thule Station, and there is even more delight when the corpse of an alien is found a few hundred yard away. When the groups leader (Ulrich Thomsen) decides to take a tissue sample from the ice-bound corpse right away instead of waiting for its removal to more controlled conditions, the delight ebbs. The ebb is greatest from the paleo-biologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who, Cassandra-like, points out that there is no telling what they could be exposed to and what effect it will have if they come into direct contact with the alien. Things continue to go wrong when the paleo-botanosts worries take on deadly manifestations, not the least of which is the aliens ability to assume anyones shape before making a lethal attack.
There is no stinting on the special effects that find a few strikingly disturbing images of nightmare while never quite finding anything strikingly new. The same can be said of the pacing, which suffers from a by-the-numbers progression so tethered to a timetable that the viewer can all but set his or her watch by it. It significantly reduces the effectiveness of the jump-and-scare aspects of the story. The other, and what should be the one that is by far the more suspenseful, the way people will turn on one another in a difficult situation, never takes off thanks to the muffled direction and interchangeable characters barely differentiated by their varying abilities to speak English, though Winstead, who evokes ALIENs Ripley to excellent advantage, puts forth a commendable, if ultimately futile, effort.
The extended metaphor of science opening up the wrong can of worms fares little better. Of course the scientist in charge, dreaming of glory and accolades as well as sating his scientific curiosity, cant wait to get his hands on alien tissue, and what he finds is just fascinating enough to justify some of them weakening on their position about quarantine protocols. Its a faint echo of the stark resonance of the originals worries about Communist infiltration, though, and an even fainter echo of the far greater paranoia generated by the recent release, CONTAGION.
THE THING becomes an exercise is side-long suspicious glances, ooey-gooey alien-human interaction, and idle speculation by the audience about how people can survive running around the Antarctic cold without wearing anything to prevent cranial heat loss. The best thing in THE THING is a dirty joke told at the beginning that is refreshingly funny, not to mention surprisingly insightful. Alas, it is over all too quickly and bears absolutely no relation to anything that follows.