The thought of Hollywood messing with John Carpenter's The Thing is enough to make our heads sprout spider-legs and run away. Which is why we brought our hardest-hitting questions to the set of the Thing prequel. Here's what we learned.
Minor spoilers ahead...
Carpenter's Thing is a science fiction classic, a cornerstone for monster FX, a horror staple and a personal favorite around here. So when we were invited onto the set of Universal's The Thing prequel, directed by the unknown Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., we spent hours reading your comments and concerns on every scrap of news about the new Thing prequel. Turns out we all felt the same: nervous. But after grilling every cast member and seeing the Norwegian base camp up close and personal, we're now cautiously optimistic. Here's why, along with the answers to your questions. (Full disclosure: the studio paid our expenses for this set visit.)
Filming a prequel to The Thing can't be an easy task. Aside from the insane fanbase, you've got to deal with language barriers with the Norwegians, an alien, murder, mayhem and one gigantic spaceship. This new film incorporates all of those elements, while attempting to stay true to the Carpenter version. In a sense, by the end of this movie, all of the original questions raised by the frosted corpses in Carpenter's film should almost be answered. And hopefully they'll finally address how someone can slit their throat and their wrists at the same time! But this movie doesn't simply dwell on its predecessor - there are plenty of new characters, including two Americans, and new drama to deal with.
The prequel's attention to detail didn't just stop with the all-important Thing moments. The entire base camp was stuffed with Norwegian beer, condiments and packages. The menu item "Cod Fillet and Lamb Ribs" was scrawled in Norwegian across the blackboard. But also, the infamous hatchet was lying up against a wall on set (just waiting to be plunged into a wall), and the giant frozen hatch that leads to the mysterious alien space craft had been entirely recreated on set. Even the American helicopter pilot Sam Carter, played by Kinky Boots' Joel Edgerton, was donning a single earring and a cut-off sweatshirt. And even though these elements you were reminded you of where, and more importantly "when" you were, nothing felt hokey or forced.
Every crew member and actor was striving for accuracy. Even the alien touches were recreated with common sense. While we almost toppled down the awkward polygon shaped frozen alien hallway inside the spaceship [seen in the top photo], their odd shape made sense. After all, these hallways weren't made for bipedal humanoids.
Even the cast was imported from Norway, so no crappy fake-Euro accents for these scientists. One of the few American actors on set, both in the film and in real life, Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Scott Pilgrim fame, easily summed up why spending the time to suss out the details and get the real thing was ideal.
The Norwegian actors "bring such a cool energy." Winstead explained. "It's so different from anything else you see on film. There's one scene that is my favorite scene that we've shot. Where we're all celebrating after we've found this creature, and we're all drinking. And they all break out into this completely improvised Norwegian folksong. They're dancing and they are singing different parts and harmonizing, and jumping, and sloshing their beers, and it's all pouring out. It was so much fun to shoot. But then when you watch it back it's actually really sad because you know that these people are going to die. It's kind of haunting and really wonderful."
While we can't speak for the final turn out of this film, comments like these have truly raised our expectations. Here's hoping there's even more horrifically poignant moments along with a healthy heaping of flame-thrower carnage.
Now, on to the questions:
Marc Abraham (Producer): Carpenter's totally cool about this.... 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 [At the time, They Live was still undergoing script rewrites.]
Marc Abraham: Oh, forget it. Matthijs [van Heijningen Jr.] has on his laptop not only screen captures of that entire movie, but there isn't a moment when he doesn't go back to the original. A million of them. He's so careful about where the axe is in the door or 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.
How much CG is the production planning on using to create the alien? The scariest part Carpenter's work were the very real spider heads and flaying alien tentacles.
Alec Gillis (A.D.I. - Creature F/X, Creature and make-up effect co-designer): The interesting thing about this movie is that not only is there going to be real practical stuff that is completely animatronic and needs no digital embellishment, but there is also going to be a combination of the techniques. And the most interesting aspects of that, I think, are when you in a single frame and the two techniques working side-by-side....So it should be fun and chaotic, but still somehow rooted in reality. And I don't mean to trash digital…I have my opinions about how it should be used and how it should not be used, but we have the guys that did District 9. So even I, as a snobby animatronics and makeup guy, I look at that work and I go, "that is frickin' amazing work." So I think we're in very good hands on the digital end as well.
Will this film respect the work that [special effects designer] Rob Bottin did in Carpenter's original?
