Return of the Alien Thing

I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to watch some really scary horror and sci-fi movies with me. I’m thinking in particular of Return of the Living Dead, The Thing, and Alien. Return of the Living Dead has way too much swearing and nudity to hope for anytime soon (at least if their mother has anything to say about it), but the other two…?

The first time I saw The Thing, it was a taped from cable copy my dad had caught on our still somewhat new (or at least not yet obsolete) top-loading Betamax video recorder. Every time there was some red on the screen, the sound buzzed. We dealt with it. I mean, you had to. The 1982 version of The Thing is truly one of the great sci-fi horror flicks, and it’s no wonder, having been based on one of the truly great sci-fi horror novellas, “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell.

The scenario of an organism essentially eating and becoming anything it comes in contact with is frightening as all get out. Not only do you have an end-of-the-world situation percolating, but you don’t even really get to die, or do you? It’s terrifying. You become what you hate (which is one of the reasons I really liked Return of the Living Dead).  Add to that storyline the spectacular (and still effective) effects of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, and, well, you’ve gotcherself a movie, fella.

So you can imagine that I was thrilled to hear about the 2011 prequel, also titled The Thing. When I saw it a couple of months ago, I was honest-to-goodness bored, and that really, profoundly disappointed me, especially because you could tell how much the filmmakers loved the original. They went to painstaking lengths to match the mood, tone, and look of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and maybe that’s why it failed.  It was too samey-samey, especially with the plot. Its essentially the exact same story arc, and there was so much more that could have been explored, like the definition of identity and the nuanced internal motivations of the organism–things that didn’t fit in the original because there was too much splatter going on. That’s fine, because it was the original. But why have a second movie that just does the splatter all over again? I remember walking out of the theater saying to my wife: “That two hours would have been better spent watching the original” (though not on the taped from cable Betamax video cassette).

That’s kind of how I’ve felt about every Alien sequel since Aliens. Alien3 was okay, but really just more of the same. The rest were really just bad. So you can imagine my trepidation when I heard about Prometheus, which started life as an Alien prequel. Ridley Scott is directing the movie, but now there’s all kinds of backpedaling going on about whether it’s a prequel or not. And I suppose I don’t care, as long as it’s good and not some warmed-over plot line. I guess I can’t really tell anything from the trailer. Can you?

If it’s as disappointing as I think it might be (but hope it won’t be), I suppose there’s always watching the originals with my kids when they’re old enough.

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