That’s No Dog: A Re-Examination of The Thing 2011 And The Future Remake

Norwegian shoots a dog from his helicopter

Why remake a classic horror movie like The Thing? We look at the prequel for answers.

John Carpenter’s The Thing was not a critical or commercial success when it was originally released in 1982. It was only after repeated showings on pay cable channels and VHS that The Thing found its audience and became a cult classic. In the past few years Hollywood has been on tear remaking or “rebooting” classic horror movies. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable remake of The Thing was going to occur. To have an idea of what a remake will be like and why it’s not a good idea to remake the movie we need to re-exam 2011’s prequel The Thing.

PREQUEL VS ORIGINAL

The original idea for the prequel was for it to be shot with a cast comprised of actors from Norway and other Nordic countries speaking only in Norwegian. Somewhere along the way the idea was scrapped. Perhaps the studio thought better than having a potential franchise film coming off as a foreign film to a predominately American crowd. The idea of the Norwegian researchers in Antarctic discovering the alien craft and the thing before the events in Carpenter’s movie remained intact. However, an American competent was added into the movie.

Kate Lloyd becomes suspicious

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) plays Kate Lloyd, a research scientist who is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson to help remove the newly discovered creature from thousands of years worth of ice. Eric Christian Olsen (Dumb and Dumberer) and Joel Edgerton (Warrior), who’s actually Australian, are the other Americans in an otherwise Norwegian/Scandinavian cast.

Unless the studio and producers wanted to go way outside the box certain elements had to be present to be rightfully be called a prequel. As already mentioned, the Norwegians and their research facility had to be in the prequel. The discovery of the space craft and the thing assimilating the crew had to play a central role. Everything else included in the movie script was up to the writer’s imagination. The potential was there to do something fresh and new, but the prequel borrowed heavily from Carpenter’s movie.

PARANOIA 

Carter and company relax in the tundra

Carpenter fostered a sense of paranoia in his film. He did it by creating a slow burn that starts building the moment the title card burns onto the screen and the alien craft enters the earth’s atmosphere. The dog running across the snow field being shot at by a man in a helicopter added to the unknown territory that was going to unfold in the movie. If there was any question as to what the movie held for its audience the answer was given when the rescued dog splits in two and starts attacking other dogs with long snake like tentacles.

The audience is never sure who the thing has assimilated. There are no red herrings in the movie or the cliched bad guy who the audience would identify right away as assimilated by the alien. Kurt Russell’s MacReady, a helicopter pilot for the American research site, leads the small group as member by member is killed off by the alien. Every one is at each other’s throats convinced they’re not who they say they are. As the paranoia increases allegations fly and tempers flare among the survivors. Only MacReady and Childs (Keith David) survive to the end of the movie.

Carter and Jameson face off the thing
Stand-ins for MacReady and Childs

Two characters survive, but who’s been assimilated by the alien? Everyone has a theory if it’s MacReady or Childs and everyone thinks they’re right. The truth is no one knows for sure which, if either or both, have been assimilated. The debate will continue until John Carpenter comes out and give us the answer. An answer from Carpenter may still not settle the debate. Harrison Ford disagreed with Ridley Scott after the director went on record as saying Deckard was a replicant in Blade Runner.

NOT VERY PARANOID

In director Matthijs van Heijningen’s prequel you can correctly guess who has been assimilated. No mystery is fostered and the paranoia is totally absent from the prequel. In Carpenter’s The Thing heated blood was used to determine who and who had not been assimilated. In van Heijningen’s movie the test is whether or not someone has fillings in their mouth because the thing couldn’t replicate inorganic material. The tests may be different, but the set up and the results are identical to Carpenter’s movie.

alien cells replicate healthy cells in the thing
The blood cell test in the prequel is identical to the original test but with better graphics

CGI was in its infancy in 1982. The special effects in Tron (1982) were considered groundbreaking at the time. A lot has changed in the proceeding years. Today whole movies are created around special effects with no thought or concern to the actual story or character development. Carpenter didn’t have the luxury of CGI effects to create the monsters. It was foam rubber, movie blood, and puppeteering that brought the horrors alive. Matte paintings were used to create landscapes and the alien craft. Models of the alien craft were also constructed to be used in the movie.

