Being a fan of old, ‘classic’ horror movies, it almost seems to be expected that I must remain fiercely loyal to John Carpenter when it comes to comparing the two ‘The Thing’ films. However, I personally loved both versions (though, technically the 2011 ‘remake’ is really a prequel – the producers just couldn’t think of a different name for it!) and loved them both for entirely different reasons. Before the John Carpenter fans take unnecessary offence to this (as some people view ‘remakes’ with a huge amount of disdain), the idea was not even an original one when he got round to making it – it’s based off a short story by John W. Campbell Jr called ‘Who Goes There?’ as well as an earlier film (1951) called The Thing From Another World directed by Howards Hawkes. The days of a completely original film are long gone, I’m afraid, but I really don’t think that’s a completely bad thing!
First of all, a massive amount of debate has come about over the special effects used in each of the films, with people taking sides about whether the visual makeup effects of the John Carpenter film (done by Rob Bottin, who was only 22 at the time!) are better than the computer-generated imagery used in the prequel. At the time Rob Bottin’s effects were seen as setting a new standard for gore within horror films, although nowadays these definitely look a little bit dated. Maybe it’s just because I’ve gotten so used to the CGI that is so common for modern films, but I feel that this always gives the effects more sophistication and ’smoothness’ (for lack of a better word). However, the older effects manage to gross me out more, which I suppose is a good thing, and you can really feel the time and effort that went into creating them, in comparison with the slick visuals we get today. Many people have complained that CGI looks too ‘fake’ but I think this argument is pretty flimsy, considering that a lot of the older special effects also look ‘fake’ – but that’s not the point! The point is that it ultimately comes down to personal preference, as both ways have their merits.
Another point to mention would be that there was not a single female presence in John Carpenter’s The Thing – the closest would be the voice of MacReady’s chess computer, done by Adrienne Barbeau (John Carpenter’s wife at the time). On the other hand, The Thing from 2011 opted to go for a female lead character (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who you might remember from Die Hard 4, Scott Pilgrim vs The World or Final Destination 3), which ended up giving it a more ‘Alien’ type feel to it. I think that this was a good move, personally, because who doesn’t love a female lead who can kick some ass? Though it doesn’t manage to beat the beloved Ellen Ripley in my opinion.
You may want to avoid reading this paragraph if you have yet to see the prequel as I do give away a few things, although we already know how it all ends really! Complaints have been made that there is no tension in the newer version, which I suppose I agree with to a certain extent. In John Carpenter’s film, there is more build up where ‘the thing’ is imitating humans, whereas the prequel seems to mostly bypass this and instead go for more scenes of the creature killing the humans off instead. I actually liked the fact that we got a sneaky look inside the ‘spaceship’ this time round, as this took the story a step further than the original. There were lots of other good moments in the newer film too, especially as it nicely echoed the testing of the blood scene which was famous in the original (although in the new one it was a case of checking everyone’s fillings!). With regards to this, the newer one therefore managed to offer the viewers some new (and potentially huge) information about the slightly ambiguous ending of the John Carpenter film. A major point for the 2011 Thing film is that the creature is not able to replicate anything which isn’t organic (for example, clothing or fillings) and therefore the longstanding mystery about the character Childs from the original has been solved – as we see him wearing an earring in the last scene, meaning that he is in fact human. This may have been unintentional, but I do hope that it wasn’t.
In conclusion, both films have their good points, and both films are worth watching. The prequel has managed to remain faithful to the original and keep the timeline correct – something which, for some reason, some filmmakers find tricky to do! If I had to pin down a favourite, I think I have to use a cop-out answer and say that I liked them both equally. It’s like trying to choose between chocolate cake and lemon meringue, they’re both great but in different ways, depending on what mood you’re in!