If you've never seen John Carpenter's 1982 classic, The Thing, DO NOT see this movie. Go, right now, and rent or purchase it. Watch it. Keep in mind it came out in 1982. Think about what it must have looked like through the eyes of someone in 1982. Then watch it again. With John Carpenter's classic under your belt, you will get the most out The Thing. Truth be told, Marc Abraham and Eric Newman's (Dawn of the Dead) reboot of the story is only successful as a companion piece for rabid fans of it's predecessor.
The Thing starts with the discovery of an alien space ship by a team of Norwegian scientists studying in Antarctica. In addition to the ship, the scientists also discover a frozen alien life form. The lead scientist Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen), recruit paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to learn more about their alien discovery. The alien is transported to the Norwegian camp and soon awakens from its frozen slumber. The alien escapes into the camp.
In a well executed search sequence, the team begins to learn of the unique way the alien ingests its prey. It doesn't take long before Kate pieces together the terrifying, unbelievable way the alien is capable of surviving. In one of the movie's weakest moments, Kate discovers the alien's cells are able to consume and replicate those of any living being. While Wilford Brimley's quiet realization of the alien threat by way of an Atari 2600 computer graphics has grown to be charmingly silly, the updated version of the same scene is down-right laughable. Since when do microscopic cells have sound effects?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an admirable job as The Thing's protagonist but is ultimately the weakest link. Kurt Russell's portrayal of R.J. MacReady is a key part of John Carpenter's films success. Not to take away from Russell's skill as an actor but it was perfect casting. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not the right choice to play Kate Lloyd. Her case is not helped by being noticeably the youngest actor in the cast. The character of Kate Lloyd never fully earns the respect of the team or the audience. I have to think a more mature actor would have turned Kate into a character the audience could cheer for.
The cat and mouse chase between scientists and the alien is well handled but is all too familiar. The Thing doesn't tell a different story. It tells the same story from a different perspective. Perhaps the claustrophobic nature of Antarctica is too limiting. More than likely, the producers didn't want to veer too far from telling a well respected story. Very little new territory is covered which is disappointing.
It wasn't long before I found myself paying more attention to the demise of the Norwegian camp. Watching it slowly turn into the shell discovered by R.J. MacReady in John Carpenter's classic is a delight. No detail is ignored. Universal and the The Thing's producers could have easily covered a few key scenarios that lead to the 1982 film. I would imagine most fans would have been just as satisfied. Instead, the 12 year old boy in me was downright giddy as every question I had about the Norwegian camp was answered. For that alone, the ticket was well worth the price.
I admit, it's impossible for me to separate The Thing from John Carpenter's classic. If this version of The Thing came out in 1982, would I have watched it again and again? Doubtful. But that would mean John Carpenter's The Thing would be in the theaters right now. That would be awesome.