There’s no point in mincing words, John Carpenter’s version of The Thing is one of my favorite… well things ever. There’s really nothing else quite like it. And yes I know that’s an odd thing to say about a film that both is a remake and has a remake (or really lazy prequel…whatever either way its awful) but bear with me here. In its inescapable ever escalating paranoia and dread, in its masculine but not macho cast (James Cromwell, Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford Motherfucking Brimley), in the lived in claustrophobia of its sets, the way the monster is written as a living organism desperate to survive (and that’s not even touching on the horrendous organic nature of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston’s effects, or the masterful way that Carpenter shot them) there truly is no other film like The Thing. People love to talk about how deglammed and working class Alien is, but next to The Thing it looks like Silent Runnings. This is the blue collar end of the world and it’s amazing. I’m happy this movie exists even if it ultimately sent Carpenter’s career into a tailspin from which it ultimately never required (The day the grosses from The Thing came in Carpenter was booted from Firestarter by Universal, the official press statement reading little more then, “Nuh-uh. Fuck That.” This set the template for how studios would treat Carpenter for the next thirty years.)
The point being that The Thing is going to have as much trouble recapturing all of this as a generations old videogame as the Atari version of Halloween did at capturing the feel of Michael Myers’ rampage. In all fairness, it’s not a bad game. But time has not been particularly kind to it. (I mean, Jesus, you control your movement and the camera with the same joystick? What am I, a caveman?)
The Thing takes place in the aftermath of the film. Your lead a crew of soldiers sent in to mop up the mess left by when RJ MacReady blew up the TentacledWilfordBrimleyDogThing to meaty chunks courtesy of a big ol’ hunk of dynamite. You wander around the devastated outpost, and then later the Norwegian camp and points beyond.
As mentioned not all aspects of the gameplay have aged particularly well (though the graphics are surprisingly decent). After all, the game is predicated on the awe inspiring AI of the year 2002. The gimmick of The Thing is that you lead a small posse of troops at all time, and half to manage their fear and suspicion before they frag you, while also dealing with the possibility that they themselves may have been corrupted and are just waiting for the chance to shove their outspread hands under the skin of your face. It’s not a bad gimmick, but it plays much more clumsy now than it did then, you medicate your team like they’re Chihuahuas with hypertension until they flip out you or don’t. (Now an online version where you’re playing with a group of real people, one of who has been randomly assigned the role of The Thing? That would be interesting.)
More problematic than slightly janky game play is a story that commits several acts of dumb, before a game ending cameo that just goes ahead and straight up gives dumb a high five. Oddly enough, John Carpenter himself shows up in a cameo to give things his blessing and has said in interviews he considers the game canonical. Which, while I don’t want to speak ill of the man, between this and Escape From LA, perhaps it’s all for the best that we never got that Big Trouble In Little China sequel.
Anyway, The Thing. It won’t kill you, but it’s not going to collide with your world and bury itself in the ice for tens of thousands of years, either.
- Released: August 21st, 2002
- System: PS2/Xbox/PC
- Developer/Publisher: Computer Artworks/Konami & Vivendi-Universal