The Thing Prequel Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Discusses the Movie's Origins
10.05.10 by Ryan
John Carpenter's The Thing wasn't a success at the box office when it premiered in 1982, the same weekend as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, not even making back its budget after four weeks of theatrical release. Over the years, however, the movie has become a classic among horror and sci-fi fans, a movie so beholden that when it was announced that a prequel to the movie was in the works with a script by Battlestar Galactica reboot creator Ronald D. Moore (later rewritten by Eric Heisserer) and directed by newcomer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., the news was met with equal doses of cautious excitement and fear. What eased fans worries was that the movie was not a remake, but rather focused on the Norwegian research team that initially unearths the alien creature, the aftermath of which is briefly depicted in The Thing.
There's still the question of the untested van Heijningen, who's handling a beloved classic movie. In an interview with Collider, the Dutch director explained how he got involved with a prequel to a movie made 28 years prior.
I was prepping a movie called Army of the Dead, produced by Zack Snyder. It was 3 months before shooting and then the crisis hit and it fell apart. And then I was prepping that for a year, almost. So, I was like in a little void. And then I was in my car and I was like, oh God, I have to read all these scripts again. Is there anything like one of my favorite movies that I went to, thinking about Alien, thinking about The Thing and then I called my agent and said "whatever happened to The Thing? Did anyone ever do something with it?" And he said, "Yeah, Strike Entertainment is prepping something with The Thing." I didn't know if it was a prequel or a sequel. So they got me in contact with them and they had already a script. And then I said "hey well, can I read it?" And they were very enthusiastic about my work. And I read it and I liked it. And I said well, I think if you want to do a prequel to JC’s movie, it has to be really true to that movie. The monster is different, as an audience you would know who was The Thing. The basic rule of his movie is that you don't know who’s the Thing, I mean, that’s the whole paranoia. And so, we started from scratch, to bring in JC’s movie as sort of the design of what our movie should be. Just really go back, you know. And I said well, if I can pitch it to the studio, it should be with real Norwegians. ‘Cause otherwise, as a European, I mean it’s ridiculous if it’s like America pretending to be Norwegians. And doing commercials the whole time, I'm just gonna pitch it and see, probably they don't like it and it’s gonna be washed under the table. But they said it’s cool, let’s do it. Real Norwegians, that sort of thing. So that’s how it started.
The few moments that Kurt Russell and company spend in the Norwegian camp became keys to structuring the movie, said van Heijningen.
Well, I think that was the beginning of our approach, let’s see all those key points in the Norwegian camp. The ax in the door, the two-faced monster. Is there a way for us to explain that and incorporate it in the story about all these people? So that’s how we sort of came up with the story. And of course Universal was fine with Norwegians but we need to have some Americans so that’s way we sort of constructed it in there.
Those "Americans" include Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joel Edgerton (The Square), who is, ironically, Australian.
I was just trying to find this believable, hardboiled guy, and just you know, Vietnam Vet who just starts a business in Antarctica and doesn't care about people anymore. Maybe he experienced a lot of stuff. I read about [Edgerton], that he was in a play on Broadway which had raving reviews and he just came in and that’s the guy. And for Mary, we were trying to find somebody who was between 25 and 30 and believable as a clever person that could be a scientist. So the moment that somebody pretends to be a scientist and you don't believe it, I'll basically step out. So that was what I was looking for.
As for whether Carpenter has given his blessing on the prequel, van Heijningen admits he still has yet to meet the legendary horror director.
I spoke to [Carpenter's] old producer and he endorses it but he said, do your own thing, I'm not gonna interfere. So, there will probably be a time, [but] it hasn't happened yet.