The Thing (2011) -vs- The Thing (1982)

The Thing -vs- The Thing

The FilmGuruThe Smackdown

Let frozen aliens chill. That pretty much sums up the wisdom I’ve gained from watching three versions of The Thing. Of course, no one in movies ever follows this good advice.

Despite the fact that people from around the world go to Antarctica in the spirit of friendship and scientific cooperation (more or less), in the movies it is usually a setting for Something Bad That Is About to Happen. Like stumbling across a strange, nasty, parasitic extraterrestrial that will hunt everyone across frozen wasteland.

In the first go-round, it was The Thing from Another World in 1951. Three decades later, 1982, it was just The Thing and in the hands of John Carpenter. Another three decades later, 2011, it’s still The Thing, only constructed now to serve as a prequel and not a remake of Carpenter’s cult classic horror movie version.

So, just in time for Halloween, we’re taking a moment to compare a contender that says it can do better against the classic that spawned it. Grab your parka and snow boots and let’s get started.

The Challenger

If you’ve seen the 1982 Carpenter original, you know that the film explores the aftermath of the Norwegian station. Those scenes of the ruined base brought up a lot of unanswered questions. In this 2011 film, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. attempts to answer some of these unanswered questions with a film that is described as a “prelude” to Carpenter’s work.

Thing (2011)

Eric Heisserer’s script follows Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American paleontologist who has been recruited to travel to Antarctica to examine a specimen frozen in the ice. The truth of the discovery is revealed to be alien in origin, but the true surprises come when the frozen visitor from another world breaks free of its icy prison. The station goes on immediate alert to track down the impossible creature, but it may already be too late.

What follows next is to be expected, a variety of horrific encounters that show the clear genetic superiority of the alien thing. There’s blood, carnage and mayhem. People die. But then, if you’ve seen the original film, you should already guess how this one ends.

The Defending Champion

John Carpenter’s The Thing was not a critical or box office success. Yet, it has survived, mostly on the basis of its jaw-dropping creature effects and the fact that it comes up year after year on notable “Most Scary Movie” top ten lists.

Thing (1982)

Set in Antarctica, the story involves an American research team that finds its isolated base invaded by an alien organism that has migrated from a nearby Norwegian station. Kurt Russell plays R.J. MacReady, a helicopter pilot. When the alien finally reveals itself, it’s MacReady who quickly takes charge in the battle for survival of our species. The stellar cast is rounded out by other notable performances, including Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Donald Moffat.

Bill Lancaster’s screenplay is faithful to John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story, “Who Goes There?” It takes all the loneliness and isolation, and couples it with the fear of the unknown. Add to the mix some cutting edge special effects by Rob Bottin and his crew, as well as makeup effects legend Stan Winston. It’s not surprising that it has become a cult classic.

The Scorecard

Despite the horror and gorefest the alien creature brings, The Thing is a study in psychology. The isolation of the setting and the solitude of the human experience are utilized to create a tight story. Like the 1956 film Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Thing explores the sense of individual identity and how we define our sense of self. This was true of the Campbell short story and the Carpenter film.

So why remake it?

A cynic might say that in this day and age it’s all about money. It’s easier to reach a built-in audience with a product they recognize than find a new audience. But let’s not forget that Carpenter was, in fact, creating a remake when he helmed The Thing back in 1982.

The first film based on Campbell’s short story was the 1951 Howard Hawks science fiction classic The Thing from Another World. In the spirit of science fiction films of the ’50s, the psychology of the short story was dropped in favor of a big monster more like a vegetable version of Frankenstein.

What Carpenter brought back into his version of The Thing was the frightening isolation. He also returned the idea of the alien replicating the appearance and mind of anything it meets. In short, he took a dated science fiction film and created a frightening horror film.

Now Heijningen is taking Carpenter’s film and giving it one thing it lacked: a beginning. The 1982 version of The Thing opens with a vintage flying saucer buzzing the Earth’s atmosphere. It looks sorely dated these days. It isn’t until later in the film that we discover the alien craft has been frozen in the ice for 100,000 years.

With the 2011 version of The Thing, the story begins with the discovery of the crashed UFO. The tale is not what happened before, but what is happening now. And add to the excitement some cutting-edge CGI and you have the makings of something new.

The downside is that Heijningen’s The Thing is at times too similar to Carpenter’s story. The names have been changed and some of the characters swapped around, but some scenes seem lifted right out of Carpenter’s script.

So is the 2011 film a remake or something else?

The Decision

What the 2011 prelude offers is a very similar story to the original, but with the twist of putting it first in the timeline. By doing so, Heijningen creates an homage rather than an ordinary remake. Details in Carpenter’s film that were mere set dressing to show the carnage of the Norwegian station become central plot points in the 2011 film. How did that hole get in the wall? We see it. Why is that axe embedded in the wall and left there? We find out.

In the end, it comes down to why the film was made. Carpenter wanted to make a horror film. Heijningen wanted to create a better one. He raised the stakes by fitting his new film into Carpenter’s legacy. And it works.

I’ve always hated remakes because they suggest, incorrectly, that old films are not worth watching. The 2011 film doesn’t just make a good scary movie, it encourages viewers to revisit the 1982 classic. For that reason, The Thing (2011) wins this Smackdown.

15 Comments on The Thing (2011) -vs- The Thing (1982)


  1. This is the first time I have ever been to you site and it will be the last. Sadly your opinion that The Thing (2011) is better than The Thing (1982) is myopic and shallow. Carpenter did not remake, precede or pay homage to anything but the original story (thank you for mentioning that). He worked to create an original work based on the story. You failed to mention the cinematic qualities of the 1982 film and the acting. The 2011 film is nowhere near as accomplished in either of these categories. You can pause the 1982 version at any point and it is a perfectly framed and lighted picture. In addition the 1982 film is the height of a practical effects genre. Neither before nor since has a film accomplished so many (un)believable effects without CG or conventional animation (save the stop motion sequence of the Blair Monster). In Baseball a player enters the HOF not only when they do well but because they had a significant impact on the game during the era in which they played. It is easy to see that The Thing (1982) had an impact on film and even society (e.g. AIDS dilemma) that The Thing (2011) did not and will not ever have.


