SIX REASONS WHY THE THING PREQUEL IS BETTER THAN JOHN CARPENTER’S 1982 FILM

I know. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. But what can you do? I might have got a few of the finer details wrong because I watched it in Kinepolis in Northern Brussels which is basically Cinema Hell, knee-deep in smelly popcorn and mewling children. And of the dozen or so people in my audience, at least half of those were adolescents suffering from ADD who chattered loudly and kept running in and out of the cinema. So it was quite difficult to concentrate. But please be aware there are

MAJOR SPOILERS HERE!
 (and thanks to Phelim O’Neill for the mouth-chests.) 

THE EXPOSITION

Hello, my name is MEW and I’m going to be the heroine of your film, which is why there’s a scene near the beginning (I don’t think it’s in Antarctica, but I missed that bit because of the adolescents with ADD) where I’m doing palaeontology-type things. It’s so you know who I am. And that’s what was missing in the 1982 film – I don’t think you ever got properly introduced to those guys, they never ever actually said Hi, I’m a chopper pilot, or Hi, I’m a dog handler, or a geologist, or radio operator or whatever; you just see them doing whatever it is they do, so that’s probably a bit hard for audiences to grasp, they need to be told stuff like that, over and over again. And you definitely need to know I’m a palaeontologist, because otherwise you might mistake me for a schoolgirl. Yes, I’m that young. Hey, I could almost be just out of kindergarten! But be thankful you’ve got me instead of some old woman who might be better qualified and have more field experience, but who hey, wouldn’t be nearly as HOT and appeal to the young male demographic.

Also we get introduced to Bad Scientist Guy (a descendant of the Bad Scientist in Christian Nyby’s 1951 The Thing From Another World who wears a roll-neck sweater and wants to communicate with the creature, instead of killing it). Bad Scientist Guy says, “I need a palaeontologist.” Which is what I am, I think we may have established that already, but we should probably establish it again because it’s a difficult concept. And I say something like, “I need to know a little more about this,” and I think there’s a bit more explanation here in case spectators came in late and missed the earlier scene where some Norwegian guys find something in the ice in Antarctica, and so we set everything up again and hint that Bad Scientist is really excited about it. You can’t explain these things too many times, especially if there are adolescents with ADD running all over your cinema.

And then we get the journey to the camp in the helicopter. Just so we know these guys are helicopter pilots. I mean, the 1982 film jumped straight in without any of this useful scene-setting. And where’s the fun in that?

THE FEMALE CHARACTERS

The 1982 film didn’t have any female characters at all (unless you count Kurt Russell’s computer chess game which had a female voice) so obviously that had to change. And I know it’s 1982 and all that, but audiences like their female characters not just to be cute but also to be smart and kickass, like Ellen Ripley in the Alien films. I know in Alien it was established early on that she was second-in command on the Nostromo and anyway, that was the Future, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t retrofit those non-sexist attitudes on to a bunch of manly Norwegians in 1982 who have been holed up in an isolated place without sex.

I realise that in real life, the best-case scenario would be them expecting me to make the tea all the time, and the worst-case scenario would be the sort of unpleasant misogyny routinely dished out to the heroine of George Romero’s Day of the Dead. And it’s quite likely at least one of those guys, back in 1982, would normally have tried to feel me up or made sexist or condescending or even threatening remarks. But hey, we’ve got a good old-fashioned monster mash-up here, so why worry? These men will realise straightaway that even I look like a 15-year old schoolgirl I’m actually very capable and smart and know better than they do, so every time I say anything they’ll all shut up and pay attention, and they’ll take everything I say very seriously, even if it does sound outlandish, because I’m so smart it takes me only a fraction of the time it took Blair and the others to work out what was going on in the 1982 film, and so the rugged Norwegian guys will be happy to let me take over as a leader and order them around when there are Things on the loose and people start killing each other. Put a flamethrower in my hands (which I immediately know how to use even though I am, as has already been explained, a palaeontologist) and I, MEW, am a perfectly acceptable substitute for Kurt Russell. Even though I may look like a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

Oh there’s a weepy Norwegian woman in there too. Just in case you might be tempted to think I’m a  token female or anything.

