After the success of a videogame based on the original film, rumors of a sequel arose many times but never came to fruition, with creative differences between Universal and John Carpenter cited as the main reason. It was oft-speculated that Carpenter made a deal to write and produce a sequel provided he got to name has director. But when he opted to name himself director the studio balked and the project fell apart. In the aftermath, rumors of a miniseries on the SyfY channel arose along with the possibility of retelling the story with 20-somethings on a tropical island but (thankfully) they never saw the light of day.
Rather than do a sequel or remake, Universal opted to jump start the franchise with a prequel that covers the events leading up to the John Carpenter film. It is set in 1982 at a Norwegian research station in Antarctica shortly before the scientists make an amazing discovery. When they uncover an alien craft that had been buried in the ice for over 100,000 years, as well as a frozen crewmember from the craft, they quickly celebrate the scientific discovery of a lifetime.
Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is recruited by a famed scientist to travel to the desolate continent to research the find. Told only that they are about to research an amazing discovery, Kate and a team of specialists arrive and are absolutely stunned by the magnitude of their discovery. Kate urges caution but is overridden by the expedition leader Dr. Halvorsan (Ulrich Thomsen), who insists on taking a tissue sample of the frozen creature encassed in a block of ice.
Later that evening while celebrating, the very much alive creature escapes from its icy prison and begins to systematically hunt the members of the research team. The creature is eventually trapped and burned which causes some consternation over the loss of the creature for further scientific study, but many in the camp applaud its loss after seeing firsthand the destruction it is capable of.
After a bizarre series of events, Kate makes the startling discovery that the cells of the creature are able to imitate and perfectly replicate any thing that it comes in contact with. As a result, not only is the creature very much alive, but the individuals in the camp may no longer be human. Trapped in a remote location with an advancing winter storm, suspicions and paranoia go through the roof as the survivors are pitted against one another, unsure of who is still human. What follows is a high-octane adventure awash in action and grizzly special-effects as the two species are locked in the ultimate battle for survival.
The film has a good supporting cast and Joel Edgerton does solid supporting work as an American helicopter pilot assigned to the camp. Eric Christian Olsen provides a steadying presence as a research assistant but his character is not as developed as it could be. It is known that he and Kate know each other but their past history is undefined which makes their relationship a bit puzzling in the film especially when the survivors begin to pick sides.
While the movie is not going to make fans forget the original, it is a very worthy companion piece. As the film was winding down I found myself checking off a couple of inconsistencies with the original film, but was very pleasantly surprised when this was all explained during the end credits which perfectly synced the end of this film with the opening of John Carpenter’s classic.
In many ways the weakness of film is due to the success of John Carpenter’s previous film, in that the creature is not that much of a mystery this time around. Part of the suspense of the previous film was not knowing how the creature operated nor how it was capable of infecting and replicating numerous individuals.
This time around the suspense is lost due to the familiarity with the creature. As a result, director Matthijs van Heijningen focused his efforts on a more action adventure oriented film that gave very little time for character development. We are not told very much about many of the characters in the film as they simply exist to serve as potential victims for the creature. All one really needs to know is they are scientists or support staff as aside from a handful of characters we’re not really given much reason to care whether they survive.
Visually the film is sharp and it is clear that a lot of attention was paid to replicate the look of the previous film. The shots of vast fields of ice and snow emphasized the remote and isolated setting that the characters find themselves in and served as a reminder that danger lurks all around. The special-effects have obviously been upgraded since 1982 and it was nice to see that the creative elements did not go overboard on CGI effects, and actually used puppetry and animatronics to provide updated creature effects that were still in keeping with the look and tone from the previous film.
While the film is not likely to reach the iconic status of the previous film, it is still a worthy companion piece that has enough action and effects to keep it interesting to fans of the series – just so long as they keep their expectations reasonable and do not expect a film on par with the previous one.
3 stars out of 5
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