    • The author of the article even mentions that The Thing (1982) is on top lists for scary movies. The 2011 movie will never be on these lists.


      • Even the Poll on your page has the 1982 movie at 70%!


  2. It’s good to see science fiction fans battle it out over these two great movies. I have watched them both many times and sometimes the 2011 1st and the 1982 right after. The more I do this the more I find differences. Carpenter’s version really focuses on suspicion to the boiling point which may be one of the best movies ever to do just that. It might just be one of the best 200 movies ever made. Imagine how it would be where you could trust anyone and could die in such a horrible way. And to realize like McReady that there is no going home-no way out. the fate of the world is only assured by yours and the death of everyone there.
    in the 2011 version the monster is taking itself right at them more so. Notice the monsters in the two movies. Kate(Mary Elizabeth Winstead) really develops into a tough, McReady comparative that realizes that this is something that can’t get out to the world and will destroy mankind if it does. I thought Winstead did a great job in this role. I am glad we have both movies. The 2011 truly is a prequel to Carpenter version. Somebody asked me one time how could I stand watching that movie with all that gobble dee goop. I just told them, It’s the “THING” You should expect that.


  3. Seriously….not in any universe can the 2011 version be anywhere near comparable to the 1982 version. One point you sight is that the 2011 version makes you want to revisit the 1982 version, this is incorrect.

    The 1982 version is THE ONLY reason I bothered with the 2011 version after the prolifically negative reviews. Reviews can’t be gone on as a definative opinion of course but when so many are similar in panning the film for basics like characterization, script and acting then for me it’s going to be a problem.

    Now I found the 2011 version to not be as bad as made out BUT…..in no way is this even close to the all around quality of the Carpenter version.

    I do want to thank you for this article though and the option to compare and discuss 🙂


  4. The 2011 version of the Thing had a great story and kept up with the scenes from the 1982 movie but the only sore point is the way the creature changed. It was so fast. In the novella and the 1982 version it changed slowly. That was its weakness. I thought the Carpenter version was also a mystery. And you have to see the movie at least twice to see the way Palmer looks and how he tries to make everyone else look suspicious. But he knows he’s about to be found out with the blood test. But he waits because he’s vulnerable when he changes cause it takes some time. In the2011 version stuff came flying out it was just too fast. But the ending with the ear ring was the best.


  5. For my 3D class I have to make a comparaison between two SFX movies and I chose “The Thing (1982)” and “The Thing (2011) telling myself “All right, it’s going to be Prosthetics VS CGI…… but then I saw THIS video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBzpT7VmSaU

    I was like “WAIT WHAAAAT ??? I thought it was all CG !!!”
    So for those who think The Thing (2011) has too much CGI, think again, ’cause StrudioADI made an awesome job for the creature far more precise and detailed than the 1982’s creatures who, even if they were awesome, hadn’t the fluidity of the 2011 animatronics.

    I believe that in the mass of CG glouton movies, some of them still use a lot traditional techniques to create epic SFX, like The Thing, Prometheus and The Hobbit.


  6. Does anyone know of a site or link were we can discuss things we have noticed in both the 2011 prequel and the 1982 version where there is some inconsistencies and possibly a 3rd thing movie?


    • Sure Darrel, we can discuss it right here, or on the Smackdown Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/moviesmackdown). What inconsistencies did you notice?


  7. you have to be kidding me!
    here i was expecting the thing 2011 to scare the hell out of me as carpenters version did.
    everything was darkened to the shithouse and they threw in a bitch or two in to the mix to keep the poofters and feminists happy!
    most disappointing compared to 1982!


  8. I so have to disagree with your verdict. John Carpenters version was so much creepier and scarier. The lack of CGI in the original makes the creatures far more realistic and believable (computer generated monsters dont look or move as naturally as good old special fx, they look too cartoony or video gamey)plus the fact that the newer one used the music to create tension instead of feeling like you’re actalually there in the camp like the original does. I enjoyed the 2011 version surprisingly but I fell it missed the boat until the end when they cue up the originals creepy soundtrack.


    • I absolutely agreed with you Craig! Because I think in my opinion the real special makeup effects, puppetry special effects, and the stop-motion special effects are 90X more realistic and horrifying then the stupid phony CGI fx. And the hollywood special effects guys really oughta go back into doing the real makeup special effects, puppetry FX, and do a lot of air-bladders special effects.


    • Hopefully that many of new talented horror movie directors and producers will soon make from seven to ten new Sequels about… “THE THING.” But they should just take their time doing dozens of many real creepy special makeup effects, do twenty to thirty of the bladder-FX for the transformations, and do many of the horrifying special monster creature effects; NOT the cartoonish CGI fx, only the old 1980’s fashion of REAL MONSTER SPECIAL-FX.


  9. I just saw the 2011 version, a couple of weeks after I saw the 1982 version. I have to say, I don’t think i have seen anything so frightening in my life! and, through it all, it was very nice to see parts taken from the 1982 version(eg. the block of ice and the merged faces). it had me saying”omg, that was in the first movie”.and explained most of what happened aqt the start of the 1982 version. I think it was a very well made prequel, and very clever.


  10. Just spent a few hours with Alec Gillis at his ADI workshop. They did the creature effects for The Thing (2011) and had all kind of models and suits. Might’ve been good if I’d seen the film first, but now I definitely have to!

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