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2011 The Thing Is Just Meh

Last week we experienced our first summerlike days and nights with temperatures in the high eighties and lots of humidity. It was too early to turn on the air conditioner, so I kept cool another way: by opening a can of frosty beer and popping in a DVD of an Antarctica-based horror movie. You can think yourself cold this way.

The 2011 version of The Thing is billed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I think that’s where the movie goes wrong. It starts out so sincerely, trying to root the movie in the early 1980s. Grad student Kate Lloyd, a paleontologist, who ends up being the lead in this movie, gets a little tired while working in the lab so she slips on large, wonky headphones and pushes a button on her Walkman to listen to Men at Work. I thought, Aw, how cute.

Later, she’s recruited by a scientist and his American assistant, and the illusion is ruined for me. The grad student and assistant end up looking like kids from my neighborhood. It made me think, Did they do the casting call at my local bar?

These scientists are transported to the Norwegian base in Antarctica where an unnamable “Thing” has been found, and I tried to line up the similarities that fit with the opening of J.C.’s The Thing. There are a few characters who could physically pass for the living and videotaped Norwegians from J.C.’s The Thing, and they’ve got a husky. Okay. I tried to will myself back to a certain time in 1982, a few months before the Thing bursts into the American camp, but I found it impossible.

The sets are too shiny and new. The equipment is streamlined and compact. Don’t these people know anything about the ’80s? Everything was big and clunky and buzzed with electricity. As I followed these characters, I had a very hard time believing that they are functioning in a world, a time, without palm-held devices that tell them everything.

I can see that the filmmakers are being respectful to J.C.’s The Thing, trying not to step on any toes. Instead, they make many homages to the 1982 version, replicating many scenes with just a little twist. But nothing new is brought to the table in this 2011 version. I found myself just not caring anymore, especially when the tenuous links to the opening scenes of J.C.’s The Thing are destroyed. I thought I had been watching the prequel here. Now, it turns out there’s a pre-prequel?

Later, in the very ending credits, after the Norwegian/American team is killed off, a new crew comes in, and now things start lining up with the beginning of J.C.’s The Thing. These scenes are shown in eyeblinks, and it turns out that this is the “prequel” I was duped into watching.

I have to say I felt cheated, but looking at all the ice did make me feel a little bit cooler on this early summer night. Next time, though, I’m going to be cooling off using John Carpenter’s The Thing or maybe the X-Files episode “Ice” that brings a different take to the Thing story line.

This prequel to a classic horror movie also has me a little worried about the upcoming Alien prequel that’s coming out this week, Prometheus. Am I going to get a satisfying backstory to one of the scariest creatures of all time, or is Ridley Scott going to do me wrong?

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