Nearly 30 years after John Carpenter unleashed what would eventually be hailed as one of the most-terrifying and creative sci-fi horror films in history, Hollywood delivers what could be called a "premake" -- a film that technically exists as a prequel, but copies the template of the original so completely that it's basically a remake. Those new to the game will most likely enjoy the proceedings, as the shape-shifting monster is still a unique villain. Fans of the original, meanwhile, will breathe a sigh of relief that the film isn't terrible, although it'd be a stretch to call it great. Indeed, 2011's The Thing proves to be a thoroughly okay horror flick. The acting is alright; the script is somewhat clever, but overall, just alright; the way they tie this film and Carpenter's together is alright, if a bit forced. One thing is for certain, though: It's not nearly in the same league as either Carpenter's film or Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World.
The setup is thus: A young paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to head down to an Antarctic base with a group of Americans to investigate a long-frozen UFO and an alien species discovered by a group of Norwegian scientists. Indeed, this base will eventually become the burned-out building that Kurt Russell and his all-male group of blue-collar schmoes and scientists explore in Carpenter's film. Along with an American chopper pilot (Joel Edgerton), Winstead and her cohorts go through the process of discovering this alien species is alive and can replicate human beings. Thankfully for the heroine, everyone in the Norwegian camp, with the exception of the mysterious Lars (Jørgen Langhelle), speaks English, thus rendering the language barrier all but moot (just one of the film's convenient plot devices).
Dutch filmmaker Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr. tries his best to replicate his predecessor's style, embracing a widescreen scope and, for the most part, restrained camerawork (although some needlessly shaky handheld footage does rear its head). The pacing goes from slow to thrilling, then full-bore creature action by the end. Kudos goes to Amalgamated Dynamics and Image Engine for their mix of practical and computer-generated effects, which are quite good, though they end up falling short of the nightmarish designs of prosthetics master Rob Bottin, who brought the creature to life in the 1982 version. With so many junky reboots, remakes, and restarts, it's really hard to knock 2011's The Thing, which is a pretty okay picture. Will it be remembered? Hardly. Will people dissect it to learn which of the iconic cast members were imposters all along? Nope (and the cast really isn't that great to begin with). The highlight of all of this is that it's genuinely nice to see this creature back in action, even if the movie it's in is just alright.