The idea came from the guys who remade Dawn Of The Dead...
Whilst every other Hollywood announcement seems to include the words “Remake” or “Reboot” these days, Universal’s plans to dust off much-loved horror classic The Thing has been an especially controversial one, particularly given the apparent cynicism behind the project.¬
Reeling from a string of commercial flops including The Wolfman and Green Zone , the studio approached production company Strike Entertainment with a list of potential projects to remake into a safe, commercial hit. The Thing was the title that apparently ticked all the boxes.
Strike’s Marc Abraham told the LA Times that, “Universal basically came to us and said, 'Everyone is remaking everything, what do we have that might be good?’”
Okay, so it’s an approach that hardly filled us with enthusiasm, but it’s old news that movie studios are always on the lookout for a safe bet. And Strike do at least have a decent track record when it comes to breathing new life into an old franchise.
Abraham and his production partner Eric Newman were the men behind Zack Snyder’s 2004 update of Dawn Of The Dead , a surprisingly non-crap remake that successfully amped up the gore-levels without losing any of the original’s claustrophobic charm.
And the pair are definitely setting the bar high when it comes to their expectations for The Thing . “One of our all-time favorite films is Ridley Scott's Alien , " said Abraham. “It's elegant, really scary and has characters that you care about. In a way, it's our model for this project, which gives us an opportunity to try to do something cool.”
Sounds like they can talk the talk, but is their version a remake, a reboot or what?
Battlestar Galactica's chief scribbler wrote it as a prequel...
Abraham and Newman were keen to avoid the whole “remake” tag (despite their slightly clumsy revelation that that’s exactly what Universal were after), describing it merely as a “companion piece” to the John Carpenter film.
With that fairly hazy template in place, Battlestar Galactica writer Ronald D. Moore was hired to write a script, leaking various tidbits of information suggesting that the film would in fact be a prequel.
“It's not a remake," Moore assured IGN back in 2009. "We're telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did, so it's very buried in the continuity. It's supposed to be the other story that you saw part of, so we didn't want to reinvent it. It was really much the opposite. We really wanted to have this flow seamlessly into what he did.”
As Thing devotees will no doubt remember, the movie kicks off with Kurt Russell’s character stumbling across a Norwegian research station stuffed full of corpses. Sounds like we’re going to see what exactly happened to them. Expect plenty of blood…
Before the whole thing was re-written...
As is often the way with these things, it seems Moore’s draft was all well and good as a first attempt but nothing more, with Universal deciding a full re-write was in order. The man charged with doing the tinkering was one Eric Heisserer, fresh from re-writing the rebooted Nightmare On Elm Street .
However, without holding that against him, his plans for this film sound more encouraging, particularly concerning his attention to detail.
“It’s a really fascinating way to construct a story,” he told Bloody Disgusting , “ because we’re doing it by autopsy, by examining very, very closely everything we know about the Norwegian camp and about the events that happened there. The director, producer and I have gone through it countless times marking (things). So there’s a fire axe in the door, we have to account for that… those details all matter to us because it all has to make sense.”
Fair enough, but if all of this is leading up to an inevitable massacre, doesn’t that kind of spoil any sense of suspense for the audience? Apparently not, according to Heisserer.
“We’re finding so much from Carpenter’s movie that you think you’ve seen,” he says, “but in actuality it allows us to come up with certain twists on what we have that will allow people to be on the edge of their seat, and not know who’s going to make it and who’s not.”
There's a newcomer behind the camera...
Directing duties will be assumed by one Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr. Who? Well, yes, precisely. A former director of TV commercials, Van Heijningen might not be a household name, but he does come highly recommended.
Back in 2008, Van Heijningen was the shock appointment at the helm of upcoming Vegas-based zombie epic Army Of The Dead , with writer Zack Snyder quick to sing his praises.
“We were looking for an inventive talent with a unique voice and we found it in Matthijs," he told FirstShowing.net . “His ability to infuse humour with irony allows him to create compelling stories in 30 seconds.”
Not convinced? Take a look at this compilation of his work over at SlashFilm .The man has clearly got talent, even he’s an untried director at feature level. He’s certainly got the backing of producer Eric Newman, who stresses the advantages of hiring a director with a background in adverts.
“Commercial directors make good film directors not just because they've shot millions of feet of film, but because they know how to convey emotion in 30 seconds,” he told the LA Times . “Whether it’s Ridley Scott or David Fincher or Spike Jonze, these guys are trained to tell stories without words, which is great training for a genre film. It's like they all came out of silent movies."
It will be relatively low-budget...
One respect in which The Thing will buck the trend of recent Hollywood remakes will be in terms of budget. Instead of throwing bucketloads of cash at the project, Universal are expecting costs to be somewhere in the region of $38 million.
On the face of it, that might look like evidence of a studio doing things on the cheap, but in reality it might just be cause for optimism. A low profile cast (more on them shortly) is often a significant strength in a horror movie, particularly when the audience haven’t got a clue who’s going to get offed next.
Similarly, the need to keep costs down should allay any fears that Van Heijningen will be taking the crash-bang-wallop approach to the “updating” process. We’re hoping the budgetary constraints will only add to the film’s claustrophobic scares. Budget-sapping set-pieces are rarely very scary anyway…
Mary Elizabeth Winstead will star...
So as we already hinted, there aren’t any Hollywood heavyweights in the cast, but there’s certainly a rising star in the shape of Scott Pilgrim ’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead. A veteran of horror flicks like Final Destination 3 and Black Christmas , she’s done more than here fair share of big-screen screaming but insists that The Thing will provide some more cerebral scares.