THE MALE CHARACTERS

The male characters in the 1982 film were far too dissimilar. And where’s the fun in that? Surely it’s much cleverer to have them all look identical, blond and bearded and with no discernible personalities, thus making a pertinent point about human beings all being the same even before they get Thinged. For a while, I thought I could tell Bad Scientist Guy apart from the others…. but no, he’s blond and bearded too. Even Joel Edgerton, the only other cast member apart from me, MEW, who might conceivably be recognisable to people who watch a lot of films, is kind of blond and bearded. Thank God for the Afro-American helicopter pilot, who sticks out a mile. And me, MEW, of course. I stick out a mile too. Even though the men immediately accept me as one of them.

THE THING
In the 1982 film, the Thing tended to lie doggo, trying to pass for human until attacked, when it erupted into ever more elaborate configurations to try and protect itself – dogheads splitting open when the other dogs growled at it, mouths opening up in stomachs to swallow the hands that were assaulting it with a defillibrator, legs extruding from a severed head to it could run away and hide. But where’s the fun in that? The 2011 Thing sprouts mouth-chests at the drop of a hat, even when it’s not being directly threatened. Then it chases people down corridors like the psychopath in a slasher movie. Then it sneaks around a kitchen like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Then, evidently having absorbed some Alien DNA, it sprouts sharp probosci on which to impale people, or sheds Facehugger-type appendages that drop on them from above. You see? MUCH more fun.

THE STUPIDITY

Oh yes, we’re in Antarctica, so I think I’ll just pop outside and wave at that helicopter WITHOUT PUTTING MY COAT ON. And oh, any one of you could be a Thing, so hey, let me just STICK MY HEAD IN ALL YOUR MOUTHS TO SEE IF YOU HAVE FILLINGS. Because, you know, Things can’t reproduce metal or something, though they don’t appear to have any problems with clothes or zips or whatever. And oh look here’s an alien spaceship embedded in the ice, I think I’ll just POP DOWN AND EXAMINE IT FROM REALLY CLOSE QUARTERS. And it doesn’t matter if I fall into one of those open flaps into the ship because I can easily find my way out again before it takes off, or its engines ignite and burn me to a crisp or anything.

COPYCAT BITS & CONTINUITY
This is supposed to be a prequel, not a remake. But why think of new stuff when the old stuff will do just as well? The melting ice block from the 1951 film. The malfunctioning flamethrower. The characters who are treated with suspicion because, logically, they shouldn’t have been able to survive either the cold, or a helicopter crash, or both. The icky noise that alerts a character to someone going full-on Thing just behind him or her. Testing all the characters, one by one, for incipient signs of Thinginess. The poorly character who turns out to be not as poorly as you think. 

You know when the Norwegians blow a big hole in the ice with their thermal charges? Well, none of that matches up. And how about when the Thing wakes up suddenly, as you do, and leaps out of the block of ice the Norwegians have taken back to their camp? Here we really get to show the Thing’s uncanny abilities when it leaves a perfect oblong hole in the ice it has just leapt out of

And oh look, here’s a husky! Suddenly leaping out of a window! Now where did he come from? How come no-one had used the dogs to try to get away? Or the snowcats, come to that – there seem to be loads of them around. In fact, these guys seem fairly mobile.

Here’s a thought for screenwriters: why not work on your characters a bit? (And that includes the Thing itself.) Don’t just have things happen because you’ve seen them happening in another film.

That’s not all, I could write about the CGI or the way no-one really looks cold the way the did in the 1982 film. But I can’t be bothered to go on. I’ve already wasted too much time on this Thing.

ps I liked John Carpenter’s The Thing so much I said so in a book which in 1997 was published in the BFI Modern Classics series.

Me writing a couple of years ago in the Guardian about the original critical reception of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Advertisements

36 thoughts on “SIX REASONS WHY THE THING PREQUEL IS BETTER THAN JOHN CARPENTER’S 1982 FILM

  1. Perfect oblong hole in the ice, eh? Obviously it absorbed some IKEA cupboard unit DNA before crash-landing on Earth.

  2. I'm sure Universal was happy to let Carpenter cast his mate Kurt Russell in the 1982 version because of his age and not because he was hot, male movie star or anything.

  3. Kurt Russell wasn't the first choice, as I remember, plus, come on, Carpenter pretty much took a risk on him putting him in stuff (and what's wrong with putting your friends in movies?)

    He wasn't that big of a star back then (if you could ever really consider him a big star), and his face is obscured by a massive beard for most of it, so… Yeah.

    RARGH RARGH BAD COMMENTS ABOUT A GUY I THINK IS NICE THAT I WILL NEVER MEET RAAARGH

  4. I love Kurt Russell. He is the Thinking Woman's action man. I have no complaints about him in The Thing AT ALL. He wasn't that big a star in 1982, but he had lashings of charisma, and was entirely credible as a maverick chopper pilot.

