Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Backstory is Boring

John Carpenter has a new movie coming out next year called THE WARD. It premiered at last month's Toronto Film Festival to lacklustre response. That seems a shame when THE WARD is Carpenter's first film in 9 years. John Carpenter is an institution, the arguable pinnacle of US horror movie craft. He defined American horror in the 70s and spent subsequent decades destroying it with lousy feature after lousy feature. His former horror films were steeped in smart subtext whereas his last film Ghosts of Mars had nothing to praise about. Film fans were hoping his lengthy sabbatical from filmmaking may have reenergised Carpenter so that he could give us another picture comparable to something like his 1982 classic The Thing; a sci-fi horror movie that pushed the boundaries of storytelling and effects to unprecedented levels. Despite the movie not being a commercial hit when it was released 2 weeks after Spielberg's ET, and on the same day as Blade Runner; The Thing is now called "The scariest movie ever" by the Boston Globe, while Britain's Empire magazine notes it as one of the five best films of all time.

Universal Pictures made The Thing (oddly enough, they made ET too) and will release an all new prequel on 29th April 2011 confusingly titled, THE THING. The prequel has a production budget of $35 million and is directed by Dutch helmer, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. THE THING concerns the Norwegian science team alluded to in the original film who come across a spaceship buried in the Antarctic and unthaw the frozen corpse of an alien organism that can absorb and duplicate itself into any life form it crosses. Producer Marc Abraham has given Movieweb some information about the direction this new movie will take, stressing how well the prequel and original link up. Abraham said, "You find the axe in the door in this movie, there's an axe in the door [in The Thing] and you see how the axe got in the door. So you see all of the rewind of that." This demonstrates that THE THING is simply backstory, a pointless retread of beguiling incidents that were cleverly conveyed through the power of suggestion and will now be played out in all the disheartening splendour a $35 million production can buy.

The argument that Hollywood is bereft of original ideas is old hat. It's boring to read another article banging on about it. Therefore, my point isn't so much with remakes but with prequels. The craze for origin stories is infuriating because all it's simply telling us is shit we know about in the first place, or shit we didn't need to see played out because it's superfluous. Filmmakers have forgotten the brilliance of watching a movie that has a narrative scope beyond the film presented. It makes a movie look well developed, a story with gravity and breadth, a tale that took place before any of us had a chance to know about it and will continue long after we see it. That doesn't mean we want to see it, especially not when it's backtracking and covering events that have happened, thus not moving the story on. The Godfather Part 2 managed to expertly combine a prequel and sequel in one movie, but now we're getting bollocks like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and next year's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, which is directed by Matthew Vaughn and tells the story of how the characters got together in swinging-sixties London. It sounds useless and exploitative, especially considering how one journalist recalled Matthew Vaughn as having little knowledge of the X-Men universe when he was originally attached to direct X-Men: The Last Stand for Fox. Superhero movies are terrible when it comes to exploiting backstory, giving us endless repetitions of how the whole thing came to be. What's more, we're so thick we go and watch them when they're released.

One can't be too precious when it comes to John Carpenter's The Thing as that movie was itself a reinterpretation of Howard Hawkes' The Thing from Another World. Marc Abraham has assured loyal fans that the director is a die-hard fan of The Thing, claiming "[Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.] has [The Thing] on his laptop. Not only screen captures of it but the entire movie and there isn't a moment when he doesn't go back to the original. He's so careful about where the axe is in the door, what the ice block looked like, or the spaceship, where they stand when we see the spaceship. He knows and is respectful of every aspect."

That's good to know, but is there anyone who felt the world was a lesser place without a cinematic depiction of the events in the Norwegian camp where the original Thing was hatched? We know that Universal Pictures put THE THING prequel in development after Computer Artworks released their hugely successful videogame of The Thing in 2002, illustrating an appetite audiences still have for the brand. John Carpenter himself told Empire in 2004 that he had plans for a sequel to The Thing but was struggling to get the studio to take him seriously. In some respects I almost respect Marc Abraham for at least not remaking a perfectly good movie and instead choosing to make an alternative version that's connected to the original without being a wholesale rehash. Abraham was pretty honest in saying that the creatively inept executives at Universal Pictures were pushing him to make a remake of Carpenter's original, saying, "Every studio, every entertainment company; all they're trying to do is figure out the least amount of risk and the most brand awareness. That's the world that we live in now."

The origins craze will continue with Ridley Scott trying to get his ALIEN PREQUELS off the ground (having already botched up his origins of Robin Hood story) and Fox releasing RISE OF THE APES next summer. (That's the second Fox prequel out next summer along with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.)

I do want to see what they've done with THE THING prequel and, shamelessly, will watch it regardless of quality because I guess I'm just thick.

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