“ I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won” –RJ Macready played by Kurt Russell in John Carpenters: THE THING
An Ode to the Original:
In 1982 I attended John Carpenters cult classic remake THE THING which was based John W Campbell’s 1938 short story [Who Goes There]. If you haven’t read the story or Carpenters remake you have certainly missed an extravaganza of claustrophobic paranoia. I purposely do not mention the original 1951 film, THE THING FROM OUT SPACE, because it has very little to do with the Campbell story.
For those who haven’t seen the film or read the story here is a quick synopsis of the Campbell story: A group of researchers find a space ship buried in the ice, that presumably crash landed thousands of years before. In an attempt to free the ship from the ice the ship is destroyed after they blow it up with thermoid charges. Luckily they are able to recover an alien which is frozen in the tundra. Like most scientists they throw caution to the wind, excavate it and bring it back to their camp. Once the creature thaws out they suddenly find themselves pitted against a being with the ability to duplicate any living creature right down to language and memory. What ensues is a Ten Little Indians scenario where one by one the creature begins to knock off and assimilate each of the camp members.
Carpenters version of the story opens with two foreign men in a helicopter chasing a husky across the tundra while trying to kill it. The chase leads them to US Outpost 51 where they land and in twist of fate one of them accidentally kills himself and blows up their chopper after dropping a grenade into the snow. The other man, apparently crazed, chases the dog into the camp shooting one of the American members and is eventually dispatched by Captain Garry, the only military presence on an otherwise civilian team. As they begin to investigate they discover the two men came from a Norwegian camp and after flying there they find the entire camp completely destroyed.
Simultaneously, the Husky wanders freely about camp. Carpenter makes it no secret that the dog is a silent menace, but he does so with a Hitchcock-like subtlety. Eventually, the malamute is put into the kennels where it transforms from imitation husky to a spider-like monster adorned with tentacles, razor teeth and the roar of a tyrannosaurus. As it goes on a rampage in the kennel it begins to absorb and assimilate the other dogs, but not before exposing itself to the members of Outpost 51. Using the special make-up effects of pioneer Rob Botin Carpenter’s monster literally explodes onto the big screen and though this was a great feature of the film, what made Carpenter’s version a hit was the tension and paranoia that envelopes the group as they begin to realize not everyone is who they say they are. Who goes there?
Commanding a stellar cast that included: Kurt Russell, Keith David and Wilford Brimley, the story pits the team members against each other. Filmed in Stewart British Columbia during the height of winter they capture the essence of Antarctic isolation and the despair of no escape. Without a doubt John Carpenter’s THE THING found its place into the hearts of diehard science fiction/horror fans. Unfortunately in cinema timing is everything and the film found itself in competition with Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster ET and thus performed well below expectations earning an approximate 19.5 million after costing 15 million to make. Regardless of the initial stumble THE THING received critical acclaim not only for its effects, but story line and direction. It continued to make money on VHS, DVD and was eventually sanctioned for a video game of the same name. Boasting a musical score performed by legend conductor Ennio Morricone (best known for The Good the Bad and The Ugly) THE THING has withstood the test of time.
The Prequel Report
I would rate Carpenter’s film within my top 5 favourites and when rumours begin to circulate regarding a sequel or a prequel I was both excited and horrified at the prospect. It seems today that with film making, especially in the horror and sci-fi genre, there is a shortage of critical and original thought. Carpenters Halloween and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre are just a few of the films which have been remade. While there is a new generation of movie goers who have signed on for these remakes we are now being inundated ad-nauseam. Therefore my apprehension about a THING sequel or prequel was based on the film industries bastardization and exploitation of original notable cult films. One could argue that Carpenter’s THING was actually a remake, but again I would counter that the original film had very little to do with the actual short story written by John W Campbell.
So with the green light given, rumour became reality and the filming of a prequel dubbed THE THING 2011 (only to avoid confusion with the 1982 film) would be set in the Norwegian Camp. Filming a prequel presents a minefield of issues. First and foremost it removes the element of surprise for anyone who was a fan of the original film. With any prequel, we already know outcome, thus we are left with the hope that the writer and director will be able to entertain us while offering a fresh set of characters that will be suspend belief and ignore the knowledge of knowing how this is going to end.
Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman (who remade Dawn of the Dead) began searching for a new film to re-make and came across Carpenter’s The Thing. After discussion with the studio both decided that doing a remake would be like trying to paint eyebrows on the Mona Lisa. So they decided a prequel was the best route. Enter Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, whose most notable film credit is a short suspense film called Red Rain. After the plug was pulled on his debut feature film, Army of the Dead, van Heijningen came on board and filming began in 2010.
From the outset the prequel has a number of flaws that are self inflicted by the producers and writers lack of respect for the viewing audience. There is an assumption that in order to film a movie about Norwegian outpost in Antarctica you have to introduce American characters into the story to make it more palatable to an American audience. If that isn’t enough, they also borrowed from Ridley Scott’s classic Alien by incorporating a female lead, which leaves one to wonder how many focus groups and consultants the production company hired to throw wrenches into the machinery. Good films are often hits because the people making them are willing to take risks and if the makers of this film had used models like District 9 or Slum Dog Millionaire to gauge audience acceptance they would have avoided compromising the integrity of the story.
Aside from this, THE THING still held promise. First of all, the monster itself was no longer tethered by special make-up effects as computer graphic imaging has opened up an array of artistry. Along with this we also have the visage of what happens in the Norwegian Camp to work with. In the first half hour of Carpenter’s film we see the carnage that ensued and that leaves all sorts of avenues to explore, which the film attempts to do. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it comes up short and I attribute this to how it is edited. While the Ten Little Indians scenario does play out in this film pitting Americans against Norwegians, the story felt rushed and even the CGI was somewhat disappointing in that there was not enough to compensate for the predictability.
The Thing 2011, unlike its predecessor does not surpass the original or even measure up. I would not go and spend the 25 bucks again to see this on the big screen knowing what I know now, but I would not flip the channel if I caught it on television either. There are interesting aspects to the film that link it to Carpenter’s version, but overall even the editing looked rushed. They might have produced a better film if they had brought John Carpenter on board as a producer or at the very least as a consultant. But word is that Carpenter has had his fill and is just as inclined to stay home and play video games.
As a connoisseur of this genre I was sorely disappointed with this film. Equally, I am disgusted that the film industry has essentially given up on originality. A prequel was a novel idea and offered up all sorts of possibilities, but this project should have been put into more capable hands.
So, in closing all I can say about this version of Campbell’s classic is wait for the DVD.
See you in 30 years.
MJ Preston is the author of the horror novel: THE EQUINOX.
To learn more about him or his novel visit http://mjpreston.netTags: Eric Newman, john carpenter, john w campbell, keith david, kurt russell, marc abraham, mary elizabeth winstead, matthijs van heijningen jr., the thing, who goes there, wilford bribmley