Last weekend, a group of friends and I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing, a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. I’ve seen the film probably ten times or more and consider it one of my favorite movies of all time, but watching it with several people who had never seen it and knew nothing about it reminded me that, on top of being a personal favorite, it’s also an incredibly enthralling and effective film. During the famous chest cavity scene (you know what I’m talking about), one friend jumped a foot off the couch and let out a noise akin to what you’d hear if you stepped on a fox terrier. “Damn,” I said to myself, to the irritation of my friends, “this movie still works.”
This is what makes me both excited and somewhat reticent for the upcoming prequel/remake/whatever of The Thing, which comes out this weekend. It will either be a lovingly faithful companion to Carpenter’s film, or it’ll just be a pastiche of the original made by people who saw it once. From the trailer, it’s still kind of hard to determine which.
The look of the two films are almost identical, and even some shots in the new trailer are direct references from the old one. But is this a good Thing or a bad Thing? The conceit of the new film is that it follows the Norwegian expedition that discovers the alien craft and the creature who flew it buried in the ice, and these are the same Norwegians we see chasing the alien dog at the beginning of the first film. While in theory this works very well, the inclusion of Americans into the cast of the new film doesn’t make any narrative sense. Why, if there was an American outpost only a short distance away, would American students go to the Norwegian camp? Now, I’m sure there will be some line put into the script that explains that away, but I’d much rather they just made a movie about Norwegians. Cast whomever you want, just make sure they can sound Scandinavian. Also, the whole reason what happened at the beginning of the first film happened is because the Norwegians didn’t speak English and couldn’t communicate with the Americans to say, “Hey, this dog’s a fucking alien!” Surely, that goes away if you’re already in a camp with a bunch of Americans.
It appears a great deal of attention was paid to make sure the new film replicates the overall look and atmosphere of Carpenter’s film. That’s fairly impressive, but again, there’s no reason for both outposts to look exactly the same except for the reference to the original. Sometimes I worry that they do stuff like that just so, subconsciously, we draw comparisons between the two films, and ultimately think that the new one is good because it looks like the old one we already like. And by “worry” I mean “know that’s exactly why they do it.”
I suppose, ultimately, the reason I’m most worried about this version of The Thing is that I’m worried it will just have the look of Carpenter’s and none of what made it great. The 1982 film is all about paranoia and mistrust. Anybody could be The Thing at any given moment, and it’s merely a matter of when you’ll find out. The aforementioned chest cavity scene and the arguably more famous blood-testing scene are done beautifully and are all about misdirection and lulling audiences into a false sense of security. Then, when we finally do see the creature, it doesn’t jump out at us; The camera lingers on it and allows us to see the awesome, gruesome gore effects by the genius Rob Bottin. From what I’ve seen, the new one is a film about two things: jump scares and CGI.
There are a couple of jump scares in Carpenter’s movie, but generally they are just tension builders. The new one looks like it’s all people looking scared and slowly turning around to see nothing, only to have something grab them and pull them away into darkness. What’s the point of having a creature that can perfectly blend in if it’s just going to hide in the shadows anyway? And, let’s face it, CGI, no matter how good it is, still looks like CGI. There’s nothing visceral or corporeal about computer graphics the way the Bottin’s models do. I understand it’s cheaper to use CGI, but there’s a real art to making practical effects that’s sadly been lost. And they’re still effective, as evidenced by my dog-yelping friend.
It’s entirely possible this new version of The Thing will be the same type of movie as this summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that stands on its own, but is also a gift to fans of the original. However, what worries me about The Thing is that it will be made up of the weaker parts of the Apes film. The direct line references and situations were way too on-the-nose and hokey. Did Tom Felton have to say ALL of the classic Charlton Heston lines? This is what I don’t want from The Thing. If even one person says “tied to this fucking couch!” or “You gotta be fucking kidding,” I’m gonna roll my eyes until they go all the way around in my head. Nostalgia is great, but if you get too referential, you may as well just watch the first one.
Despite my griping, I’m excited to go see The Thing this weekend and expect my fears will more or less be assuaged, but it’ll really be a shame if it’s just a string of references to the older film and a bunch of CGI monster limbs. If it’s going to reference anything, I hope it references being a good, effective movie.
-Kanderson sure does worry about movies a lot. Follow him on TWITTER