I had a chance to attended Universal’s panel and press line for The Thing prequel during the New York Comic-Con, and I have to say that the crowd was pretty satisfied with the teaser footage that was screened at the convention.
During the press line I had a chance to speak with producers of The Thing prequel, Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, as well as Matthijs van Heijningen, a former commercial director who is making the jump to feature films with this prequel.
For those who don’t know, Carpenter’s Thing was a remake of a 1950s movie that was itself an adaptation of a 1938 novella. The premise is that an alien life-form is discovered buried in the Antarctic ice by a group of scientists, who discover that the alien is a shape-shifter able can copy any life-forms it comes into contact with. The alien wreaks havoc at the scientists’ camp before invading another camp of American researchers. Carpenter’s film was about the downfall of the American camp; this prequel details what happened to the scientists who originally discover the alien.
The Thing prequel stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim), Eric Christina Olsen (Community), Joel Edgerton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), Ulrich Thomsen (Hitman), Jonathan Walker (Traitor) and a host of Norwegian actors (who will be speaking their native language, to boot). Carpenter’s film is famous for the crazy animatronic effects used to bring the alien creature to life, as well as it’s intense psychodrama. This prequel film will combine practical effects and CGI to create The Thing, and the “Who do you trust” psychodrama will again be a prominent focus of the story.
Topics of discussion with the director and producers ranged from how you go about making a prequel to a horror classic and what it’s like living in the shadow of John Carpenter, to which elements of Carpenter’s film – the music, the original cast – we might see turn up in this prequel:
Screen Rant: How do you go about making a prequel to The Thing, a horror movie classic?
Marc Abraham: We’ve been in business with Universal for a long time, And when you have a company you’ve been doing movies with, you’re always looking at their catalog to see if there’s anything you could possibly do a different version of, or remake, and this was a film that we loved, so we didn’t want to remake it, but we thought ‘Wow is there anything we could do with it? Is there any way to enjoy this experience without having to actually remake it?’ And that’s when we came up with the idea that we would do a prequel to the movie – take the Carpenter movie kind of take it apart and make a movie about one of the aspects of it, which is actually what happened before the Carpenter movie started.
Screen Rant: What is it about the Carpenter film that made you think this material was ripe for a prequel?
Matthijs van Heijningen: After reading the short story and seeing Carpenter’s movie, it’s a monster movie but it’s actually about people, when you confront them with certain knowledge, how they react, the basic survival mode and that’s what I really liked about the story. At the core that’s what I really like about the Carpenter [movie] – how they react to each other, how do they cooperate with each other, can they cooperate with each other. If they do, then they maybe get killed; if they don’t work together they also get killed, so there’s a whole psychological paranoia, that’s what I love about that movie. I love the monster – but that’s what I really love.
SR: Matthijs you’re not necessarily a known director – which is a double-edged sword. Fans may be skeptical, but you also have a sort of creative freedom to establish yourself as a director. So how did you approach that situation when handling such revered material like Carpenter Thing?
MVH: The thing is you shouldn’t think about that too much. If you’re inspired by somebody you should just be inspired and then do your own thing…I care about little stories and making people like them. If I think about how [people] should perceive my story I get distracted; I try to make what I like. As a fan of John Carpenter what I like is how can I take my take on the story, my little story, and transcend it.
SR: Knowing how the Carpenter movie starts off, which would be the overlap to where this prequel ends, do you have any plans for the original cast to cameo?
MA: We talked about that…the problem is our film takes place in the same time-frame, so it’s not like you can [use] them 25 years later, so it doesn’t really fit in that way. We could sort of do what I think they’ve done with [Tron: Legacy] with Jeff Bridges, but it seems kind of gimmicky and we’ve stayed with a film which is not gimmicky. So we’re respectful and we think we can lead into that [Carpenter] film with the right attitude, but we’re not planning on doing that.
SR: The theme music to Carpenter’s film is so iconic. Will you be using that music in the prequel?
Eric Newman: It will have a presence in the movie. As you can see in the trailer it ends with that sort of heartbeat…Marco Beltrami is scoring the movie, but that will be integrated into the score somewhere, because it’s brilliant.
Just some early info to better prepare you for when The Thing will once again be invading theaters. From talking to them, I can say that my early opinion is that Heijningen, Abraham and Newman are all at least on the right track about how to go about making this film. The teaser footage looked appropriately intense and menacing, and despite the fact that we already know how the story turns out, there is still room for a few surprises (and a lot of explanation) with this film.
The Thing prequel hits theaters on April 29, 2011.