Set Visit Report: Entering The World Of The Thing Prequel

By Eric Eisenberg 2010-10-04 09:46:32discussion comments
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Set Visit Report: Entering The World Of The Thing Prequel image
Before I visited the set for Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing this past summer in Toronto, I worried, like many fans of the original, that this was simply another example of a studio taking advantage of a franchise with a fan base to make a quick buck. Carpenter’s film, with its paranoid feel and revolutionary effects work, is a horror classic; what could a prequel really offer? Outpost 31 fans have worried about shoddy CGI and a redundant story from the day the prequel was announced, but what they don’t know is how much work is being done to quell those fears.

“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,” said Producer Marc Abraham, while sitting under a tent just outside the massive set. Fans of Carpenter’s film will always remember the first sign of trouble that R.J. MacReady, played by Kurt Russell, and Dr. Cooper, played by Richard Dysart, run into when entering the Norwegian base: the blood-covered axe jammed solidly into the wall. Not only has the prequel recreated that image, but the entire set as well, down to the last detail.

“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,” said Abraham. “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.”

It was from what we see in the Norwegian base scene of Carpenter’s The Thing that helped map out exactly what needed to occur in Heijningen’s prequel. Speaking with producers, actors, set designers and effects creators, it became clear that the ultimate goal of this new movie is that audiences will be able to watch both back-to-back with complete continuity. According to the producers, the writers used the sequence in Carpenter’s film as a road map for the prequel and structured plot points around them. How did the axe get covered in blood? How did it get into the wall? Why did nobody remove it? What exactly happened to the charred, fused-skeleton corpse they find in the back? There isn’t a single stone left unturned or question left answered.

As you can probably guess by the word “prequel, the events in Heijningen’s film begin before the trials experienced by MacReady and crew at the American base in Antarctica, when scientists at a Norwegian outpost make a tremendous discovery: an alien spacecraft buried under the icecap that has been there for thousands of years. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd, played by Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, travels down to the site to work alongside the Norwegians and discovers a frozen specimen in the ice. Unbeknownst to her, however, is that this is the evil, replicating organism from the first film. Awoken from its slumber, Kate, the Norwegians, and a helicopter pilot named Carter, played by Joel Edgerton, soon find themselves not knowing who they can trust and must find a way to destroy the creature before it kills them all.

But while many are concerned about the level of respect for the story in Carpenter’s The Thing, there’s an even greater concern that the ground-breaking effects work by Rob Bottin would be abandoned in favor of modern computer generated images. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Having an opportunity to visit the on-set workshop and speak with Creature and Make-Up Effect Co-Designer Alec Gillis, I can tell you that every effect that can be done with puppetry in the film has been, Gillis in constant admiration of the effects work in the original.

“It’s intimidating as hell,” Gillis said. “In 1982 I remember where I was when I was watching [John Carpenter’s The Thing], I was in college. Bottin is just a couple of years older than me. So I’m sitting there at like 20. He was 22, I think, when he helmed that. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Whoa!’”

The work being done by ADI Studios is remarkable – pure movie magic. While touring the workshop and set, I was able to closely inspect a great deal of ADI’s work, including the alien that the Norwegians find buried in the ice; the fused bodies mentioned above; and a whole bunch of spare limbs. The models, made using a translucent silicone skin, are so incredibly lifelike that being surprised by one in your closet would result in a hospital visit.

Touring around the set itself, in addition to going into the effects workshop, I was able to see some incredibly cool set-ups, including the inside of the alien ship seen in the first film, which, because of it’s organic/metallic look, seems to be inspired to some extent by the work of artist H.R. Giger, as well as the various rooms in the Norwegian base. Walking through the kitchen, bathroom and living spaces, I took note of the set design, and not a single detail was misplaced, from Norwegian-labeled food cans to decade-appropriate pin-up girl posters (because this is a prequel to a film set in the 80s, naturally this film takes place in the 80s as well). While I didn’t get to watch Edgerton or Winstead perform, I did get to watch as a stuntman was set on fire by a flame thrower –something you don’t typically see during a day at the office.

While I obviously can’t express an opinion about the movie as a whole, I’d be lying if I said my confidence in The Thing prequel didn’t vastly improve during my trip to Toronto. The people behind this project have heard your complaints and your worries. They seem to understand both your passion and your concerns. They appear to genuinely care for the original just as much as you or I. Standing atop the hatch of the alien spaceship and realizing that it’s an exact replica of the one seen in Carpenter’s film, I appreciated that we may have never asked for a prequel to be made, but Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and crew are trying to show us why we should have.

For full coverage of my set visit, click here to see my report, interviews and more!
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