With news that Universal is going to delve into The Thing franchise again (wisely going to the books this time) I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the wrongly maligned prequel to 1982s The Thing… poorly titled, The Thing. For the purposes of this article, I am going to forget the 1951 film, so when I say the first film I will mean 1982 The Thing (It might get boring if I keep saying 1982…). I think it is a much better film than it has been slated as. Here’s why.
If you watch them back to back the prequel makes so much sense
It should be remembered that if an alien species such as the one that we see in The Thing needs to survive it will probably be aggressive in doing so at first. This was one of the critiques towards the prequel. That it turned this subtle who is it style film into an action horror. But, let me suggest you watch the films back to back in a lovely cold double feature. The alien species makes a lot of decisions in the prequel that it did not in the sequel until it had no choice to survive. Why was that? Why would it be so secretive and hidden in the first film to then go on a rampage here? It had learned what the best method of assimilation was.
Yes, it is as simple as that, it had learned in the Norwegian base that, against humans, it could not go gung ho and assimilate everyone quickly and violently, that tactic almost fails miserably with the Norwegian base. It almost doesn’t make it from the base and seeing as it is in freezing temperatures, it probably doesn’t want to hang around for another few thousand years. So, the alien attacks and after learning that attacking so visibly doesn’t work, it now knows to move in the dark slowly and carefully.
In my opinion, whether on purpose or not, that is a great addition to the overall story. We are meant to believe that this alien is clever, what is smarter than seeing where it went wrong on its first attempt and then using a different strategy a second time.
Another section that verifies this is the dog scene in the first film. Not long after the alien is captured with the dogs it changes and tries to assimilate ALL of them at once. It knows that they are not as dangerous as humans and that it can overcome them. It becomes aggressive again and almost to its own demise once more. So, it knows decides to be even more cloak and dagger with the American team.
If we keep focusing on the dogs for a second another idea that is given to the audience after watching both films is that when the assimilated dog is wandering around the American base before it is put in the kennels to cause havoc, it takes the crew when they are alone one by one. It doesn’t go crazy and try to assimilate everyone in one go. It is careful, it knows what it is doing now. That if anything makes The Thing more terrifying as a double bill experience.
You as the audience member would realise how its strategy has shifted and what that could mean for the American base. I would love to show both films to someone as this double bill to see their reaction to the mental growth of our creature.
The test scenes
Obviously, there was going to be a test scene in the prequel, it is such a smart and delicious idea and more importantly, synonymous with the first The Thing that it has to be in there. But switching it to something visible is smart as repeating the same test would be too coincidental. It is in scenes like this that a lot of effort has gone on to be true to the first film.
Also, it should be noted that during the first test the creature isn’t overly sure if they will pass it as it was possible that they took over someone who has no dentures or piercings etc. Whereas in the sequel the creature knows it will fail as it has seen a test situation before and how poorly that went for it. So when it fails the test it immediately reacts to strike to save itself. Again that is terrific self-awareness from the creature, but it allows the whole over-arching story to make sense. This is smart writing and I would hope that it isn’t accidental from the writing team.
It is true to its predecessor with the details
The level of attention to detail is high in the prequel. The entire set is virtually identical from how it ends up being, this even includes the fates of some of the characters and how their bodies are found in the sequel. Also, a massive shout out to the cinematography team to perfectly recreate the opening scene of the sequel for the final shots of the prequel.
Costume and set design also work together here very well. Usually, films that go the prequel route make the mistake of making their version of the world too modern. An example of this is Prometheus and Alien: Covenant that I have spoken about before. They are set BEFORE Alien, yet the technology on both of the films space crafts are so much more superior to that of the film set so many years into the future. It is awkward if you are watching them in order. With The Thing(s) there are no such issues, as a lot of love is given to make it as tonally correct as possible. You have to like and appreciate that.
It is still grim
What almost everyone enjoyed about the first The Thing is the ending. It is as grim as it could possibly be, so it makes sense the prequel is just as grim, even if we already know their fate. We, in theory, know Kate Lloyd doesn’t make it to the American base by the end of the film in the truck, but we know she if driving off somewhere and whether or not she can make it to another base in time is haunting. She could drive and possibly even go past a base and never know due to all of the storms that are occurring (1982 The Thing cements the story that a lot of storms are happening and they are knocking transition towers everywhere so even the idea that she is TRYING to contact people with no luck is painful.
We know Macready and Giles also meet a horrible outcome once that fire burns out. At least the franchise enjoys giving grim endings to us… Unless Kate slowly drives her truck to the American base by pure luck, but come on. We know that isn’t happening.
The only thing truly wrong with The Thing, its title
Honestly, who thought that was a good idea? It doesn’t even make marketing sense for the 2011 prequel to be given the same name. In fact, I believe it caused a lot of confusion as a lot of people right up until the film was released thought it was a direct remake. This is an important aspect that needed to be clarified without having someone say it, as by that point it’s too late. Give it a different title and the film would have done a far sight better. A nit-pick sure, but a worthy one.
Only joking, going CGI cost The Thing
What most people loved about John Carpenters version is that Rob Bottin’s special effects were astounding. In the prequel? Forgettable and obvious CGI gets in the way of real emotion. It is the main aspect of the film that I do not like and I agree on with others who have a distaste for Matthijs van Heijninhen Jr’s prequel.
The CGI just doesn’t look entirely finished, but most frustratingly there was a lot of practical effects that were “enhanced” digitally to make more effective. In behind the scenes clips, you see them and they look wonderful (in a horrific way of course). It was filmed all with practical effects and if I remember right, this was boasted about in the production to help ease worries of fans. But when they enhanced the effects, it seems they couldn’t get something right and instead as Van Heijningen says look like an 80s film, it looked too sterile. For a film such as The Thing, it shouldn’t look that way, the enhancements went too far to make it their own and that is so disappointing and really other than a few issues, The prequel is a solid film.
Expect a Backseat writer, how to fix… post about it soon!
What do you think? Do you hate or still hate the prequel? What could have been done to improve it? Let us know. Until next time.