It's cynical enough for studios to remake their own previous hits. What's worse is when it doesn't remake one if its hits, but lets the public THINK it did and then give it the same title as the previous film to alienate fans even further. The 2011 "The Thing" is an interesting case of a studio hedging its bets.
"The Thing" is not a remake of the 1983 John Carpenter remake of the 1950's classic. The October 2011 release and boxoffice bomb is a prequel. So what the hell happened? In light of the recent surge in remakes, Universal Studios did nothing to dispel the common belief that their prequel to the John Carpenter classic was not a remake. There is little doubt that this marketing misfire helped doom the picture at the boxoffice.
The sad part is, the film is not bad and deserved better.
Universal didn't come out and say it was a prequel but it didn't deny it either. Little was done to promote it as a prequel to the Carpenter classic. By doing a proper advertising campaign the film might have skirted failure. The marketing department handling this film should be flogged for negligence.
Aside from a clear marketing strategy, some genius thought it'd be a good idea to call it "The Thing" without any type of differentiation from the John Carpenter film. Any other time we have the usual subtitle: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" or at least a number, "Back to the Future Part II" unless of course you're the dumbass who came up with the run-on title: "Jaws The Revenge".
Why call it "The Thing?" It's not clever and it certainly fueled the belief that it was a remake and added resentment to the scores of fans of the 1983 film. I even have to be careful how I write this, because using "the original 1983 Carpenter film" makes this movie sound like a remake.
The 1982 film was an expensive boxoffice flop when released against Spielberg's "E.T." Audiences were temporarily into friendly, candy munching aliens and Carpenter's groundbreaking effects (all non-CGI) startled audiences who still had the Howard Hawks 1950's original in their heads.
Both Carpenter's film and this prequel are based on the John W. Campbell short story "Who Goes There?" and are far more loyal to that material than the Howard Hawks classic, "The Thing From Another World." While all three share the same Antarctic setting, the 1950's film is more like "Frankenstein from Space" as the alien is humanoid and does not replicate its victims as a form of sophisticated camouflage. The alien, played by future "Gunsmoke " star, James Arness, is a lumbering, pissed off humanoid thing that bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1933 Karloff Frankenstein's Monster.
The alien from "The Thing From Another World"
Many argue John Carpenter peaked in his career with "The Thing." While fading quickly from theater screens the film deservedly got a healthy discovery on home video. Cable showings and eventual digital releases cemented it in the realm of movie classics. It truly is an almost perfect horror film: a beautiful portrait of human paranoia slathered with Hitchcockian suspense. It is brilliant and deserved a better theatrical release.
Universal choked with that film as well when it came time to market it. They deliberately leaned toward connecting the film with the 1951 film. The original was a creature feature favorite and remakes were not taken as kindly as they are today. So for many it was blasphemy that the James Arness film would be remade. Instead of hyping up the difference of this new film and the positive spin of truly being based on the original short story, the film could have been marketed better as a whole new film instead of a remake.
But that would take work and imagination, and sadly the Imagination Capital of the World is lacking in that natural resource. They threw the film out there at the end of summer after "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" became the biggest movie of all time and let it fend for itself. The little alien clobbered Carpenter's shapeshifting monstrosity and Kurt Russell.
From the opening shots, the 2011 "The Thing" is clearly made with sincere reverence for Carpenter's film. The issue with the film on its own merit is that it doesn't really offer anything new. Aside from filling in the gaps for the backstory of the 1983 film, there are few surprises here and in a sense of the word feels like a "retread." Prequel may not have been the right direction to take this "Thing" as the Norwegian story just isn't as riveting nor does it have the strong cast of interesting character actors of its 1983 predecessor.
So is the "The Thing" prequel good? Yes. It is made with a firm attention to detail. The production designer made sure that the sets, the alien ship and even down to the landscapes are in the right places to match up with Carpenter's film. There is a slight hint of Ennio Morricone's original theme in the opening music with a downright orgasmic revival of it by the closing credits that seamlessly fuses this film with Carpenter's.
Elizabeth Winstead plays the Kurt Russell protagonist in "The Thing"
Director of Photography Michael Abramowicz lovingly recreates the look and feel of the 1982 film. There is almost no difference in the style of the film's look, unlike the latest Indiana Jones film to its previous entries. The script goes to great lengths to connect with all of the items discovered in the 1983 film. There are a lot of "Ah ha" moments when these connections happen. Again, however, few new surprises.
The effects rely on CGI, which does give new flexibility to the way the creature replicates. However it's all become a little too accepted now and where Rob Bottin's effects startled audiences in 1982, these provide polite interest. It's the stuff of an expensive SyFy Channel movie and we know it. We know a computer does it all whereas in 1982 audiences truly asked: "how the hell did they do that?" Now we know: it's computers.
Audiences identified with a character in 1982's "The Thing" when he saw the now infamous "spider head" scuttling out of the infirmary and said, "you gotta be fucking kidding..."
While mixing some mechanical effects with its CGI, the images may indeed be interesting they don't return the same startling impact of the original film.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. works hard with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer to stay loyal to the Carpenter film, and this may be the problem. While trading up to a strong female star and "Aliens" like corporate scientist bad guy the film is pretty much a "who is it?" story that does tread close to remake territory. Like the plodding and over reverent "Superman Returns" the director got all caught up in idolizing the previous film instead of heading into some uncharted territory to provide some fresh surprises for the audience.
There are also strong signs of studio tampering as I suspect the film did not end for Winstead's character as it plays out in the movie. The original film made it clear the alien must rip through clothing when copying its victim. Throughout this new film, great attention was given to stay consistent with the Carpenter film. Then suddenly, in the last ten minutes, certain important conventions are ignored for the sake of an unsatisfying "twist" ending.
Trust me, if the film hasn't delivered a surprise by this point, no ending like this is going to save it, plus you could see it coming through the fake blizzard that also feels like a reshoot. Morgan Creek has a history of tampering with director visions: Alien 3, The Exorcist III, all to make it appeal to as wide an audience possible.
This is Cynema without a doubt.
If you approach the 2011 film as the prequel as it was rightfully made, it is a serviceable film that cares very much for its source. So this movie is NOT Cynema, as the production values, the care for the original material were all above average. There are few surprises and really nothing all that new. As said before, a sequel to events after the Kurt Russell ending would have been far more interesting.
However the marketing of this film is an entirely different story. Someone lost faith and dropped the ball. The film was dumped out in October to cash in on the Halloween viewers but at that time of year, aliens aren't what people are looking for. Halloween lends itself to more traditional horror: ghosts and psychos, not aliens. Aliens are the stuff of summer films and someone at the studio felt this didn't want a repeat of the summer of 1982. Only this time it was transforming mechanized aliens and a boy wizard to go several rounds in the ring.