  5. I have decided to go on a film-viewer's strike and refuse to see this prequel. It's extreme action but I can think of no alternative.

  6. Anne, this may be my favorite quote of the year (and I've edited it a bit, so apologies): “Here's a thought for screenwriters: Don't just have things happen because you've seen them happening in another film.” That says so much about what's wrong with mainstream movies.

  7. Some of your points I agree with but others you seem to be making for no other reason than to make the film sound rubbish.

    How come no-one had used the dogs to try to get away? Or the snow cats, come to that >
    I only saw one dog, were their others? Also they had quarantined themselves – and really where would they go to – they are in Antarctica?

    And how about when the Thing wakes up suddenly, as you do – erm are you assuming you have the same physiology, strength, instincts as the an alien? Personally I struggle to get out of bed but you know an alien might not…

    Thing sprouts mouth-chests at the drop of a hat, even when it's not being directly threatened. – erm its constantly under threat and it knows this (you have to assume its intelligent it has a space ship though to be fair many stupid people can drive…) and it makes sense for it to try and kill people when it has them alone in a cupboard – mouth chest or not. Isn't the best scenario for its survival to wipe out everyone there, then looking human make your way back to civilisation? After all no-one would believe in aliens.

    Don't just have things happen because you've seen them happening in another film.

    I think you might need to follow your own advice here.

    Don't just write things because you've seen them written in other film critiques. Why?

    Because your observations about the lead totally missed the mark – where you even watching the same film? I didn't think she was in any way hot – and neither did my friends. Also you never saw her semi naked (as you did Ripley in Alien) or do or say anything to make you think she in any way sexual or that she looked like a 15 year old school girl.

    Some things I do agree on – Bad scientist guy – similar story to the same bad corporation guy we had in alien/aliens etc

    They shouldn't have been able to survive either the cold – why? They were wearing snow gear and were used to living and operating in those climates – they lived there so why shouldn't they have the necessary gear and know how to survive?

    And then we get the journey to the camp in the helicopter. Just so we know these guys are helicopter pilots. > personally I liked the science setting and getting to know the characters it gave me empathy towards them.

    One hand you complain that they are pointing out the obvious then in the next paragraph you are whinging because they didn't show you the science where she asked one of the crew how to pull a trigger on a flame-thrower.

    Things can't reproduce metal or something, though they don't appear to have any problems with clothes or zips or whatever. – I don't think they replicate clothing wouldn't there be plenty of clothing around the base that they'd just find and put on?

    It’s easy to criticise and pull things apart but at the end of the day isn't it all about being entertained?

    Couple of questions.

    As someone that has been taken over by the Thing – do they not realise they have been taken over? It seems not as they seem in real pain when the transformation is happening and they turn – as they are usually screaming in pain and generally looking put out.

    At the end of the film – while the woman is being attacked by the thing – if the other guy left is also the thing why didn't they gang up together and kill the woman?

    Also why didn't the thing spit out the grenade but instead prance around for what seemed like an age – do they really dislike metal that much?

    Argument here about whether the man at the end she flambéed was actually the thing or a man – I'm sure he had no ear ring.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the film – I thought it would be quite poor compared to the original masterpiece but I actually enjoyed it.

  8. Simon D – thanks for your comment, and fair points. I live in hope, and really wanted to like the film, but found it disappointing and sloppily conceived. I know it's all about being entertained – but I'm afraid I wasn't. There was not one plot development, line of dialogue or idea that I'd not seen been before – and done better – elsewhere, many times. Maybe my standards are higher than yours? Or maybe I've just been around longer and seen more films like this? Not saying that's a particularly good or marvellous thing – it's just a fact. And I'm old enough to know that in the early 1980s a woman as young as Winstead would NOT have been listened to, let alone taken seriously, in a virtually all-male setting – especially one as testosterone-filled as an Antarctic base where the men already knew each other. I think the film-makers could have done something interesting with this – as George Romero did in Day of the Dead, or maybe (as you suggest) have the men ganging up against her – but instead they simply chose to ignore it, which to me was just not feasible and made the scenes in which the men all shut up and listened to her implausible. To me, this is just symptomatic of the way the film-makers just didn't bother to think anything through. Ditto the manifestations of the Thing itself, which seemed arbitrary and illogical. Out of interest, have you seen Carpenter's 1982 film?

