THINGS FROM OTHER WORLDS: ADAPTING, TRANSFORMING AND TRANSLATING ‘THE THING’ (London)

Date/Time
Date(s) - Thu. Dec. 12, 2019
7:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Location
The Horse Hospital

Instructor
Laura Mee

Admission
£12.00 adv / £15 door BUY TICKETS

This lecture explores the rich narrative universe of The Thing, using its various iterations to examine the multi-platform and serial nature of contemporary genre storytelling. While John Carpenter’s 1982 film remains the best-known (and most widely celebrated) version, the tale of the eponymous alien ‘thing’ which invades and imitates its host body has its origins in a 1938 novella (John W. Campbell, Jr.), which was adapted in two other films (Christian Nyby, 1951; Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, 2011). The Thing’s world has been further expanded or altered through comic books, video games, fan fiction and fan-made videos, novelisation, theme park attractions, and ancillary merchandising. These numerous story extensions, spin-offs and retellings contribute to a broad narrative which spans decades in terms of production and centuries in its fiction, frequently crossing or confusing boundaries of space, time, and occasionally genre (for example, from science fiction to Carpenter’s film as an example of 1980s’ body horror).

Transmedia storytelling allows for the creation and consumption of an entire narrative universe across various formats, with each text contributing to and enriching its universal whole. Simultaneously, individual entries into these wider story worlds are self-contained, allowing for their enjoyment as a singular text (Jenkins 2008: 97-98). However, transmediality can confuse categorisations of cinematic ‘multiplicities’ (sequel, prequel, remake, etc.) and the definition of one text solely by its connection to another. In the case of The Thing 2011, for example, which purports to be a prequel to John Carpenter’s film, it can be seen in many ways to more closely resemble a remake. Despite narrative and visual details which anticipate the events of Carpenter’s film, placing it in a clear position of ‘beforeness’, much of it plays out as a recreation of the 1982 film. Within a wider culture of adapting and recycling in genre cinema, remakes—like sequels, prequels, reboots or spin-offs—are becoming increasingly difficult to exhaustively define, and to clearly distinguish from many other forms of filmic adaptation – including prequels and sequels.

In a way reminiscent of the alien subject at its heart, which copies, transforms and mutates as its virus spreads, The Thing illustrates the way in which intricate and complex ‘worldbuilding’ can occur through the introduction of new narrative instalments across multiple media platforms. But it also highlights the impossibility of exhaustively defining categories of adaptation and serialisation. Ultimately, this lecture does not strive to resolve these complexities, but rather to identify the theoretical considerations raised by transmedia genre storytelling within a wider culture of recycling and adaptation.

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