This October, Universal will release The Thing, the long-awaited prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing (yes, you read that correctly). Judging from the teaser poster and trailer, the prequel aims to recapture the claustrophobic look and feel of Carpenter's movie. Recently released stills from the prequel and of the prequel's creature maquettes further confirm the prequel's fealty to the previous Thing film. With the prequel's dedication to capture all of the creative traits of Carpenter's movie, it leaves one to wonder if we'll be getting more of a remake of The Thing (which is a remake itself) than a prequel.
Carpenter's The Thing performed poorly at the box office in 1982, which was largely due to its release during the blockbuster run of another alien movie, E.T. Since then, there have been a handful of Thing comic books published by Dark Horse and an intense Thing video game released back in 2002, but none of these unofficial sequels to Carpenter's movie were popular outside of the Thing fan community. Regardless, somebody at Universal still thinks that there is money left in The Thing as a franchise, yet Universal decided to invest in a prequel and not a remake--even if the prequel might end up feeling like a remake to Thing fans anyway.
Read on for more thoughts about The Thing and how it might fare against Hollywood's new breed of shape shifter, the prebootaquelmake.
I'm writing this post partially in response to another film, this summer's X-Men: First Class. Much of what I've heard about the rushed production of First Class is that 20th Century Fox made it to keep the movie rights to X-Men, instead of letting them revert back to Marvel. Yet what's particularly odd is Fox's refusal to confirm whether First Class is a prequel to their previous X-Men trilogy of films or a reboot, since there are suggestions throughout the movie that either assumption is plausible. Between First Class and the upcoming Thing prequel, we could be seeing the beginnings of a new trend in Hollywood: a studio's decision to firmly classify a movie as being a prequel, reboot or remake being rooted solely in how the film performs at the box office and in home video sales, not during the film's pre-production. This kind of film would be essentially be a "prebootaquelmake" (my term, by the way).
It's bad enough when studios make non-committal sequels for horror and sci-fi franchises--non-committal in the sense that the studios refuse to have a sequel advance the franchise's storyline in any significant way for the sake of leaving room for more sequels (which, in all likelihood, will also be non-committal). Yet prebootaquelmakes take studio indifference to a whole new level, deliberately creating stylish yet aimless movies for the sake of extending the shelf life of horror and sci-fi franchises and then letting the market--not the storyteller--be the only determining factor of what should be done next.
Furthermore, prequels are the perfect vehicles for prebootaquelmakes: They can provide the kinds of thrills and plot points with which franchise fans are familiar, while at the same time introduce new fans to the franchise who may or may not be interested in seeing previous movies in the franchise. This same kind of logic was applied to Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween (another Carpenter movie), although it was very clear from that film's product that it was intended to reboot the Halloween franchise, instead of lurking in some deliberately vague category such as prebootaquelmake.
On the other hand, First Class and The Thing have certain attributes that make them ideal candidates to be classified as prebootaquelmakes. First Class is based on a superhero comic book and because superhero comic books remake and reboot themselves frequently, it's not unreasonable for Hollywood to assume that they can't do the same with their superhero movie franchises. When producing The Thing prequel, Universal had to take two kinds of monster movie audiences into consideration: fans of Carpenter's film, and movie viewers who want to see a film like Carpenter's original but aren't interested in seeing a prequel to a film that's almost 30 years old. After all, the teaser poster only has "The Thing" as the prequel's title, which means that anyone who sees this movie without seeing Carpenter's movie could assume that this is a remake (or a stand-alone movie) and not a prequel.
As an aging monster movie fan myself, the Thing prequel raises all sorts of questions about the long-term viability of a Thing franchise. For example, if this movie makes a sizable amount of cash, then it's likely that a sequel will be made--but will it be a direct sequel to the prequel and thus be a full reboot of the franchise that removes Carpenter's movie from franchise continuity, or will the sequel take place after Carpenter's movie? Will The Thing franchise become like what Paramount has been doing lately with its Star Trek franchise reboot, where fans can choose from different "time lines" that feature similar characters and situations but still belong to the same narrative universe?
Given the nature of the prebootaquelmake, all of the questions about the future of the Thing franchise won't be answered until the box office and home video sales totals of the Thing prequel are tallied by Universal. The best outcome would be that if the prequel is a hit, Universal would put the Thing franchise into the hands of a proven creative talent to add fresh ideas to the Thing concept. (Since the polar icecaps are melting, the infectious alien invader has to go somewhere else anyway, right?) It's not like Universal hasn't done this before--just ask Hammer Films, which breathed new life into classic monsters such as Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster after Universal gave it the creative rights to do so.
In the meantime, I'll probably go see the Thing prequel anyway. After three decades worth of low-budget Thing rip offs, it will be great to see the same level of production quality as Carpenter's back on the silver screen. Let’s just hope that the prequel will lead to exciting new opportunities for what Carpenter started back in 1982, instead of being put back into cold storage by Universal.