CGI

CGI dominates the prequel. The matte paintings of the ship and the models were replaced with green screens. The creature and all it assimilated were also replaced with CGI. The gigantic thing Lloyd fights in the final showdown, which also mirrored the final showdown in the original movie, was some of the worst CGI in the movie. The scene should have been tense and even scary, but the CGI effect ruins whatever sense of horror the movie may have built up to this point. Nothing else matters in a movie like The Thing if the audience can’t believe what they’re seeing on screen is real.

The creature starts devouring its prey

The prequel had a lot going against it from the very start. Would fans of Carpenter’s film show up for the prequel? Would a new audience be attracted to a prequel for a movie they may or may not have ever seen or heard of before? Science fiction movies without the name Cameron attached have rarely been block buster material. The Thing, based on both domestic and overseas box office receipts, wasn’t a success.

COPY CAT KILLER

The prequel didn’t do itself any favorites by do little if anything to separate itself from the original. Entire scenes from the original were recreated in the prequel. Characters from the original were recreated for the prequel. Edgerton’s Carter could easily be a stand in for Russell’s MacReady. 2011’s The Thing feels more like a remake than a prequel.

THE BLUMHOUSE REMAKE

Blumhouse has had success in the past remaking or “rebooting” horror movies. Halloween 2018 was a box office hit for the company and a sequel is in the works. The updated retelling of The Invisible Man (2020) was also a hit. Blumhouse had also had failures. You wouldn’t know Black Christmas (2019) made its budget back and then some based on the reviews. It was panned by and large by audiences and critics. The Craft: Legacy also failed to perform. Its poor reception could be chalked up to the fact it was released on VOD in the middle of the current COVID-10 pandemic.

Blood freezes in the cold in the thing
If the prequel had one positive it was how the scenes in the end credits tied nicely into events in the original movie.

What can be expected for a remake of The Thing? It would be unwise to move the location. Carpenter’s The Thing was made even more unsettling by the fact that the crew couldn’t go anywhere. Even if they were successful in killing the creature there was still Antarctica to survive. As mentioned more than once in the movie the rate of survival in the elements was nil. If the remake is set anywhere else than a very isolated location like Antarctica or if there is a set up to have the creature find its way to civilization than what is being made is Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

THE ODDS ARE NOT IN OUR FAVOR

Odds are the movie will have to still have the thing killing and assimilating people and possibly animals.¬† Will the remake be able to capture the paranoia of the original? The answer would have to be “no” if the prequel is any indication of success. Audiences will already know what to expect at every turn. If the movie is a straight forward remake or a close approximation of a remake than the paranoia as well as the scares will be few and far between.

The Thing attacks Kate Lloyd
Obviously fake CGI is obviously fake.

Without question there will be a lot of CGI in the remake. There have been a lot of advances in computer technology since 2011. Movies like Man of Steel and The Avengers reduced entire cities to rubble. Dragons have come to life on both the big and small screens. There’s the great possibility that the creature will look realistic enough to scare audiences. At the very least, the CGI in the remake will be much better than what was in the prequel.

The temptation is to give the creature a backstory. We know the creature comes from somewhere out in space. We also know the alien craft crashed, or landed, on earth at least one hundred thousand years ago. We don’t know where it came from and we don’t know what it actually looks like. We know what it looks like after it has assimilated countless people and dogs, but its real appearance is unknown. Revealing the “truth” of the creature isn’t necessarily a good thing and it runs the risk of coming off as something like Predator World.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Why remake a classic horror movie? The quick answer is money. Sequels will follow if it’s a success. If it’s not well received or is a box office failure there won’t be any sequels. In a franchise obsessed Hollywood and fans wanting connected universes no studio wants a flop. But even if it is a success why can’t we be happy with a movie that not only offers up scares but stays in our minds for years? The fact is we can’t. As a collective whole we want these remakes and reboots that have been pumped out of the studios. And as long as we keep watching they’ll keep pumping them out for us to consume.