Horror Out of Time

Movie audiences needed Howard Hawks’ 1951 film adaptation of The Thing. Society rife with the Red Scare and post-WWII anxieties of outsiders, the story of an alien being stalking Americans fit into the social conscious. The ’80s too as the Cold War ran through popular cinema — John Carpenter’s The Thing was necessary. Paranoia made us evil and our own villains.

But in 2011, slowly recovering from a broken economy and nearly a decade removed from 9/11, finding a place or a purpose for The Thing wasn’t likely. The prequel, a baseless, commercial tale limps along without purpose. That’s where it’s wrong. Not necessarily in fondling the original’s highs, from helicopter crashes to malfunctioning flamethrowers and people burning near a bookcase, but because society didn’t need The Thing.

Suppose it — “it” the only proper pronoun for the shapeless, ever shifting Thing — was meant to stand-in for terrorism. Right wing fears binge on the idea of suicide bombers among us, waiting for their moment. Yet, The Thing prequel doesn’t snatch the opportunity. Here, the theme isn’t senseless and ingrained paranoia. It’s death. This Thing is ambulatory, a stalking killer with insect features and dagger-like spikes for limbs, racking up a Jason Vorhees-like body count. It’s too willing to expose itself, too open and free as opposed to this mysterious aura that might exist inside of us.

If we needed The Thing in the 2010s, it would hate and despise everyone

The Thing even inserts niceties, like a party as the team celebrates their finding of a million year old spaceship (and its occupant) buried in Antarctic ice. Therein lies commercial appeal. Whereas John Carpenter’s Thing never deviated from its vile and off-putting behavior, Norwegians and Americans bond over the creature’s reality. Even if it’s for a few minutes, The Thing believes we’re capable of co-existing, which given political rhetoric now and at the time, couldn’t be more wrong.

If we needed The Thing in the 2010s, it would hate and despise everyone. Yet, we have a hero. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the flamethrower-spewing Ellen Ripley doppelganger, whose own perceptive trust is what saves her. She’s never overcome by terror. Her intellect and cautious eyes see her through, like a social media maven slashing through hokey Facebook memes about birth certificates. Comfortable in formula, but away from what The Thing represented, dating back to John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There?

In many ways, this adaptation, via slender nods and specific tones, pings the original ’50s film. That optimism America needed less than a decade removed from worldwide conflict, where scientific men in uniform packed away cigarettes by the hundreds and saved the world. Because, that’s what they did. But ’50s Thing didn’t celebrate or cherish victory; it’s morose at the death of discovery, depressed by the loss of good men, and ended with bountiful paranoia via the iconic siren call, “Keep watching the skies.” Part sci-fi and UFO culture convention, yes, but certainly not without a nod to shrill air raid sirens calling out an impending nuclear exchange.

Contrasting with 2011’s The Thing, it’s beat. Victory. There’s another movie coming and then we’re all screwed, but leaving the film at night, alone, doesn’t elicit a deep, wounding scare. This Thing didn’t spring from a wrecked economy and didn’t terrorize because it hates; it did so because it’s scared and requires our bodies to return home.

The American who survives becomes both a hero and villain — she’s the human who assaulted a creature which, while disgusting, probably just wants to be left alone. The Thing runs away from us, attacks when approached, and with good reason. We’re pretty terrifying.


Universal’s original Blu-ray was encoded in VC-1. Now with VC-1 a dead codec, Mill Creek’s re-issue comes with AVC. That helps. Grain reproduction is better and definitely stable. No hints of compression filter in, giving The Thing a clean, properly film-like appearance.

In turn, that brings superb detail. Facial definition stands out, as do the gorier moments where, even where digital, the sheer grotesqueness is appreciated. To match an older style (bringing this in line with the ’82 film) cinematography/lenses naturally soften things. Not always, but it’s visible as intended. Still, detail thrives.

A needed Arctic chill descends on this palette. Hearty blues suit the mood as much as the setting. It’s attractive in that sense, with flesh tones maintaining their integrity. While not one for vibrancy, when flames begin begin lighting everything up, those oranges drive spectacle.

Only in black levels does The Thing show a hint of wear. It’s just north of true black for a majority. It’s little cause for alarm as depth holds true. No added noise or other anomaly fills those lesser shadows. And other times, The Thing doesn’t hold back, plus respects shadow detail.


Stellar range takes advantage of this horror setting. What starts with a quiet dialog soon explodes as ice gives way, dropping a truck with a vicious low-end streak. That holds true with jump scares, utilizing the extended volume for punch. Flamethrowers nicely drop into the subwoofer when triggered. Mutants slam down with each step too.

Although only 5.1, the DTS-HD track makes extensive use of surround channels. Smaller creatures scurry around with meticulous placement. Fire crackles in each speaker. Even ambiance when inside vehicles produces a quality effect, whether helicopter rotors or engines. Voices split stereos as needed, making this precise mix a joy.


Other than missing picture-in-picture functionality, Mill Creek ports Universal’s bonuses in total. Nothing is new. Director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman put together a commentary track, extras then flowing into a series of seven deleted scenes running a bit over nine minutes. The Thing Evolved is the general studio making-of and thoughts on making a prequel in the first place. Fire & Ice details the actors on set having way more fun than they should burning stuntmen with flamethrowers.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Thing (2011)
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While suitably vicious and well paired to John Carpenter’s 1982 version, The Thing doesn’t have anything of substance to work with other than commercial values.

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