    But I do take issue with your saying “Don't just write things because you've seen them written in other film critiques.” I saw this film in Belgium, long before it had come out in the UK, and even then – as is my policy – I went out of my way NOT to read anything on the subject before watching and writing about it. Please provide examples of the reviews you think I've copied.

  9. I'm also somewhat jaded and live and breath horror films (hello! it's @bowendesign 😛 ), but I enjoyed this marmite movie despite myself. Some of the issues others have had I found somewhat ambiguous ie. the thing turning in the 'copter knew they were landing and possibly about to find out. I could even gloss over the somewhat unimaginitive thing-maws. Even thinking about it they could've been way more creepy if it didn't (and I'll agree on this after some thought) thing-out illogically and just ejected tentacles and dribbled disturbing yellow/green goo on people.

    But despite all the niggles I'm even suprised it came out and is as extreme as it is. We live in a time where movies like The Thing are both incredibly unpopular and when Hollywood hates anything that goes too far. It's the most weirdly insane Hollywood gore movie released in quite some time. For that I have to give it a tiny bit of respect outside of its remit as a slightly standard horror.

    But having read the changes the studio forced upon the writer and director I do yearn for what could've been – a slow-burn movie that delved into more character and use of physical non-plasticky effects.

    So, for me, a bit of a wasted effort, that I would've done differently, but I still enjoyed myself. Maybe some plucky soul will leak the original cut. It must exist somewhere!

  10. I too was intrigued with what the screenwriter had to say (here's the link for anyone who hasn't seen it – http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/news/26758 ) and find it interesting that his original screenplay did indeed seem to address many of the points that annoyed me in the film, only for changes to be imposed after test screenings. TEST SCREENINGS FFS – who needs them? If you try to please all the people all the time you just end up with pablum. Having said which, I take your point about the prequel being more extreme and imaginative than most standard Hollywood horror fare nowadays. I guess the Carpenter film is a hard act to follow, and even though I tried not to have impossible expectations, I'm sure that if I'd come to this film without having seen the 1982 one I would have thought more highly of it.

  11. At the end of my first week at university, Winter 1982, I went with a friend to a local cinema and saw John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. Nearly thirty years later I can remember the feelings of genuine dread and disquiet I felt as well as the moments of sheer terror. The sled dog ‘reveal’ was horrifying. The poor guys tied to their chairs while Palmer erupted into ‘Not Palmer’ was beyond words like exciting or gripping or intense. The film was an amazing emotional experience that was deeply thrilling and I still talk about it as one of the most memorable of my cinema going experiences. Indeed, apart from a single viewing of ‘The Exorcist’ (which I’ve not had the guts to watch again – sorry Dr Kemode) I’ve never been as genuinely scared shitless at the movies as I was when I first saw ‘The Thing’.

    I think we have to take it as read that this prequel was unlikely to match the Carpenter version. The ‘Thingness’ of the Thing itself is already very familiar to us. Doing a prequel at the Norwegian base was only ever likely to fill in a few blanks in the story. My expectations were not high and I went to the cinema last November thinking I would enjoy the connections with Carpenter’s and see if the new guys were able to generate any of the original’s sense of dread. Your point that, “if I'd come to this film without having seen the 1982 one I would have thought more highly of it” is probably true. I overheard other audience members at the prequel screening saying they were very tense so it did seem to work. Blushing with embarrassment, I’ll admit that I was entertained and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I take onboard all of your criticisms above and agree that the prequel fails in these respects. It is disappointing that this isn’t an intelligent movie. It does have the horrid mark of ‘Hollywood’ upon it. But I still enjoyed it as a schlocky return to Antartica and a 1950s monster movie sensibility. I love monster movies. I bet you do too. Come on, tell me one thing you liked. How about the moment the stumpy horrid Norwegian thing fused its face to it’s victim. Didn’t it make you think of Copper’s question to MacReady, “Is that a man in there?” There must have been some pleasure to be made by references like the axe in the door or the big empty ice block or the suicide. The squelchy reveal of the Norwegian woman or the face rupturing of the guy on the helicopter were quite good. Weren’t they? Come on Ms Billson. Did you like any of it? A critic in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ pointed out that the thing is no respecter of human anatomy. The monsters were great.

  12. In the special features there are some very interesting discussions of the prosthetic and animatronic devices used to create things like the two face and the malevolent forearm and we get to have a good look at them. They are very like Rob Bottin’s creations and have a pleasing physicality. I don’t understand why the final cut of the film seems to have used almost entirely CGI monsters that look ‘soggy’ and cartoonish at times.