Alec Gillis: Yeah, it's intimidating as hell...Because it was so… it was so… the term "groundbreaking" is always used. But it was so imaginative, beyond even what the technical aspects of it were, the materials used. The concepts were so very imaginative. So one of the things that that film kinda put into perspective [for] me is you can break ground technically or you can break ground conceptually. And I think that what we're hoping to do is we're hoping to take the updated technology, which is not code for digital, because I know there's a lot of concern –- I share that concern obviously, especially on this film, to not go too digital-heavy because that's not the language of The Thing. But we're hoping that conceptually, we've got something that fits within the lore of the film. It's almost like if you look at the Howard Hawks version which had exclusively makeup, then you look at the Bottin version and it had makeup and animatronics, this one will have the cutting-edge animatronics and the little mini-revolution we've had since 1982 in the world of animatronics, plus it's got the digital to embellish it. I don't think you can really tell this story without digital because as great as animatronics can be, and as big a believer in them as I am, I think that you still need to open things up a bit with the digital, especially when it comes to transformations. And so once you have the best of both worlds, you're free to let the audience enjoy the conceptuals.
Just about every single actor, crew member and producer stated that they couldn't imagine this film being anything but an R-Rated film. And from what we spied in the creature shop and splattered all over the walls of the Norwegian base, we don't think this film could get away with a PG-13 rating either. Thank goodness.
Since this picture is set on the Norwegian base, and the only characters we saw alive in Carpenter's film (albeit very briefly) didn't speak any English at all, we have to imagine that there's going to be a lot of subtitling. Actress Winstead, who is seemingly stuck in a lot of those situations, confirmed our suspicions.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: A lot [of the film will be subtitled]. We did a lot of versions where we would do at the end, "OK now do an English version just in case." I'm not sure exactly what they're going to decide to do. But there's definitely a lot of scenes with Norwegian. Which has been great, especially for my to not know what people are talking about. I don't know if they're talking about me, so you freak out a little... [English-language reshoots are] the same as [redoing] a scene without the f-word, just in case. It's that sort of thing which is tacked in on the end, just in case someone has a problem with that scene being in Norwegian. But for the most part, I think it's really cool. I think Matthijs [the director] really likes that there's a lot of Norwegian in it. It has that feel about it I think that adds to the film feeling very European. Having a European director and a large European cast. It sort of has that feel about it. Which is very cool.
The first few sounds you hear in the 1982 version are the skin crawling plunks from Ennio Morricone's score. Apparently we should keep our ears perked for a few Morricone tributes, executive producer J. Miles Dale elaborates..
J. Miles Dale (Exec. Producer) I expect that there will be some echos of the Morricone themes. He's pretty busy in Italy touring, so he probably won't be doing the movie. But I expect that you will hear a familiar melody from time-to-time.
Will the new soundtrack still have that stripped down, ominous feel to it?
J. Miles Dale: It's not a comedy. It's going to be kind of serious. It will be in that thriller or tense mode. Tonally it will resemble the original in the terms of that feel, but also, it's a different movie. The things that tie this movie to the Carpenter movie are kind of obvious and we've done a lot of reverse engineering, in terms of the camp and the creature and when things happen and how things look. So there can be a continuum there. I think again that melody is a very signature melody, but we have a different director and this is a different movie so I think there will be some reinvention there, I'm sure.
J. Miles Dale: Obviously this film has to stand on its own. Nobody was really excited about a remake for obvious reasons, because of the comparisons and because you know what the story is. The notion of a prequel was very exciting to everyone, and we know that it will be held to that standard and that it is going to be a companion piece. So yes without a doubt. I think that there will be a huge demand to watch the other movie once people have seen this film. Matthijs has been very scrupulous about what we saw of the Norwegian camp in the first film, that's what it looks like now. And the logic, when people should walk through, the alien in the ice block, even the guy who slit his throat, he's a full-fledged character in this movie. We've really gone to great lengths to make that work... Without a doubt, it honors the details of the first movie.
Does that answer all of your questions? If not, here's the full official synopsis with more prequel Thing meat to chew on:
The official synopsis:
Antarctica: an extraordinary continent of awesome beauty. It is also home to an isolated outpost where a discovery full of scientific possibility becomes a mission of survival when an alien is unearthed by a crew of international scientists. The shape-shifting creature, accidentally unleashed at this marooned colony, has the ability to turn itself into a perfect replica of any living being. It can look just like you or me, but inside, it remains inhuman. In the thriller The Thing, paranoia spreads like an epidemic among a group of researchers as they're infected, one by one, by a mystery from another planet.
Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has traveled to the desolate region for the expedition of her lifetime. Joining a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice, she discovers an organism that seems to have died in the crash eons ago. But it is about to wake up.
When a simple experiment frees the alien from its frozen prison, Kate must join the crew's pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing them off one at a time. And in this vast, intense land, a parasite that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish.
The Thing serves as a prelude to John Carpenter's classic 1982 film of the same name.