“I’m trying not to do too much of that in this movie,” she told Under The Radar . “I’ve gotta stay strong. There will be no screeching involved. It’s a film that’s a lot about trust and paranoia, so there's a lot of tension. A lot of that stuff is what I really love and scares me more than the actual monster itself.”
Carpenter’s film was an entirely male affair, so where exactly will Ms Winstead fit into proceedings? Well apparently she’ll be on scientific meddling duties, as part of the research team who dig up more than they bargained for.
“I play a young palaeontologist,” she said. “I'm kind of just starting my career and I get involved in this trip to Antarctica to go and extract this fossilized specimen that's been found in the ice. I assume it's typical fare like a mammoth, and when I get there it turns out to be a creature of a whole different sort. So yeah, things start going really wrong.”
All of which will sound fairly familiar to fans of the Carpenter version, but Winstead is confident there will be few complaints at the direction taken by this film.
“It’s a true prequel,” she told Collider. “The end kind of matches up perfectly with the John Carpenter version so you can watch them both back to back and it’ll be cool. I think fans of the John Carpenter version are going to be pleasantly surprised.”
Joel Edgerton is the tough guy...
Winstead will be joined by Smokin Aces star Joel Edgerton, who will presumably be Kurt Russell’s equivalent in the hero stakes. Helpfully, SpoilerTV have managed to get their hands on some cast sheets that shed a little light on his character.
Edgerton will play Sam Carter, a helicopter pilot described as a “rugged, handsome mercenary…the first to suspect something strange and dangerous is going on.” Hmm, sounds suspiciously like Kurt’s character to us, but Edgerton is convinced that this movie won’t tread on the toes of the Carpenter version.
“What Matthijs has done I think is great,” he told Collider , “because he’s a massive fan of the original and he loves Alien and The Thing . They’re his two favourite horror movies. He’s not trying to reinvent the film. He’s certainly not trying to eclipse the film. He’s certainly not trying to remake the film. But, what he’s trying to do is tell the story ‘pre’ that film.”
“What Universal and Matthijs are trying to do is make a partner piece to The Thing ,” he continued. “Modern filmmaking has come a long way, so I guess they’re paying respect to the original while bringing a new time and different (approach) without throwing away what they did in the past.”
So that’s the lead scientist and resident badass in place. Any other notables to look out for? Well, there is one more…
Lost's Mr. Eko is also on board...
Not a massive name, granted, but one that should have sci-fi fans rubbing their hands together, as Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known as Lost ’s Mr. Eko, is also amongst the cast.
The British-born actor was one of the best things in the mind-bending mystery show, frequently out-acting leading man/plank of wood Matthew Fox during his run in the series. However, a quick gander at SpoilerTV ’s casting cheat-sheet suggests he could well be set to meet a sticky end at the hands of the Thing.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje will play Derek Jameson, described as Carter’s “friend and co-pilot.” Nothing particularly ominous about that, but it’s the next bit that has us fearing for his chances. Apparently, “this is Jameson's last season in Antarctica (before) moving to Florida and starting a jetboat business with his brother.”
Now, call us cynical, but if that doesn’t sound like an obituary for a horror movie character, we don’t know what does. Hopefully we’ll get to see plenty of Akinnuoye-Agbaje before he goes splat, as he’s a real presence on screen. Although we also quite like the idea of him running rampage under the Thing’s influence…
The FX will be as old-school as possible...
There might only be $38 million to play with, but a large proportion of that has been allocated to making the Thing look as creepy as possible. However, anyone fearing a shonky CGI-based creature will be relieved to know that the effects will be closer to Carpenter’s schlock and gore than your typical modern horror movie.
“When I came on board, I said I’m not going to write this if it’s going to be a CGI-fest,” Eric Heisserer told i09.com . “This has to be practical, this has to be an old school creature, as real as possible. Whatever CGI stuff it's going to have, has to be as good as or better than that. We can't get away with computer generated FX in this type of film.”
Good news then, and even more encouraging is the decision to hand responsibility for the look of the Thing to Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics. If the names don’t ring any bells, they’re the chaps behind such creature-feature luminaries as the Alien, Predator and the giant worms from Tremors .
Quite the track record then, which is just as well given how iconic the FX in the Carpenter film were. If anyone is up to recreating that classic creature-feature feel, these two are.
The film will land in April 2011...
With the film having started shooting in Toronto back in March and finished as recently as June, everything is on target for a release date of April 29 2011, giving it a good month to make an impression before the arrival of mega-hit in waiting, Thor .
Despite our initial misgivings, we’re hopeful that this might turn out to be a sensible, considered return to Antarctica. The cast and director might not get the pulse racing in terms of star power, but that could be no bad thing in terms of avoiding trampling all over Carpenter’s legacy.
Not only that, but we like the sound of Heisserer’s attempts to give the film its own distinct feel. According to the writer, that was one of the chief issues that needed addressing with Ronald Moore’s first draft.
“What we found with that was there was this constant reference to the Carpenter film,” he told i09.com , ”and it was kind of bringing a friend who was like, ‘oh hey remember this other thing we went to that was so much cooler?’ You just didn't want to have that around.”
It’s certainly been a controversial project, with plenty of Carpenter fans up in arms, but there could yet be a nice surprise at the end of the rainbow. After all, Carpenter’s film was a remake of the 1951 original The Thing From Another World , and that didn’t turn out so bad, did it?