    I suppose they key difference between the two films is that Carpenter was able to provoke terror and disquiet while the new version was mainly about enjoying, as Mr Bowen suggests above, a jar of Marmite or some other minor nourishing snack. Significantly, the one moment in the prequel when the hair on the back of my neck stood on end occurred during the end credits sequence when Ennio Morricone’s pulsing electronic score started-up as the two Norwegians set-off after that darned dog.

    I have come to your discussion quite late but the Blu-ray version has just been released here in Sydney and I’ve been able to see the film a few more times (twice in a row in a single sitting in fact!) and watch all the special features, extended scenes etc etc. You may be horrified to learn that they are also marketing the Blu-ray (I desperately want to correct that spelling of BLUE!) as a double pack with Carpenter’s film. I wonder what an intelligent, critically thinking viewer would make of it if their first experience of both movies was to watch the prequel first and then Carpenter’s? There would be some narrative logic in the creatures’ behaviour: it is awoken by a drill bit inserted somewhere nasty and is mightily pissed off; it starts going about murdering it’s assailants in a very open way; this approach fails so it goes off to be more stealthy at the American base. But I know I am sounding like an apologist for a so-so film attaching itself in a vulgar, thing-like way, to a brilliant one. But I still enjoyed it. I guess I’m just a middle aged fan boy who loves his monster movies. I must try to be more discerning, I know.

    Thank you for your kind response to my random Tweets and for your lovely BFI monograph.

  13. Thanks for taking the trouble to post so thoughtfully. Did you read the comment above that I posted on December 9th? I find it quite difficult to think of things in The Thing prequel that I liked because, for me, the film fell at the first hurdle, which was basic screenplay – things were inserted not because they made sense or because characters really would behave that way in that situation, but because the film-makers had already seen something like it in Carpenter's film (or other films) and just wanted to reproduce the effect without doing any of the groundwork to make it work.

    Though MEW was miscast (too young! – see above) I thought she did a decent job, though none of the other actors had much of an opportunity to distinguish themselves. I should emphasise that I'm not biased against sequels/prequels/remakes per se, and indeed have enjoyed several that many others have not (eg Ghostbusters 2, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Iron Man 2, Alien: Resurrection, 28 Weeks Later etc). So if I'd seen ANYTHING at all I'd liked in The Thing prequel, I would have grabbed on to it and hugged it with all my might.

    I liked that it wasn't played for laughs.

    I hated the CGI. Thought it just looked awful and neutralised what might have been some imaginative ideas had the effects not been digital. I just can't take effects like that seriously.

    Unfortunately, though I am VERY susceptible to fear and tension, I can't remember feeling either at any point during the film. Mostly what I felt was a sort of deadening tedium as the plot went through motions that were either entirely predictable or just total missteps (the monster behaving like a velociraptor in the kitchen). I really didn't care about things being put into position for the Carpenter film; I found the two films so different in quality that it was hard for me to think of them in the same context.

    There. I think I've already expounded more energy on the prequel than I want to. I actually don't think it's an interesting enough film to give as much consideration as I've already given it. I can't even be bothered to work out in any more detail where I think they went wrong – I would rather apply my energy towards analysing something I enjoy, or which challenges me in some way.

    Anyhow, thanks again everyone here for taking the trouble to post your thoughts – much appreciated.

  14. Fair enough. Yes, I did read the other posts and I think you are quite right. Overall the prequel was a missed opportunity. However, It will become one of my guilty pleasures. Love, love, love some of those monsters. Tragic, I know. 🙂

  15. Hey!

    Usually I dislike remakes. However I rather enjoyed this one. Let me explain: It seems many people just abuse remakes because they're 'purists' who feel nothing can replace the original; much like people who believe books to be greater than their film adaptations. Ideally, I agree and believe that I am a 'purist' and that originals are superior due to the fact they are where the idea began. It's like a painting. Once it's done once it can never be reproduced exactly the same.

    My verdict on this movie however is different. Indeed it doesn't explain how The Thing can mimic clothes. I assumed that because clothes are made from fibres which are organic (plants, cotton etc.) then that is how that one is pulled off. The singular dog that runs off at the end of the movie is the imitated dog that is supposedly 'eaten' earlier on in the movie. There is only one dog and the thing doesn't eat anything. The main problem people have with this movie is the fact it's stereotypical market crap due to the CGI. It's almost as if people the greatest thing about 'The Thing' was the practical affects. It wasn't the greatest thing. If anything it was the creature (the idea, not the appearance) and plot which made it a success.

