Buried for hundreds of thousands of years in the ice, a creature more frightening than anything imaginable is about to wake up in The Thing. A prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, the film was hit with far more hate and vitriol than necessary, much like its predecessor, but isn't an altogether great film either. Now Mill Creek Entertainment delivers a new Walmart-exclusive SteelBook offering a slightly improved transfer, and pair of brief new bonus features. Overall - Recommended
You can’t keep a good gory shape-shifting creature buried in the ice for long. Almost thirty years after John Carpenter unleashed his beast The Thing, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. delivers an interesting and fairly entertaining prequel that is unfortunately undermined by too much source familiarity and rushed CGI work. To be fair there are some smart pieces to this film with strong performances from the cast and it dovetails into the 1982 original, but there’s some measure of authenticity missing.
For this The Thing, a team of Norwegian researchers is tracking down a strange radio signal emanating far out in the middle of barren Antarctic ice. Nothing should be living out there… at least not anything human. When they uncover the most important find in the history of man, they call in top paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help identify a creature of unknown origin. The expedition led by the head-strong Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) moves fast to discover what this being is, but when the ice thaws and the beast wakes up, a simple science expedition becomes a deadly fight for survival.
Much like Carpenter’s classic The Thing, Heijningen’s The Thing wasn’t exactly kindly received. While critics decried Carpenter’s film for being unrelentingly bleak, critics and fans savaged the audacity of crafting a prequel to a now revered Sci-fi/Horror classic. It’s not an amazing film, but I don’t think it deserved the savaging it received when it hit theaters. That said, it's also far from being a masterpiece often landing in that middle ground of frustrating mediocrity and missed potential.
Wisely, this version aims to stake out its own corner of the story taking place mere days before MacReady and Copper find the burnt-out Norwegian outpost. The opening may borrow a bit too heavily from 2004's Alien vs Predator for my liking, but it's a serviceable setup. In a nice touch, some of the characters and story beats are practically lifted right from John Campbell’s original story Who Goes There - or Frozen Hell if you're in for the full manuscript version. Even Ulrich Thomsen’s Dr. Halvorson plays like an ode to Robert Cornthwaite’s Dr. Carrignton from Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World. There are new twists to the creature’s biology and methods for detection in human form that don’t repeat what Carpenter and his crew did so effectively in 1982.
While I have a lot of appreciation for this film, I don’t love it. It’s entertaining, but it’s deeply flawed. For starters, it feels entirely too over-produced. It looks a little too slick and modern, Marco Beltrami’s score can be too overbearing, and the final visual effects are sadly lackluster. Listening to the audio commentary producer Eric Newman and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. try to deflect redoing all of Alic Gillis and Tom Woodruf Jr’s excellent practical effects with shoddy CGI as a symptom of not having enough time. If there wasn’t time to get the practical effects right (which look amazing on the Studio ADI YouTube videos), then why does the CGI version look so damn bad? Some effects that should be scary are outright laugh-inducing (split face anyone?). There are a lot of stories out there about a bunch of changes from reshoots and various edits, so it’s difficult to know how much good material was lost (or even existed) because of last-minute studio finger-twiddling. Recent calls for a full Director’s Cut or the so-called "Pilot Cut" have so far gone unheard and since we didn’t see it on this disc, I doubt it’ll ever see the light of day.
As it freezes in the ice today, I find the 2011 The Thing to just be okay. I didn’t love it in 2011and I don’t feel much differently about it twelve years later. It’s distracting enough to be entertaining but not good enough to be something I pull off the shelf very often. I appreciate its ambition, I liked some of its ideas, and I liked the main cast of Winstead, Thomsen, and Joel Edgerton. I especially enjoyed this film’s suggestion that someone taken by the creature may not fully be aware they’re no longer human. There are a lot of other great elements in play but something failed to glue together to form a genuinely fitting prequel. Until we see anything officially official from Blumhouse about their adaptation of Frozen Hell, the 2002 PS2 and Xbox video game (and the Dark Horse comics if you can find them) remains the best follow-up to John Carpenter’s classic.
For another take on the 2011 The Thing - Read our 2012 Blu-ray Review
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Twelve years after its original release in theaters, The Thing picks up a new single-disc SteelBook Blu-ray from Millcreek exclusively available at Walmart. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a deluxe SteelBook package with original artwork that has a vinyl slipcover accent similar to what we’ve seen from recent Lionsgate releases. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
This release of 2011’s The Thing picks up a little bit of an upgrade over the previous disc with a new AVC-encoded transfer. This is still largely the same thing, just a cleaner encode. Shot on 35mm, the image has a little better, more cleanly defined film grain presence. Some small facial details in close-ups look a little sharper than the previous disc, but not by a significant amount. You’re really going to have to press your face into the screen to start spotting the differences in that arena. Colors appear the same, whites are still brilliantly crisp and appropriately blinding, and black levels are deep and inky with nice shadow delineation and depth. Comparing bitrates between discs, they’re often comparable, but this new disc picks up a stronger average holding higher into the upper 30 and 40mbps ranges longer with fewer drastic drops.
The same DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix is also ported over. It may not be a full-on object-based track like Atmos or DTS:X, but it’s still a beast of its own. The bigger action-packed set pieces still push hard allowing for a richly immersive experience with clean dialog, clear scoring, great sound effects with plenty of channel imaging. Read our linked review to the previous Blu-ray above for more on this mix.
This release of 2011’s The Thing is not just a fancy repackage. In addition to the slightly improved transfer, there are a couple of new featurettes. Nothing too extensive. The Who Goes There and What Goes There featurettes is mostly just a collection of clips and some behind-the-scenes footage with voice-over trivia narrated by Hank Lawhead playing over the sequences. Interesting but not much more than IMDB trivia fans likely already know. But they're new all the same.
The bulk and best materials are found in the mini-docs and especially in the audio commentary. It’s amusing listing to this commentary again after all these years as the film hadn’t been released in theaters when they recorded it, so they have a lot of pride in the film and are unaware of the critical hell about to befall their work. It’s still an informative track Newman and Heijningen Jr. offer up a rich amount of detail about the production and explain a lot of their decisions, good or bad. Missing from this disc are the PiP U-Control bits - which is kind of a bummer since those tidbits are interesting, but at the same time, I hated that format so it's a shame we don't get them collected together here. That's one reason to hold onto your old Universal disc.
2011’s The Thing was met by a lot of hate from fans and critics alike. Quickly bombing at the box office, the film has steadily gained a bit of a following over the years but hasn’t grown into a true cult classic. The film is an alright but unnecessary prequel that only serves to remind fans how great John Carpenter’s 1982 film really was. And granted, that was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Mill Creek Entertainment gives fans of this prequel a new reason to pick it up on Blu-ray with a slick new SteelBook. Not just a simple repackaging of the old disc, the film gains a slightly improved encode with a pair of short featurettes to bolster the bonus features selection. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, it is what it is and this is an all-around fine Blu-ray release for those looking to add it to the collection. Recommended