In John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ MacReady (Kurt Russell) and one of the Doctors go to the cramped Norwegian Base – ostensibly the location of this prequel. When they leave the building they glance across the snow to discover what looks like the charred remains of ‘some kind of animal’. When we next encounter these charred remains on a laboratory bench – we discover a unique property of this ‘alien’ – how it passes between forms. At the end of the laboratory scene, the men are standing around, some holding their hands over their mouths in disgust – the camera zooms into the ‘face’ of this strange mutilated being – it is a split ‘face’. The 2011 film attempts to give you an origins story, a prequel. I read, with some interest how the production team went over the original film again and again – studying the sets, the aesthetic, that very 1980s look and tried to replicate it so it wouldn’t jar in the way Lucas’s ‘Phantom Menace’ does. (Why does a later film, purporting to be a prequel actually have more advanced technology than the film that should follow it? A problem with Star Wars, Prometheus and much, much more – )
But something went wrong, terribly wrong. In staying true to the letter of the original – well done for that – they lost hold of its Lovecraftian core – something that is intrinsically linked to its Antarctic location and to Campbell’s original short story. They lost the ‘Thing’. They tried, but failed, to not overuse CGI – but there is simply too much of it and the scene above demonstrates just why it does not work. It is no longer a paranoid nightmare – it is a surface, a ‘spectacle’.
Sadly, someone also forced a real compromise of the film’s integrity – by placing Americans on the Norwegian Base. In the original film we get a sense of isolation, not a sense that the nearby Norwegian base has fellow Americans. Of course it does not work. Neither group of Americans know of each other’s existence? Or bother to mention it? And each base is dramatically under siege. You’d think: contact the nearest Americans we know. I would speculate that the contract required Americans and not just Norwegians. But don’t have US Actors take on Norwegian roles – think of Fincher’s remake of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ (which had more integrity) or even go the whole way: a ‘Nordic noir’ with subtitles. It is a shame. A missed opportunity. As Anne Bilson explains the ‘Thing’ is a landmark in ‘Alien Terror’, set in a universe very close to Lovecraftian cosmology – one that signifies, for me atleast, a modern, nihilistic, cosmic indifferentism, a spectacular metaphysical failure.