    This all having been said I originally dissaproved. I then saw the film however and realised that the CGI had it's own appeals. It allowed things that would've been impossible with practical affects. The film should be respected and embraced as it refreshes and expands Carpenters original universe and pays tribute to it. All the allusions to the original film make the film brilliant as it cleverly comes full circle: The axe in the door, the man with the slit throat, the two-headed thing outdoors, lars and the dog, the broken ice etc. I was hugely satisfied by the film as it kept one of my all time favourite movies going. It's an incredible film (the original) and the new one is just a little bit less awesome (because I too am a purist) but I was very relieved it expanded beyond my expectations of the standard remake. After all, it wasn't a remake, it was a prequel. I followed this film from it's early development and it was generated just to earn some money, it was done so they could explain the opening camp events of 'The Thing'. I would love to have someone I know watch the story chronologically (prequel then original, first time) and hear their verdict.

    I love The Thing and was happy to have it revisited.

  16. Thanks for an interesting post, Anonymous. In fact, it's posts like yours that make me question if I was perhaps a little unfair on the film. But then I remember I did go out of my way to avoid trailers, pre-publicity and general fan comment in an effort to watch without prejudice. This is becoming increasingly hard to do in the modern age, but I find my enjoyment of a film tends to increase in proportion to the amount of advance information I avoid.

    I also know I went in with high hopes; I was primed to like it. I was ready to go where the story took me. In fact, what disappointed me most was not the CGI (though there was that) nor the “references” to John Carpenter's film (I couldn't care less about those) but the quality of the storytelling and characterisation, which unfortunately I think failed at the most basic level.

    To try and persuade you that I was not approaching this film from a “purist” perspective, perhaps you may be interested in THE PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY TEST, a blog in which I stick up for several films hated by the rest of the world: http://multiglom.blogspot.com/2011/07/porkys-ii-next-day-test.html Other films I have liked in the teeth of almost universal opprobrium or scorn include Heaven's Gate, Blade Runner, Hudson Hawk, Return to Oz, The Two Jakes, Ghostbusters II and Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

    And perhaps it's worth repeating here that while Carpenter's The Thing is nowadays considered a classic, it received dreadful reviews when it first came out, and there was no internet around at that time to counterbalance the critical consensus – I first saw it in 1983, long before I started writing about film professionally, and I remember being shocked by the way the critics had wilfully refused to consider the film's qualities. I tried hard not to repeat their mistake with the prequel. More recently, I thoroughly enjoyed John Carter, and was shocked by the lazy vitriol of the reviews I read afterwards.

    There. That's me trying like mad to explain that if there had been anything at all in The Thing prequel for me to like, I would have liked it. If you and others enjoyed the film, then good – I'm not trying to denigrate you or your tastes or your reasons for liking it, but I am just a bit sad I can't join in.

  17. I finally broke down and saw this a couple of days ago on DVD. I had avoided it since release because the Carpenter is one of my touchstone films and the original is excellent within the limits of American '50s SF cinema. I knew it was going to be bad; I didn't realise quite how bad.

    Fortunately, Anne, you've saved me the effort of enumerating many of the forms of badness. But I have a question.

    What are we supposed to infer from the final appearance of the central female character – the fade on her sitting in the cab of the Snowcat? Are we to believe that she is in the process of freezing to death / nobly sacrificing her own life, knowing that she can't afford to return to civilisation? Has the surviving Snowcat run out of fuel, marooning her? Or did the director simply not have the nerve to dispose of the character for fear of alienating the audience…so we just never see her again, without explanation?

    In a way, I'll be relieved if I've just missed something obvious. Because I certainly don't want to have to watch it twice.

  18. MEGA-SPOILERS. I might have quite liked the ending if any care at all had been taken with the characters earlier in the film, but by that stage I was beyond caring.

    But I rather liked the idea that MEW might have mistaken Edgerton for a Thing and burned him up BY MISTAKE, that being the sort of thing that happens when paranoia runs riot, and it would have had extra impact if the two characters had been allowed to build up a credible relationship (I'm not necessarily talking physical or romantic). It would have been an interestingly ambiguous note on which to leave the film. People would have argued over it the way they still argue about the 1982 ending with MacRready and Childs.

