In 1982 the master of horror and suspense, John Carpenter, brought us the now classic alien horror film The Thing starring Kurt Russell. While the movie has become a cult hit over the years it wasn't always that way. The film initially had a difficult time at the box office in part due to the fact that it was released two weeks after Steven Spielberg's juggernaut film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, who's friendly depiction of alien creatures held a stark contrast to the scary extra-terrestrials in Carpenter's movie. Not to mention that The Thing also opened on the same day as another classic sci-fi film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner! None-the-less, the movie went onto gather a cult following, thanks to its eventual release on home video. The film has since been called "the scariest movie ever" by the Boston Globe and selected by Empire magazine as one of the five hundred greatest movies of all time. So in an age of reboots, re-imaginings, sequels and prequels, it only makes sense that Universal Pictures would decide to dive back into the cold with the frightening and out-of-this-world excitement of The Thing, a prequel to John Carpenter's original film.
The new movie, which is directed by Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and is scheduled for release next spring, takes place at the base camp of the Norwegian science-team that was briefly shown in the first film and is the place of origin for the alien trouble. The new movie follows paleontologist Katie Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she travels to Antarctica to join the ill-fated Norwegian science-team, which has just discovered an alien spaceship buried in the ice. Inside the spacecraft is an extra-terrestrial organism that seems to have died decades ago but is actually just asleep and is now about to wake up. When the creature, which can take on the form of anything it touches, escapes from its frozen prison, Katie must join forces with the crew's pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), in order to stop the monster from killing them off one by one. In fact, the film promises to end right where the John Carpenter film began, giving fans an inside look at the events that led up to the first movie. Last June we had the opportunity to travel to the film's set in Toronto, Canada where we spoke to actors Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, producer Marc Abraham and even got a chance to tour the gigantic set and watch some of the filming.
Upon arrival to the mammoth-size Pinewood Toronto Studios, we were greeted by producer Marc Abraham who's credits include The Hurricane, Children of Men and The Last Exorcism. Abraham is also no stranger to remaking classic horror films having produced Zack Snyder's remake of George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead and will soon embark on producing a remake of the classis monster movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. We began speaking to Abraham while walking on the frozen roof of the alien spaceship as it looks when it is first seen at the beginning of the movie, and later we had a chance to tour the inside of the ship.
The inside of the spacecraft looks awesome and exactly the way you would imagine it to, metallic and large in scope. Since in this film we will see the alien, as it was when it was first found by the Norwegians in the original movie, we began by asking the producer if that means we'll have a chance to actually see it in its natural form in this film? "What we see, the only form that we see it in, its most pure form, is in the ice block. The good news about what we did is, we obviously reversed engineered it, like our ice block," he explained. "We probably would have done an ice block that was much more realistic but of course in the original that ice block looks a certain way so our ice block has to look just exactly like that ice block. So that form that you see in the ice block, which is what you saw in John's movie, that's the only natural form that we know that it existed in."
Abraham continued to explain that the spacecraft actually doesn't belong to the creature but in fact, The Thing had been captured by another alien race that was piloting the ship. We asked the producer if the creature ever takes on the appearance of the alien's flying the ship? "It did do that. At some point it killed the pilot and then it tried to observe its surroundings, which is what happens in John Carpenter's movie. It went out of the spaceship when it crashed. So clearly the ship, piloted by whatever species was out looking for whatever it was doing, collecting information, found this. It's a zoological expedition," Abraham said. "So they found it, put it in there, froze it and got the wrong one, one that was more dastardly then they'd expected. It broke out and tried to take over the ship and killed the pilot but the whole thing crashed. Now left with not knowing what to do, it gets outside of the ship and freezes to death." We followed up by asking exactly how many alien specimens we will be seeing in this movie? "Well, there's the original version and that's what we see, but the whole great thing about this horror story is that any one of us can be The Thing. We see it in different incarnations, so you see all kinds of versions of it, but you also see it when it's just one of the crew," Abraham replied.
"They really link up," the producer said comparing this film with the original. "You find the axe in the door in this movie, there's an axe in the door and you see how the axe got in the door. So you see all of the rewind of that." We continued by asking if it was safe to say that at least one of the cast members of the movie would be portraying the role of The Thing at some point in the prequel? "Oh yeah, it absolutely is," said Abraham. "That's what's brilliant about it because when the original was written it had a political point of view. To that extent, the movie is about paranoia. Its overall theme is, who do you trust and why do you trust them? It's about the human condition, human nature and about trusting people."
