A Rose by any Other Name… Can be Confusing: The Thing (2011)

In 1982, one of the greatest horror movies was released. I say this as a fan of John Carpenter, and as someone who really loves Halloween: John Carpenter’s best film by far is The Thing. The film can be seen as a masterwork, both in terms of paranoia/suspense and in terms of practical effects at work. That said, upon initial release – The Thing did not fare well.  Many critics (Roger Ebert included) were grossed out by the film’s excessive gore, and found the effects to be a little too real. Carpenter’s The Thing went on to be a box-office flop… with fame and deserved acclaim not being bestowed for many years.

Really? People found this too gross? Go figure.
Really? People found this too gross? Go figure.

Sounds like perfect material for Hollywood in 2011, right? So audiences were treated to The Thing again in 2011. Ready for the kicker though? Despite the name, The Thing is not, nor was it ever intended to be (by its director anyway) a remake. This film is a prequel.

A prequel with the same name. Makes… absolutely no sense. So why did it happen? The short answer is: I don’t know. After spending a few hours digging, I have not found an answer beyond this: they did not want the film to have a “:” in the title. Makes sense right? These days there is little that implies Hollywood marketing the way that a colon can. For example, take a look at this unofficial poster art for (one of) the upcoming Jungle Book movie:


That’s right. They’re making two Jungle Book movies at the same time. One is not made by Disney, however, and so it is titled Jungle Book: Origins to differentiate… and to let audiences now that the studio is hopeful for a franchise. Well, I do agree with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. The Thing: Origins or anything like that would have sounded pretty dumb.

But what about The Thing From Another World?

While 2011’s film was no remake, Carpenter’s sure as heck was. Really, all three films have shared the same basis, and that is the Who Goes There? novella written by John W. Campbell. Say, Who Goes There? would be a great title for a horror movie… oh but it doesn’t have The Thing in it. And everyone knows that, if a movie is to be financially successful, it must name the money-making property behind it.

Or perhaps not.
Or perhaps not.

So, while the director says one thing – I believe another factor strongly went into influencing the title for The Thing: Studio interference. This happens a lot in movies and happened a ton on this one. For example, one of the greatest criticisms leveled against the 2011 film was the effects. Gone were the brilliant practical effects of the 1982 classic, replaced by cheap, fake-looking CGI. What was the director thinking?

The director was all for practical effects. In fact, here is a look at the original effects for the new movie, before they were all replaced in post-production:

Pretty cool looking (although still nowhere near as bloody as 1982). Yet apparently, for whatever reason, the studio did not feel confident in this look. CGI is all the rage after all. ‘Cause this:


Looks so much better than this:



Also, The Thing (2011) lost its original ending, as the studio felt it was too confusing. The original ending featured many more alien designs, and has been dubbed “the pilot ending” by the director. In case you were wondering, we got “the Tetris ending” in the theatrical cut.

The point is: this movie had more than one master, and sadly that usually never works out in the film’s favor. I also know for a fact the script went through at least one complete rewrite from a scriptwriter whose other work has been.. less than stellar.

From the research I have done it appears that two goals were in mind. The first (from the director and crew) was to create a prequel that paid tribute to everything that makes the Carpenter film fantastic. The second was a bid to update The Thing for modern audiences in the 21st century, without risking grossing audiences out this time.

Nothing risky about this. Audiences love computers!
Nothing risky about this. Audiences love computers!

How did it turn out? The Thing bombed at the box office… again. History repeated itself, at least in that respect. Sadly, I don’t believe the 2011 prequel is destined for the same late recognition as the 1982 original, in part for the abysmal effects. The film is simply nowhere near the level of its predecessor, and I don’t believe it would be even if the effects were left alone. The paranoia isn’t there, the performances aren’t there. It is simply… lesser.

This was a film that started out pure but was then corrupted and taken over by an outside force, and in that respect – the title actually makes sense.