    As it is, just leaving MEW sitting there smacks of cop-out more than ambiguity. Maybe she could have realised, too late, that she'd made a mistake and given up the struggle. I don't know – I wasn't paid lots of money to write this screenplay, but if I had been I would have come up with something better than the ending they ended up with.

    Or, you know, maybe she could have realised that she herself was turning into a Thing – we still don't know exactly how that works, after all – and courageously taken herself down with a feisty “Fuck you!” The possibilities are endless – the sad thing was that none of them were explored.

  19. In fact one of the themes I would love to have seen explored or even just touched on is the question of at what point one turns into a Thing. I witter on about this in my book, but how long does the host human have a toehold in the mutating organism? Is there a human residue left in the finished simulacrum, because if it's a perfect replica surely the personality is replicated too? You know, a few philosophical questions thrown out there – and I don't mean discussed in dialogue but hinted at in the course of the action.

  20. I didn't even get as far as wondering about the loss of selfhood when a person turns into a Thing. I was baffled by how the discovery of the alien craft seems to be a terrifying plummet down and down and down into an abyss, where the drivers will in all likelihood fall and die, and then – when we next encounter the craft, it's sitting neatly and accessibly somewhere!

    Possibly, I wasn't paying full attention. I saw this film at a horror festival at the end of a long day of films, but sadly even the lovely veneer of booze couldn't render this anything other than a mad Tom and Jerry cartoon, only characters chasing each other around with melty body parts instead of just ACME dynamite.

  21. I'm glad it wasn't just me. Considering the care that was taken in the last few minutes to tie up the loose ends to account for the things that we see in the first part of Carpenter's film, it seemed incredible that the director would leave a character – not just any character, but the central character – hanging like that.

    And as you say, so many unexplored possibilities. Though what I really missed was the sense of relentless fatalism in the Carpenter film. Even the music implies that all these people are doomed from the beginning, through no fault of their own. That's very un-American, and it's one of the reasons why I like the film. It harks back to that disillusioned atmosphere that was so common in '70s cinema.

    By comparison the prequel is infantile as well as badly scripted and directed.

  22. I wonder whether Carpenter at least was aware of Hans Moravec's thought experiment about replacing the neurons in a human brain with perfect mechanical replicas. At what percentage of replacement does the person cease to be 'human'?

    But the alien isn't replicating a complete human being: just the surface appearance and characteristic behaviour. Arguably, it couldn't replicate another organism perfectly, because it would then be that organism and lose its own identity.

  23. First of all Anne, I would like to say that I am an admirer of your writing and plan on buying your retrospective of Carpenter's Thing.I would like to respond to the Thing 2011 apologists(I don't mean that as an insult;I'm not here to cause trouble. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and this piece is mine – no more, no less).

    The Thing 2011 is garbage.

    I say this with great sadness;I'm a big Thing fan. I joined the prequel page on facebook. I'm a member of Outpost 31, the Thing fan-site(more on that later). I wrote to ADI about not using CGI, and they taped the letter to their wall and quoted me in interviews when I said in the letter “no goddamned cgi”(which I later apologized to them about). I was very pumped to see, and like, this film. I saw it twice in the theater, once with my sister and mother, once with my sister and brother. I tried to give it pass. Glossed over logic problems. Gave the horrendous CG a pass. After a long while, and after reading posts on Outpost 31 that actually praised this film, I got angry. I got angry at the(ahem) “writer” of the film, Eric Heisserer, for not even trying to develop character or create situations we hadn't seen before. I read the Ronald D. Moore version of the script, which was actually not that bad;it contained many of the beats that end up in the film, but Heisserer somehow made them worse. I should have figured; he “wrote” the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, a movie so bad that the late night teen audience I saw it with grew too bored to even heckle it. There were many ways that they could have explored this premise to make it interesting. The nature of the thing itself is something that continues to fascinate me to this day. For those who say it doesn't imitate completely, even to the point of a victim not knowing if they've been infected – read this post by Cpl. Ferro http://www.outpost31.com/vistar/essays/monster.html This is something that could have been explored in the new film. Heisserer wrote in an article(basically trying to defend himself for the film sucking, something he did when ANOES turned out to be terrible as well -starting to see a pattern here, folks)saying that the studio wanted to get to the monster quicker, which is why we got the Thing bursting out the ice. That in itself is fine, but if the studio wanted to get to the monster quicker, wouldn't it have been more fun(and more suspenseful) for Kate and crew to arrive at the base, and the monster had already escaped from the ice block? You would have had tension, mystery, and conflict within the first ten minutes, and could have hinted and bigger things to come, all without having that embarrassing SyFy level jump scare in the film. I may be a little biased here(I'm an up and coming screenwriter), but there seemed to be no interest in the MYSTERY of the creature.