Abraham went onto to discuss the difficulties of staying true to the look of the creature in the original film while putting a modern day twist on it for new fans of the franchise. "When they did that movie, they wanted it to look as real as it could look. That's what you want to do. It's a real story about a bunch of people you really believe in with actors who are talented and not just movie stars. Our job is to make it as real as it can be. But in terms of the practical aspects of the monsters, the creature, we really have gone way beyond what most people think about it to actually build the monsters. Those monsters are cool and they're scary. We have body casts of our actors and freaky looking stuff that you wouldn't want to come across in your hotel room. Our goal was just to make it as real as possible."
It's obvious to anyone that steps foot on the set that the filmmakers are bending over backwards to make this film connect to the original as best they can, so we asked Abraham how much time is spent on set watching John Carpenter's original movie?
"Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has it 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. Because we can do so much more, so many things we could do, but when it came to being anything that was referenced in that movie, we have absolutely stayed with it. Thousands of hours he's spent looking at that movie. He knows and is respectful of every aspect," Abraham answered.
We followed up by asking if the producer ever felt like his hands were tied by being so faithful to the original? "If we were making a prequel to a movie nobody liked, nobody saw, nobody gave a shit about, we would be less likely to worry about it. This is a movie that, though it was not hugely successful when it was released, is just regarded by fans as the top of the genre. So yeah, we've been very careful about it. But I wouldn't say tied our hands because we're the beneficiaries of all of its success. So we didn't go into it blindly."
"Every studio, every entertainment company, all they're trying to do is figure out the least amount of risk and the most brand awareness," Abraham continued. "That's the world that we live in now. It's frustrating sometimes, but that's the reality. So when you have a studio and they own titles, they're looking back through that to say, how do we exploit these titles? Do these titles matter? Given that it's so hard to get people's attention and the news travels at light speed, how do we get a leg up? Well, we use a brand. So when they started talking about that and we looked at The Thing because we had done a remake, Dawn Of The Dead, we went into it with our eyes wide open. There was no question in our mind like, are we going to have to be careful? The answer was yes! Did we feel that was an impediment? On a purely creative level we knew it would be difficult. On a much larger bird's eye view you say to yourself, hey that's the deal. I think that when we looked at it, it was more of a challenge. Its kind of fun that you see an axe in a door, an ice block, a spaceship or this mayhem in this radio room because it's like CSI, it's a crime scene. What happened? We had to go back and go, at one point someone picked up an axe thinking that was going to vanquish this and at some point that axe went into the thing and there's a reason why it didn't take it out. There's blood all over the axe, which meant that it might have The Thing's genetic shit, and we know if The Thing's genetic stuff hits you, you're toast. So then it's like, he goes for the axe and now you're left with that iconic image of the axe in the door."
We asked Abraham if initially the studio had resistance to doing a prequel rather than a sequel? "Yeah, originally. Now everyone's telling us we're geniuses. They just didn't understand why we were going for a prequel. If we were doing a remake of the movie, we would be castigated, people would be killing us. We also felt we don't want to remake John's movie. It was a really good movie and we liked it. What would we do? Have somebody else playing Kurt Russell? That's a nightmare," he explained. "But they didn't get it. "Why don't you just remake the movie?" They would say. Then when we finally convinced them, they all understood. We said we didn't even want to compete with MacReady. That's one of the reasons we decided to switch it up with a woman. We wanted to not compete with MacReady right away. We wanted a woman to be in the spotlight. Just take it away from that. Maybe if this really works and people really like the movie we'll do a sequel, which is a natural."
The producer also talked about John Carpenter's role in this project. "Carpenter's totally cool about this," he said. "He didn't have a problem with the movie really. John's signed off on all of this, and we have the rights to another one of his movies that we might remake, They Live."
Finally, since the title of the prequel is currently the same as its predecessor, we asked the producer if he thought that the title would be changing before its release, or if he felt it would remain the same? "It's a really good question and it's a very hard one if you're on the line," he answered. "You don't want to devalue it. You really want people to see the movie, and you do because you've worked your butt off on it, so you want to give it a title that is good. No matter what you do, somebody is going to come after you. You say The Thing: Begins and they say, John Carpenter's is the beginning, asshole. Yours is like The Thing: Bullshit. Why don't you call it that? They will, trust me. The Thing: Fuck You. I don't know, I don't know the answer to that? I wish I could wake up in the middle of the night and have the answer. The other day I was thinking The Thing: It's Fucking Scary."
Be sure to check back with us later this week for part two of our visit to The Thing set, where we spoke to the stars of the film, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom), took a tour of the Norwegian base camp set and even watched them filming a scene with a ... wait for it ... flamethrower!