Dear Universal Pictures,
Just an idea, but maybe you should dare to follow your prequel of The Thing with a sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and make it a follow-up reminiscent of James Cameron’s Aliens.
In my review of Heijningen Jr.’s recently released prequel I note how transparent it is that what he really made was actually more of a remake. And although there is still a rather large cultural resistance to horror remakes (I’m going by fan forums here, not box office numbers), such a fact should not really be held against Heijningen Jr. himself. More appropriately, any hostility towards this truth should be directed at you because it was you who insisted on making a “prequel” that in this particular case couldn’t have been anything else but a remake. One way you could redeem yourself of this misguided decision, though, is by seriously entertaining the above suggestion.
It sounds almost paradoxical for me to suggest that the way to make up for a poorly conceived remake is to base another related story on a film that so many – including myself – consider a classic of such status that to even joke about “tampering” with it might be tantamount to heresy, but hear me out.
To make a straightforward remake of Aliens would certainly be downright foolish, and the reasons for this are so many and so obvious that I won’t even bother mentioning them. However, to use such a film as a basis or abstract template should be considered perfectly acceptable. Any effort towards a guileless remake insinuates an attempt to improve upon the original material, but openly using such material for inspiration in an effort to create an original work makes no inherent claim to improve upon anything and thus lacks that insulting sense of abrasive arrogance.
In Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing there appear to be two perceivable nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The most significant of these is the portrayal of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Kate Lloyd, which is largely reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver’s Lt. Ellen Ripley. Other critics such as James Berardinelli have also made such an association. Winstead’s strong female lead relates to Ripley in that her strength manifests through a grit and determination brought about through efforts to survive an extreme circumstance and not any latent ambition to be likened to a typical male hero. Being that such female roles don’t come around very often it would be nice if we could have the opportunity to see Kate mature into a more developed and engaging character.
The second and much more subtle nod pertains to the character of Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), the leader of the film’s arctic expedition. His motives, while not divulged outright, hint at being either selfishly related or tied to the interests of, say, the military or some faceless organization. I’m speculating, but the instance when deciding how to begin examination of the alien specimen – choosing to extract a sample of its tissue before adhering to basic safety precautions such as sterilization – seems particularly telling, indicating some immediate need to report to some higher authority on, perhaps, the promise of martial value. Halvorson also shows hesitancy in killing the creature even after it shows to be hostile, though we’re open to read that as a desire to preserve it for either scientific or weaponizing purposes.
In a supposed attempt to pay homage to Carpenter’s film the latest Thing concludes with the lone survivor, Kate, sitting thunderstruck, unsure of what’s to happen as she faces an uncertain fate. Like Kurt Russell and Keith David, Winstead is left to sit and wait, hoping that some miraculous turn of events leads to her unlikely survival. As it so happens, the ending to Alien is quite similar. Ellen Ripley, after setting adrift on an emergency shuttle and enduring one last confrontation with her own demonic creature, is reduced to the option of laying in hypersleep and hoping she’ll be found by a passing ship. Fortunately, the beginning of James Cameron’s Aliens has Ripley’s faith rewarded when – incredibly – she’s rescued by a deep space salvage team. The parent company that had given Ripley’s crew the orders to investigate the alien spaceship in the first place then took advantage of her survival by using her knowledge of the creature to try and extract a specimen from the original planet for nefarious purposes. My question becomes: why can’t a sequel to Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing begin in a similar fashion?
Imagine it: Kate awakens to find herself lying on a gurney, groggy and recuperating from having barely survived the brutal arctic cold. She’d been rescued by, say, some government contractor who’d planned to be in competition with the Norwegian expedition, the team for which came upon Kate at the burning ruins of the research facility and alien spacecraft. Her awakening comes shortly after the decimation of the nearby American facility, which she is asked to help investigate because of her experience with battling the creature they have yet to learn much about. Knowing the importance of defeating the alien, and discouraged that another camp had been attacked as hers had been, Kate reluctantly agrees to help with the investigation. Eventually, after unknowingly returning with an imposter or camouflaged specimen to the rescue base – which could be located on a small island off the shores of the continent so as to maintain that theme of isolation – Kate is forced to fight for her life yet again, but this time faces an alien that has adapted to become more patient and cunning in its efforts to reach the mainland. Surrounded by many more people, none of whom she has any reason to trust, Kate’s paranoia quotient becomes exponentially greater. The stakes get even higher, and the odds of her survival appear even less favorable than before. And to make things even more difficult, Kate must foil any plans that may be had about – for whatever reason – saving specimens of the creatures for further study.
Such a premise, while derivative, could lead to a really worthwhile film in the hands of the right director and writer(s). The character of Kate would be allowed, much like Ellen Ripley in Aliens, to grow into a more complex and interesting figure that can’t be reduced to being just a survivor, but a full-fledged personification of whatever values, judgments, and/or significances that the story would be trying to convey. The most interesting wrinkle that would be added to this is the nature of the alien “thing” itself, which could be used as a device or symbol to express the encompassing fear inherent in such a scenario as I just described. Immediately, one thinks back to the fear of cultural conquest addressed in classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where public paranoia was transfixed on the threat of communism. Today, I would assume, such themes of paranoia would be ascribed to a now deeply rooted public fear of terrorism or Latin expansionism. But I digress.
While cynics may claim, if they were to even concede that such a sequel to Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing were a worthy enough endeavor, that you would botch such a project so rife with potential, I would like to nevertheless encourage you to throw caution to the wind and soldier on headstrong for the sake of (chiefly) those viewers who are so eager to see a meritorious monster movie, as well as your bottom line.
If you care to make up for producing a movie that most will pleasingly forget, why not then make a movie that those same people won’t be able to ignore? Just a thought.
The Disappointed Fans of Creature Features
If you decide against my proposal, please forward this letter to Miramax. Thank you.