|Continuity, originality and missed opportunities|
A signal from a derelict vessel draws an isolated group of people into a conflict with an aggressive xenomorph, an alien with the ability to change shape. Swiftly overwhelmed, they know that if they allow the creature to reach civilisation it will trigger a domino effect in which humanity will be destroyed. Unable to call for help and ill-equipped, they attempt to destroy it armed with little more than flamethrowers, and as their numbers are whittled down, one woman stands forward to defend her planet.
Except this isn't a synopsis of Alien and the woman isn't Ellen Ripley, but this supposed prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece The Thing, which has so little original material to offer that it can't even come up with a new title, has managed to take what little difference there was between the plot of those two divergent films and blend them into one.
Which is not to say that this is a bad film; in fact, it is far better than it has any right to be given that it has nothing to add to an inspiration that has lain dormant in ice for three decades. It is well structured, competently filmed, with excellent practical effects (the digital effects sometimes less so) and good performances; the problem is that, despite repeated assertions by the studio, it is not a prequel, it is most definitely a remake. A prequel must tell a different story that is consistent with and leads up to the original; despite switching location to a different Antarctic base, this tells almost exactly the same story with the same events in the same sequence as John Carpenter did in 1982.
Admittedly, some of the recreations of established scenes have new ideas; working on the erroneous assumption that the Thing cannot synthesise inorganic materials, instead of blood tests to isolate those who may have been infected, anyone with perfect teeth is now suspect, as the fillings in their teeth will have vanished when they were replaced. That the Thing has already been able to recreate the clothing of all those assimilated including buttons and zippers is conveniently overlooked by the script, and the new version of the scene manages to be as effective and tense as before.
Mary Elisabeth Winstead's Kate Lloyd is pretty, but good as she is in the part and in the film as a whole, she lacks the experience and authority to be convincing as a palaeontologist. Is there any reason she had to be an expert rather than just a graduate student, if the producers demanded a young cast? Unlike the Carpenter version, where Donald Moffat and Richard Dysart were both in their fifties, here the oldest member of the cast is Ulrich Thomsen, in his mid-forties when the film was shot, and most are considerably younger, with Winstead a full five years younger than Kurt Russell when he played MacReady.
Thomsen's character, Doctor Sander Halvorson, is an outdated cliché, the stubborn scientist who breaks rules and ignores human concerns in his quest for answers. While not as offensive as Armageddon's blanket portrayal of scientists as incompetent buffoons, it is facile shorthand that writer Eric Heisserer and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr take all too often in this film in preference over creating real characters the audience might care about. With the exception of Kate and the expendable Juliette, all the roles are mirrored from the predecessor.