The Thing, the alien monster, is an excellent analogy for Hollywood sometimes. To ensure its own continuation it resorts to absorbing various well-defined individuals and either replicating them exactly or merging them with other elements to create some horrifying hybrid. Sf is hardly short on remakes or prequels, and since Carpenter's version is beloved by fans and a critically acclaimed classic sf/horror movie, the 2011 version seems unnecessary to the point of inanity - the double box-set merely adding salt to the wound. However, the two films share an extremely interesting relationship to one another, which can only really be appreciated by a double bill.
Carpenter's The Thing is about a group of US scientists stationed in Antarctica who are shocked one day to see a husky fleeing into their camp, being shot at by two crazed Norwegians in a helicopter. The doctor, Copper (Richard Dysart), and pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell), fly over to the almost destroyed Norwegian camp, where they discover a gruesome corpse - it appears to be two people melded together. They return with it so as to conduct an autopsy, and also bring video footage showing the Norwegian team uncovering a spaceship in the ice. The dog is found in an alien form, attacking and absorbing the other dogs in the camp's kennel, and is killed by fire. Realisation that the alien could be impersonating anybody dawns. Paranoia ensues. A test is sabotaged, and more and more people are absorbed or killed. A second test enables MacReady to kill some of the impersonated men. Finally, the alien tries to go back into freezing hibernation by cutting the camp's power. The remaining humans try to blow up the whole station in a suicide mission to kill the creature. Only MacReady and Childs (Keith David) are left at the end to await inevitable death by hypothermia. There is some doubt as to whether Childs is human.
The 2011 version of The Thing is the story of the Norwegian camp. This means it has to fit the details provided by Carpenter's film, so the plot, characters and shots match the original in many ways. The beats of both stories correlate so well they could be mapped on a graph. Therefore, it is both a prequel, because it recounts how the original's events were initiated, and a remake, because its story is very similar. Three Norwegians accidently find a spaceship. Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) asks Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a [End Page 303] palaeontologist, to go to the station to help excavate a mysterious find. They remove the alien and, after defrosting, it escapes. After observing blood cells, Kate realises that it can transform. She tries to stop a helicopter piloted by Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) leaving, but the alien attacks and it crashes. A test is designed, but the lab is destroyed. Kate eliminates some people because they have fillings and the Thing cannot replicate non-organic tissue. After various attacks, Halvorson is absorbed and flees to the spaceship. Kate and Carter pursue and she kills it. Suspecting Carter is also not human she kills him with fire.
The Thing (the films) and the Thing (the creature) are fundamentally about identity. The very definition of the creature is something that both erases and creates identity (Conrich and Woods 79). One question never addressed by either film is how deep the Thing's absorption goes. Does it have its victims' memories? Feelings? Soul? No one, in either film, even attempts to prove their humanity by evidencing memories, perhaps shared with other characters, or by claiming some religious affiliation (I'm not an alien, just a Catholic). In not addressing these issues, the films, almost inadvertently, make a powerful assumption that humans are simply biological masses that can be replicated. The creature can impersonate anyone because all that defines us as human is stored at a...