• The Thing (Mill Creek Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Universal Studios
    Released on: October 29th, 2019.
    Director: Matthijs van Heijningen
    Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
    Year: 2011
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    The Thing – Movie Review:

    Matthijs van Heijningen’s 2011 version of The Thing is, on paper at least, a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name, a movie that’s pretty much regarded as one of the best horror films of the early eighties and which holds a special place in the heart of many a genre buff. The problem with this ‘prequel’ however is that it tells basically the same story, albeit without the interesting characters that made the first one work.

    When the movie begins, a team of scientists accidently discover an alien spacecraft under the ice in the arctic tundra. Lead by Doctor Sandor Halverson (Ulrich Thomsen), they recruit pretty young American scientist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help them out – it seems that in addition to the ship, the team has also discovered a survivor trapped in the ice. So everyone heads out to the research station in the middle of frozen nowhere and before you know it, the ‘survivor’ has escaped from his icy tomb and is running around the area. The catch? Well if you’ve seen the first movie you’ll know that the alien can take on the shape of anything that it touches, meaning that it can impersonate any living thing that it comes into contact with.

    As all involved try to survive and keep their wits about them, Lloyd figures out that the creature can’t replicate anything that isn’t organic, meaning fillings or metal plates will be left around. Using this clue, she’s able to convince her co-workers to try and sort this out logically rather than just go after everybody with a flamethrower.

    This film isn’t horrible. It’s isn’t a complete disaster and it actually does do kind of an interesting job of paying a few respectful nods to Carpenter’s film, itself a remake of the old Howard Hawks’ film, The Thing From Another World. The problem is that aside from a few visual hints to keep the fans of the 1982 version happy, it doesn’t tell a different story. It’s all well and good to call this a prequel but it’s essentially taking us down the same road Carpenter and company did thirty years ago with loads of CGI effects in place of practical ones and with a lot less tension, suspense and paranoia. As such, it winds up being a film that relies on jump scares more than anything else, which is all well and good but it leaves very little lasting impression of any kind.

    The other major problem with the film, aside from a couple of sequences where the CGI is flat out awful, is the absence of an interesting character for us to latch on to. While it might not be fair to compare Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate Lloyd to Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady, the very nature of the film dictates that we have to. Where Russell’s character was an interesting, weary, bitter, grizzled man Winstead’s character, while easy on the eyes at least, is hollow. That same hollow quality applies to everyone in the cast. There just aren’t any interesting characters for us to latch on to here, and while it’s all well and good to pepper your cast with ‘real Norwegians’ (something boasted about in the extra features), when you don’t give those Norwegians or your female lead any interesting character traits you wind up with characters the audience doesn’t care about. And that more or less sums up the film – you just don’t wind up caring about it. It’ll entertain you for an hour and forty minutes and it’ll make you jump in a few spots, but when it’s over you won’t think about it afterwards and it’s not likely you’ll ever have a burning desire to sit through it ever again.

    The Thing – Blu-ray Review:

    The Thing looks great on Blu-ray, presented here in an AVC encoded 2.40.1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc, with the feature given 29GBs of space. Colors are reproduced very nicely and skin tones look nice and natural (CGI sequences not withstanding). Detail is strong throughout and black levels stay nice and deep. The film is given a pretty healthy bit rate here, compression artifacts are never really a problem. There’s good texture and black levels are quite good as well. The previous Universal Blu-ray used a VC-1 encode, so this one appears to be difference but there isn’t a massive difference in picture quality.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is pretty much reference quality stuff, offering up moments of striking silence with only ambient background noise just as effectively as the more bombastic moments that are scattered throughout the film. From the opening sequence in which the vehicle falls through the ice to the final where the flamethrowers are going full tilt, this is an aggressive mix with plenty of great directional effects that also offers up crisp, clear dialogue, properly balanced levels and a great sounding score. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman. There’s a nice lack of pretension here, these guys simply sit back and talk about making the movie, sharing stories about the outdoor locations shoots in rural British Columbia to the scenes that were shot in Toronto. They discuss the casting, the effects and story revisions and do it all with a reasonable sense of humor as well.

    From there, dig into the two brief featurettes, the first of which is the fourteen-minute The Thing Evolves which actually does a good job of showing us how this prequel ties into the Carpenter film and shows how a mix of practical and CGI effects were used to bring the various incarnations of the creature to life. The second featurette, the five-minute Fire & Ice, shows what went into creating all of the scenes with the flamethrowers and what the stuntmen had to go through to make this all work.

    Rounding out the extras are seven deleted scenes running nine-minutes in length, none of which really add all that much to the movie. A trailer for the feature (which was NOT on the Universal disc), menus and chapter selection finish off the supplements. The U-Control/picture-in-picture track that was included on the Universal disc has not been ported over to this release, however. Props to Mill Creek for coming up with some awesome cover art for this release as well.

    The Thing – The Final Word:

    So, the 2011 version of The Thing has come and gone. How does it all shape up? The film calls itself a prequel but just barely adds to Carpenter’s original film – it definitely feels more like a remake. The characters are flat and one dimensional and the CGI work unconvincing and vapid – but the movie is entertaining. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch but it goes by quickly enough and offers up a few admittedly effective jump scares in place of the original’s claustrophobia. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray presentation is quite good, offering the film up in nice shape, with solid audio and with most of the extras from Universal’s older Blu-ray release carried over.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Thing Blu-ray screen caps!