Nov 3 2010

Prequels: The New Re-Make/Boot/Release?

It was announced, not too long ago, that a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing was in the works.  Soon after, Ridley Scott announced that he was working on a prequel to Alien.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Some, if not many will be calling foul on this article on the grounds that it is pure speculation, that there is no telling how these films are going to look until, at the very least, a trailer is launched; in a way, they’re right.  Yet in this post-Phantom Menace era, it is hard not to be cynical towards the thought of a prequel to modern-day classics.  In this age of reboots and re-imaginings, it is far too easy to assume that the prequel has become the new remake.

It almost goes without saying that The Thing and Alien are classics, even touchstones of the scifi-horror genre.  They are, without a doubt, amongst the best in their class due to both films’ tight scripts, masterful direction, fine acting and revolutionary special effects.  Most importantly, both films are still absolutely frightening.

A small factor that contributed to the films’ horror mystique was the questionable origins of both “monsters.”  In The Thing, Kurt Russell and his colleagues investigate a nearby Norwegian research base, only to find no Norwegian researchers, and an alien spacecraft.  Perfect: it’s vague, yet not difficult to piece together, and ultimately creepy.

Alien has John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, and an ever-trembling Vanessa Redgrave discover a very odd, not-of-our-Earth-looking spaceshift containing a field of eggs (one of which launches a “face hugger” at John Hurt) and some kind of humanoid figure that has since been christened “The Space Jockey.”  Unlike The Thing, the origins behind Alien offer no clues whatsoever, making

Yeah yeah, but what happened before this?

everything about the series that much more eerie.

Many horror films thrive on the lack of concrete exposition, as there is little else more frightening than that which we do not know.  Horror icons rely on this kind of allure, as it is the mystery that makes them so horrifying, yet darkly entrancing.  There is no need for reason or explanation as to how they came to be; that would make them relatable, tangible figures instead of monsters that have simply emerged from the dark.

Michael Myers of the Halloween series is one of the best examples of this idea.  By the end of the first film, we know all we need to know about him; that he stabbed his sister to death when he was six, that he spent fifteen years after that locked up in an asylum.  The rest, as in his motives, who and what he is, why he is the way he is, how he got this way, is mystery.  Michael Myers simply is.  We don’t need to know that he was bullied at school and came from a troubled home.

Same goes for Hannibal Lector, who got his own prequel in 2007, and it ruined the idea of Lector; we don’t need to know that he watched Nazi soldiers cannibalize his sister when he was a child, and that his career as a serial killer started with him hunting down his sister’s killers.  It exposes a character that took pride in being sinister and coy, changed him from monster to vigilante, and frankly, it’s a terrible origin story.  I mean, really.  Cannibal Nazis?

The most horrifying thing about the creatures in the Alien movies is that they are, in the truest sense of the word, alien.  We know nothing about them (note: We’re discounting the AvP series because it’s ridiculous): their desires, their motives, their origins… nothing.  The fact that they could have come from anywhere, and that, no matter how many of them are defeated, there are more still out there, lingering somewhere in eternity waiting.

Which is why it’s mind-numbingly heartbreaking to find out that Ridley Scott, the director of the original film, is making a prequel to the film that started it all.  Why?  Is it because the world is crying out for the identity of the Space Jockey?  Is it because we must have an origin story about the aliens that doesn’t involve intergalactic, dreadlocked game hunters?  Or is it because American Gangster and Robin Hood garnered less-than-ideal praise and box office profit?

To be fair, Ridley Scott still has an impressive body of work, and though he seems to be spending more time re-releasing new versions of Blade Runner every year, it would be unfair to deem this move as “going back to the well.”

The Alien movie does have some promise.  Damon Lindelof (one of the creators of LOST) has been hired to pen the script, and Scott is looking at Natalie Portman or Noomi Rapace to star in the film.  Even if a prequel to Alien may be unnecessary, its good to see that there are talented people behind the project who just want to make a well-crafted, suspenseful film.

Yet, it could also just be another guaranteed moneymaker leeching off of Alien’s reputation, not unlike Alien Resurrection and the AvP films.  It may seem cynical to say so this soon in the game, but the recent announcements of the Alien prequel will be shot in 3D, will be divided into two parts, and will be given a PG-13 rating (to be fair, this is solely a studio decision; Scott fought for the R), it seems as though this film is just another part of a profitable franchise.

At least the Alien prequel has the possibility for creativity and suspense; there really is no telling what the story will be or where that tale will go.  The same, however, cannot be made for the prequel to The Thing, which has been named The Thing.  The identical title may be a product of lazy writing, yet it might be very clever foreshadowing; like its monster, the prequel may just be a copy of the original, though it will probably be far from perfect.

The events before Carpenter’s The Thing are more revealing than Alien.  In fact, they’re laid out in front of us via a recovered video unit: the creature that plagues Kurt Russell and company came from a nearby Norwegian research base.  Upon investigating the base, it is plainly seen that the Norwegian researchers dug up a spacecraft, opened it up, and the Thing killed them.  Boom! Open and shut case.  Nothing left to…

shown here: NOT Keith David and Kurt Russell

The prequel to The Thing will detail the events at that Norwegian research base, because there must have been more to it than that.  Or, it all went down in virtually the same way, except we all know (and basically saw) exactly how it will end.  However, the film will throw in a few American characters (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Australian actor Joel Edgerton) since the American mainstream shows little interest in watching a Scandinavian movie with subtitles (see: the remakes to Let The Right One In and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).  There are pictures of Edgerton on set looking scruffy and holding a flamethrower too, which will make filmgoers look back fondly on when it was Kurt Russell looking scruffy and holding a flamethrower in Carpenter’s version.

These new prequels bring up an interesting question regarding film series these days: Are these films really adding to the story, or are filmmakers just George Lucasing classics?  Has the prequel become the new reboot?  It would seem so; several horror franchises are going back to the beginning of a series, yet these movies tend to be more of the same crap set with the clocks turned back a bit.  It isn’t impossible to expect the same from a prequel, which will most likely provide the same elements as the rest of its series, yet framed inside a scenario that was hinted at or explained in the series’ actual first installment.  Origin stories may be intriguing, but if the origin were so engaging to begin with, the film series would have simply started there in the first place.

2 Responses to “Prequels: The New Re-Make/Boot/Release?”

  • James Says:

    Batman Begins! The Dark Knight!

  • Nate Says:

    But won’t those films be even scarier knowing that the aliens aren’t actually there, and are at best tangibly represented by something in a suit covered in big green puffballs???

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