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The Independent Critic

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.
Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell Jr., and Ronald D. Moore
Rated R
103 Mins.
Universal Pictures

 "The Thing" Review 
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If you found yourself re-watching John Carpenter's 1982 semi-classic The Thing in preparation for this wholly unnecessary and mostly uninspired prequel directed by first-time helmer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., then there's a pretty good chance that the actual process of watching this 2011 film will leave you even further in love with Carpenter's film while wondering who came up with the bright idea of handing this film to a novice director.

Every director deserves a first chance, of course, and there are many directors whose first films have been remarkable cinematic achievements.

This ain't one of them.

In this film, an up-and-coming paleontologist named Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) is recruited by American Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom) and his assistant (Eric Christian Olsen, Almost Every Bad Film Made In The Last Five Years) to help on a super secret Antarctica dig led by the arrogant Norwegian scientist Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen, In a Better World). When the Americans arrive in Antarctica, they discover that the Norwegians have unearthed what is believed to be a 100,000 year-old space ship and its ice-encased inhabitant. While Lloyd is experienced in just this type of dig, Halvorson's arrogance gets the best of him as he insists on drilling into the ice to retrieve a tissue sample as his Norwegian peers are practically besides themselves with visions of a Nobel Prize dancing in their heads.

There's one problem. 100,000 year-old aliens aren't particularly fond of having drills penetrate their flesh.

Uh oh.

It's not telling any secrets to say that this unique yet uninterestingly designed creature quickly escapes and begins to wreak life-threatening havoc upon this isolated scientific outpost with its ability to replicate and mimic the physical manifestation of any creature it infects. Lloyd eventually learns, or at least discerns, that the create cannot replicate inorganic substances and, of course, this leads to her turning into Dr. Giggles and examining everyone's dental work.

Is it sounding silly? It should be.

The actors aren't brilliant here, but much of the film's deficits can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of its first-time helmer. Van Heijningen too often chooses quick shocks over building suspense, while the director has a jarringly poor sense of pacing. Frequently, the film's physical action directly conflicts with the dialogue spoken both in terms of intensity and pacing. This is most obvious with the character of Kate Lloyd, who on multiple occasions is verbalizing words with great intensity and passion while either standing still or simply not responding to her own sense of alarm and panic.

One gets the sense, though, that the actors are trying to reach for something memorable here. It's simply not happening. Joel Edgerton, who proves his acting prowess in Animal Kingdom, is pretty much relegated to being a blowhard with a blow torch. Ulrich Thomsen, so masterful in last year's In a Better World, does his best Max Von Sydow imitation that goes nowhere.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead certainly isn't up to par with Kurt Russell, but she does possess a certain intensity that makes her interesting to watch even when the film's overall pacing lets her down. She manages to stay convincing even as she's checking out dental work ... That has to count for something, right? Where Winstead really falls short is in her ability to project the kind of building paranoia that should come from being surrounded in an dark, isolated land amongst a small group of people who may or may not be the very thing you are fighting. Winstead says all the right words, but there's no sense of dread nor any sense of claustrophobic paranoia.

Based upon the short story "Who Goes There?" by John Campbell Jr., The Thing is one of two films opening this week to journey back to an 80's film for its inspiration. Unfortunately, screenwriter Eric Heisserer's finished product is more like his last two godawful films, Final Destination 5 and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake of 2010. There are moments, fleeting ones, where this film smartly references its predecessor and the ending is a direct link to the 1982 film. Serving mostly as a reminder of John Carpenter's brilliant and lasting work from 1982, is likely to only please low-maintenance gore-hounds and diehard fans of the source material.

The creature itself is visually interesting and certainly technologically superior to the 1982 cinematic creation, yet time and technology can't mask the fact that this creature appears more designed for gross-outs than to be truly horrifying. In the end, virtually every aspect of The Thing falls woefully short of the 1982 film to which it is linked.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic