*. I know what you’re thinking. Or at least I know what I was thinking. How’s this going to work? A team of Norwegians in the Antarctic, all of whom we already know wind up dead, their story ending on the depressing note we’re familiar with from the beginning of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It doesn’t sound like promising material for a prequel.
*. So how did they do it? By cheating.
*. That sounds harsh, but here’s what I mean (and don’t mean). The only significant cheat on continuity with Carpenter’s film is that we don’t see the scientists using thermite to remove the ice covering over the alien ship. In fact they don’t show the alien ship being uncovered at all so I’m not sure how that happened. But the producers here did their best to account for all the scenes in the earlier film that took place at the Norwegian camp, right down to the axe in the door.
*. Where they start to cheat is with the cast. Which, in turn, explains my major problem with the movie. They went with convention. Of course there had to be Americans involved so everyone would be speaking English most of the time. And there had to be a spunky final girl, just because. And from there the clichés started pouring in.
*. The scientist who finds the alien “fascinating” and the chance to study it a great “opportunity” was a cliché back in 1951. We know nothing good will come of this. And what about his line to Kate: “You’re not here to think!” Oh boy. Really? Wouldn’t getting the Thing out of the ice safely require at least a bit of thinking? And why did you bring a Columbia specialist in vertebrate paleontology to Antarctica anyway if you didn’t want her to think? Did you just want her to make coffee?
*. The trip aboard the spaceship at the end is another cliché, and totally unnecessary, not to mention silly. After 100,000 years the engine turns over just like that? Come on. Didn’t the damn thing crash land in the first place?
*. I’m always disappointed by these alien invaders. Here’s a creature from a civilization so advanced it’s developed a method of intergalactic travel. And yet, while adaptable to be sure, the only thing it can do when it gets here is growl and eat people. It doesn’t even make any attempt to communicate with us. I can understand the Alien monster behaving that way because it was specifically created as a weaponized life form. It doesn’t create or make use of technology of its own. But presumably the Thing is something a little more intellectually advanced.
*. A counterpoint to this is that the Thing is only a viral invader that caused the spaceship to crash, and not one of the alien race that built it. This was apparently the original conception of the producers, but I don’t know. Given that it can assimilate the consciousness of its prey shouldn’t it be a bit more advanced by now?
*. At the beginning of the featurette The Thing Evolves, Joel Edgerton (who plays Carter) has this to say: “You have to be really careful when you revisit material that’s been loved. Only redo it if there’s something new to be done with it.”
*. Good advice. Of course they didn’t follow it.
*. It’s interesting that Carpenter’s The Thing is often said to be a remake of The Thing from Another World (indeed, that’s how it’s described by co-producer Eric Newman on the commentary here) when in fact it’s a totally different re-interpretation of the same source material. Meanwhile, this film is presented as a prequel to Carpenter but in fact it’s a remake.
*. I mean it’s almost the exact same story: the team find the creature in the ice, bring it back to base, it escapes, it takes people over. They chase after it with flamethrowers. Of course there’s a storm moving in (there’s always a storm moving in) and radio contact is lost (radio contact is always lost).
*. Even individual scenes play out identically. Example: the creature who explodes out of Edvard starts flailing around and breaks an overhead light while the flamethrower won’t start. This is all repeated verbatim from Carpenter. Even the position the guy is seated in when he gets burned in the corner is the same.
*. Then there’s the scene outdoors just after they torch the pit of Thing remains and discuss what’s happening. Again, identical to the same scene in Carpenter’s movie right down to the lighting. Or the alien autopsy: again identical.
*. They even kill the final composite monster the same way: blowing it up by throwing a bomb into its mouth.
*. Where they do stray from Carpenter they get into trouble. There is another test scene, and I do like the business of checking inside people’s mouths. Tell me you weren’t thinking something was going to come shooting out of there! But I didn’t understand why everyone, even those who were uninfected, were so reluctant to be checked, and why the others with no cavities, or porcelain fillings did such a poor and unconvincing job of explaining themselves. Then, unlike Carpenter’s version, where the people being tested are tied up, here they are just moved to one side of the room and nothing at all is done to contain them.
*. Not only that, but the team that is uninfected then splits up so that they can bring in the Americans for testing! How dumb was that? On the commentary Van Heiningen calls this Kate’s “biggest mistake.” Well, duh. So why does she do it?
*. It’s thirty years later so there was no way they were going to create a Thing without CGI. And the effects look pretty good to me. Though one thing about the computer animation I don’t like is that the creature here seems to move too fast, and sprouts appendages too quickly.
*. Meanwhile, the Thing itself looks like even more of an Alien re-tread: an unfolding series of slimy layers inside a beetle-like carapace. Think of something out of Giger crossed with Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors. How could such a thing build, or pilot, a spaceship?
*. Yes, having Kate listening to Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” is very clever (tying in to the title of Campbell’s story “Who Goes There?”).
*. Some interesting trivia I learned about Antarctica from the commentary: (1) there are no flamethrowers anywhere in Antarctica; (2) there wouldn’t be as much day (or night) in one 24-hour period in Antarctica as we see represented here; (3) people actually don’t have vapour breath in Antarctica because there isn’t enough moisture in the air. I’m not sure I believe that last one. Doesn’t sound right to me.
*. The unfortunate flip side of having Kate be a Ripley-style heroine is the way it makes Adam seem like even more of a pussy. I got tired of him after just a few minutes, and he keeps getting worse. I mean he doesn’t even back Kate up when she needs him.
*. Just who is Sander anyway? He seems to be in charge of the operation, though this is a claim Edvard also makes. Is it a Norwegian government outpost, or a private institution that Sander is funding? What authority does Sander have to keep everything secret? When he introduces himself to Kate (and us) he just assumes she knows him, and she says she does. But that doesn’t help us.
*. I’m not buying that Kate blindly crawls down a corridor that’s just out of reach of the Thing’s tentacles. I mean, those tentacles seem capable of infinite plasticity.
*. There’s something definitely off with the timing in several of the scenes. People don’t seem to respond with a realistic sense of urgency. Jameson sees the Thing leap out of the ice and rushes to the rec room to tell the others, but he’s kind of slow and awkward about it. Then when Henrik is killed Griggs just watches him being eaten without calling for help or doing much of anything (Newman observes on the commentary that “hopefully if you’re ever grabbed by an alien and your friend is there he does a little bit more”). And when Kate is waving at the helicopter, once she gets their attention she just stops and looks at it.
*. Another film with a coda buried in the final credits. I really, really hate when movies do this. But I hate it a little less here, as it makes a decent bridge to Carpenter’s film.
*. This isn’t a terrible movie. I thought it had some effective moments. I was just disappointed that it didn’t try to do anything new with the material. Too much deference to the original turned this into little more than a remake. The enduring popularity of Carpenter’s film practically guaranteed the cool reception it was then met with.