When I was younger I always regarded John Carpenter’s The Thing as Alien’s little, inferior brother. Comparisons between the two are justified – ancient gribblies found by a small, remote team run riot in cramped confines with bloody results. I think I was (not unreasonably) so blown away by Giger’s designs for Alien that Carpenter’s baby paled in comparison. Over the years though I have come to love the slow-building paranoia of Kurt Russell vehicle, the wonderful lighting and the wacky gross-out effects. In the current climate where everything 80s is being deep-core mined, it was no surprise that The Thing was slated for a prequel.
My sister and I braved the suitably Antarctic conditions last weekend to see the new film. We discovered that the title is a big clue – granted it’s a ‘prequel’ in terms of the fictional facts, but essentially it’s a remake of the 1982 movie. The plot, pacing and themes are pretty much identical. That this is a faithful homage is the film’s most endearing feature, and the reason it will surely be forgotten very quickly. It fails on any count of originality and will only satisfy viewers who love the original or have never seen it. Even the swapping of the main character to a woman does not really provide much novelty, as she is so like Ellen Ripley in many ways (pretty but not that pretty, stern and level-headed and ready to sacrifice herself).
There are a few redeeming features. The monster effects are now a very satisfying digital update of the original designs. The heated-wire ‘test’ has been re-thought quite effectively. We get to learn a bit more about the giant ship buried in the ice and this is the film’s most original and exciting sequence. I have always had a problem with alien technology being depicted as current earth technology with a few extra lights and some wacky-looking fonts (Kubrick admirably side-stepped this by revealing very little of the aliens and their kit in 2001). The Thing does a good job of showing us something which looks out-of-this-world, yet artificial and technical.
In the 29 years since the original no one seems to have learned the simple lesson: if you find something cool-looking that’s been dormant for a while, for God's sake don’t thaw it out! That goes for movies too.