  24. Which brings me to the director, who I accused on Outpost 31 of trying to homage Alien so much that he forgot he was making a Thing film. When I offered what I thought was proof on the forums I got blasted for it, even though the director admitted he was a big Alien fan, and seem to have alot of disdain for the Carpenter film, from calling the creatures in the first film “muppets” to changing the way that the Norwegians excavated the ship, claiming that the way that they did it in the Carpenter film “wasn't realistic”, so he changed it. Which is fine, but in this case, it really isn't, because YOUR MAKING A PREQUEL. He also changed the character of Jans Bolen to Lars, had this character be the one trying to shoot the dog at the end(which doesn't match Thing '82)then tried to blame Carpenter for his mistake(which caused Stuart Cohen, the producer of the '82 film, to make a statement that they did not make a mistake in how they shot it). I stated earlier that the director tries to homage Alien(Kate as Ripley, the spaceship, etc.) which he can do, but wouldn't it make sense to homage the Thing movies and universe as opposed to another franchise? If you are going to do it, then at least make it work. Their homage to the '51 Thing(Sander as the crazed scientist) is weak, as the director is too busy trying to be Aliens and/or Alien, with the monster running around and attacking people, instead of trying to make, well you know – a Thing movie. Referencing Alien is fine, but The Thing and Alien are two completely different films beyond their surface similarities. A better film to reference, even though it's not a horror film per se, at least in my opinion, would have been Das Boot, a film about claustrophobia and isolation. Do you see Ridley Scott referencing The Thing for Prometheus? All of these shenanigans leads me to believe that Matthijs Van Heijninjen is either very arrogant, or a complete f*cking moron.

    I won't get started on the effects; I like CG, like any other tool, but good 'ole Matthijs and co. thinks it looks better to coat practical effects with a glossy sheen which makes every creature look like it's not in the same environment as the rest of the characters in the film. Disbelief was never suspended on my part. This after they promised that they would be mostly practical. Again, with any effect(CG, stop motion, animatronics)it's how you use it, but for a bloody, gooey creature such as this, wouldn't practical be a no brainer? Especially since practical effects have gotten even better over 30 years?

    I'm sorry this post is so long, so I'll end it with this: One scene in this film came close to emulating the feel of the Carpenter movie, and it's the scene where Edvard transforms and attacks everyone. That's a good scene, even though the Thing never behaves like it did in the '82 film.The creature design lacks imagination. The script and dialogue contain no memorable lines. They could have mined the tension from anything situation in this film if they had tried. They could have weaved sexism toward the Kate Character into the story and made that another obstacle for Kate to overcome in addition to the monster. We needed tension. Any tension. We needed a director and writer with balls.The people that made this film don't have 'em.

    Unfortunately, this film will not stand the test of time.

  25. Couldn’t agree more: “Here’s a thought for screenwriters: Don’t just have things happen because you’ve seen them happening in another film.” When will filmmakers stop regurgitating every other horror/sci-fi film they’ve seen? Why is it ok to copy other directors’ work now? And I’m so glad the ADD teenagers didn’t suffer when they could have been spending more time on their phones…

  26. Pingback: HOLY MOTORS & MY TOP TEN MUSICAL ENTR’ACTES « MULTIGLOM

  27. Pingback: EIGHT FILMS CONTAINING DREAM SEQUENCES MORE INTERESTING THAN THE ONES IN INCEPTION « MULTIGLOM

  28. Pingback: THE THING: MEN IN THE FRAME « MULTIGLOM

  29. Hello Anne
    I’ve just read Jez Conolly’s The Thing which I think is excellent. It has made me want to re-read your book on The Thing – I read this on its release and it remains one of my favourite books on film. I like to think that I was one of the first people in the UK to watch The Thing. My dad was given a good quality pirate copy, on Betamax, before its UK cinema release. For the record I don’t condone film piracy! I am an actor myself and your book and blog on The Thing, apart from being a joy to read, have given me some very useful tips for performing and directing! I wish you had written the prequel script!

    Kind regards.

    Robin Kirwan
    http://www.robinkirwan.com

  30. Pingback: JOHN CARPENTER: THE 1996 INTERVIEW | MULTIGLOM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s