The Thing (1982)

As stated in our review of The Fog, few directors have had their filmography subjected to as many pointless remakes as John Carpenter. The Thing might be the one that seems the most untouchable, the most sacred in its original form. Ironically, the 2011 Thing remake is probably the best Carpenter remake of them all. Still, the further one delves into the (re)making of the update, the more it just seems like doing Thing over again is a bad idea. Eric Newman, one of the producers on the 2011 film, had this to say about the development:

“I’d be the first to say no one should ever try to do Jaws again and I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone remake The Exorcist…we really felt the same way about The Thing. It’s a great film. But once we realized there was a new story to tell, with the same characters and the same world, but from a very different point of view, we took it as a challenge.”

No, this isn’t going to be a rant about originality (or lack thereof) or a rant about practical effects (or lack thereof) in modern filmmaking — if you were to blindly click anywhere else on your screen right now you’d probably hit one of those. If anything, much as our rundown on Carpenter’s Escape from New York attempted to define “infodump”, what we’re really concerned with here is how far the term “remake” really stretches.

So pair Newman’s “challenge” mentality with this shard of a quote from Thing remake writer Ronald D. Moore, keeping in mind that the 2011 Thing has the same setting, the same plot, and the same title as Carpenter’s 1982 Thing:

“…it’s not a remake.”

Say wha? Hang on. Did I read that correctly? Let’s take another look at that, just in case:

“…it’s not a remake.”

Right. Time to backtrack: Carpenter’s Thing didn’t do so hot when it was released in the summer of 1982, largely due to the fact that E.T. was in theaters at the same time. Both are about aliens visiting earth, one of which will touch your finger and be cute and one of which will consume your bloody flesh and impersonate you. Which one sounds more endearing? Nonetheless, as is the case with so many Carpenter films, the cult following for The Thing grew with each passing year. Today, Carpenter’s Thing is a giant in the horror genre. Why is that? You could point to solid performances from the entire cast, to the creepy score from Ennio Morricone, to the signature tension-holding restraint of Carpenter. Most of all, though, The Thing was surefooted in how bold it all was. From an all-male ensemble to the unforgivingly freaky alien transformation effects, The Thing was fresh and brazen enough to make the few people who had seen it in 1982 remember it years later.

The ending is a perfect nutshell example of how ballsy Carpenter and Co. really got with the film. Your hero is Kurt Russell’s MacReady, a rough but levelheaded guy who catches on to the eponymous Thing’s evildoings before anyone else does. By the end of the film he’s the only possible beacon of hope on the entire tundra — and yet the possibility still exists that the freakish, abominable being is MacReady. I imagine many who encountered such a bleak and damning conclusion in 1982 might have hopskipped over to the next theater to catch the end of E.T.

Now consider the ringer: Carpenter’s Thing is, in fact, a remake. The 1951 Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks gig The Thing from Another World concerns a group of scientists in the Arctic who discover an alien being frozen in the ice; when the ice melts, as ice is wont to do, the group have to defend themselves from the thing that emerges from the puddle. Carpenter’s redo changed a lot, from the characters to the nature of the Thing to the conclusion of the film. Part of that can be chalked up to the ability to convey certain things (or Things) with the special effects of the ’80s that were impossible with the effects of the ’50s, but a larger part of the freshness of The Thing should be attributed to Carpenter’s drive to make his own movie, not a movie that had already been made.

That being said, it’s still a remake, no? That’s not a dirty word. Carpenter’s remake is the best kind of remake, an original remake, one that gets so swept up in itself that it seems to forget the source material altogether. And so the sheer gall of Eric Newman and Ronald D. Moore to market their Thing as “a new story to tell” and “not a remake” is baffling. The similarities between both Things as opposed to the similarities between 1982 Thing and 1951 Thing from Another World are hardly even worth discussing: the former sees a modern film copping a classic under the guise of “honoring” it, whereas the latter sees a distinct effort to forge a fresh tale. The 2011 film is a remake, no matter how it’s pitched and despite the technical timeline framing the narrative as a prequel to Carpenter’s film. Again: same plot + same setting + same f*cking title = remake.

Even though it’s incredible that the above mathematics still needs to be spelled out, the people behind the latest Thing admittedly started with a different motivation than Carpenter. And, yeah, the film is passable. There are great performances in the 2011 Thing, great moments of intensity, and overall it’s a better Carpenter remake than Assault on Precinct 13 or Halloween or The Fog or anything else that has been redone in recent years. Still, no matter how good they are, few people claim to be fans of those films over the originals. The people who remade The Thing had a specific demographic in mind: the old fans. Carpenter? He created new ones.

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