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If there's a vision as glorious as Mary Elizabeth Winstead wielding a flamethrower, then we've yet to see it in our lifetime, but that was very much the highlight of a full day ShockTillYouDrop.com spent at Pinewood Studios in Toronto on the set of Universal's The Thing.
There was a time when horror remakes weren't looked at with complete and utter disdain, back when the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter were being hired to re-imagine classic monster movies of the '50s and '60s. In the latter case, it was Carpenter's 1982 take on the 1951 sci-fi thriller "The Thing From Another World" that helped kick off that tradition and John Carpenter's The Thing has long been considered a classic in its own right. In Carpenter's hands, the "Thing" was a space virus that came to earth aboard a spaceship that crash lands in Antarctica. After wiping out a Norwegian scientific base, it's transmitted to an American base where Kurt Russell and his crew have to figure out which of them have become infected - something that becomes evident when they start transforming into horrific semblances of humans. (The haunting correlations to the AIDS virus that began to rear its ugly head around the same time during the early '80s made Carpenter's film work on much more than one level.)
Word that Universal hoped to do a new version of The Thing was met with a similar degree of scorn, as with every other announcement of projects with familiar names, except this "Thing" isn't a remake as much as a prequel, or as Universal marketing is calling it, a "prelude," with hopes of relaunching the lesser-known Universal movie monster into a franchise. Instead of telling the same story Carpenter did in his movie, this movie would actually go back in time and fill in the blanks by showing what happened at the Norwegian base before the intriguing opening sequence of a dog being chased across the snow by a helicopter.
With only two survivors of the base in the helicopter at the opening of the "JC" film - as he is lovingly called by the cast of the crew of the movie - it raised questions not only in the mind of Kurt Russell and the men at his base, but also anyone who saw the film, including producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman of Strike Entertainment, who had a hit with Zack Snyder's remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. There were so many signs of what sort of horrors must have taken place at the other base in Carpenter's film from the charred remains of those who weren't able to escape, and the idea was to reverse-engineer from those few tidbits to tell the full story.
The new film is directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., a second-generation Dutch filmmaker, who was originally slated to direct the planned Army of the Dead sequel. When that was backburnered, he was suggested for this high-profile project. We got the impression while on set that van Hejningen was an old-school filmmaker who likes shooting with one camera at a time to make the most out of the lighting. Although his movie would dovetail with the original, he was going to be making it his own and according to the producers, they went back to the original 1938 novella by John Campbell that inspired the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World.
As much as the JC movie was a huge influence on everyone, they already knew that they wouldn't be using Ennio Morricone to score the prelude, although the hopes are that the Carpenter movie could be watched right after it, being that the prequel would also be set in the early '80s.
Before visiting the set, we had already heard that the majority of actors would be Norwegian with many faces that may look familiar even if you don't know their names. This was done mainly for authenticity, to the point where they would often be talking in their native tongue with subtitles. We were told that these guys are mainly biologists and geoscientists who are intrigued by the spaceship they find out in the mountains. There would still be a number of Americans, two of them played by an Australian and a British actor, with Joel Edgerton playing helicopter pilot Sam Carter and Adewale "Adi" Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known for roles like Mr. Eko on "Lost" and Simon Adebisi on HBO's "Oz," as his friend Derek Jameson. The aforementioned Mary Elizabeth is playing Kate Lloyd, a scientist who has traveled to the Norwegian base from America along with Eric Christian Olsen's Adam Goodman to study the findings of the Norwegians.
We arrived at Pinewood's appropriately-named "Megastage" to witness them shooting a rather tender moment between Joel and Adi on the main set where they'd be filming while we were there, the base's rec room. Clearly, things have started to go to sh*t by the time we joined them on set. Some of the infected have already started to reveal themselves, but no one knows who, and they've gathered in the rec room to figure things out. This was part of a two-day action scene, which would climax with the aforementioned bit with Mary Winstead and her flamethrower. (We noted that Joel also had a flamethrower strapped to his back.)
The scene we watched starts with Adi slamming back into the wall and falling down choking. Joel goes forward to attend to his friend, telling him that he needs "to get the air out." On the ground, he looks up at Joel and says, "You're my buddy, right? Don't let me end up like one of those things. Burn me." This scene was done many times with Adi sometimes talking in hushed whispers and other times talking louder, giving Matthijs whatever he needed. We never learned if he was actually infected or just freaking out.
Between takes, we were able to walk around the interior sets, and it pretty much was made up of all the rooms you'd expect in any sort of Antarctic base where people would be camped out for months at a time. It was pretty obvious that the art department and props had gone out of their way to stay true to the early '80s setting of the original movie with lots of vintage magazines, lots of National Geographic magazines, beer bottles and old VHS tapes. There were lots of Norwegian books in there as well as a picture of Miss Norway on the wall. When we were able to get into the area where they were filming, we could see that the place had been trashed, a pool table upended and the ornate stained glass lamp above it had been smashed with glass everywhere.
There wasn't much left of the lab of Dr. Halverson, played by Ulrich Thomsen, by the time we got there, as it had already been set on fire, leaving the remains of an infected alien on the table, charred to a crisp. There was also a kitchen area with all of the usual pots and pans, a fully stocked pantry with canned foods and a dining area, which there really isn't much to say about, the communication room was filled with reel-to-reel players and outdated computers and a map room with all sorts of areas of Antarctica mapped out. It was clear that they were going for authenticity in every room. Off to the side of the stage was a large personnel helicarrier, which was probably what Carter used as a transport plane to fly people into the base.
Just by the nature of set visits, there were a ton of spoilers when we visited the set about who becomes infected and how they're killed, which we can't reveal as that would spoil a lot of the fun, but we did get to see a couple of the remains of one unlucky soul whose pelvis had been ripped open with muscles and bone coming out of his torso with long tubes leading from this corpse to the remote controls to bring this infected to life. We also saw some of the FX department, who we'd have a chance to talk to later, working on other creatures elements including a long stretched-out arm that clearly belonged to another infected. From the nearby storyboards, we could see that sometime during the chaos, there's a severed arm that grows spindly insect legs then attacks someone else, which is right in line with the freakiness of the JC movie. Two of the men responsible for the practical FX are Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, who were such fans of the original movie that they wanted to pay homage to what Rob Bottin did with the transformations in the JC movie.
One thing that makes this prequel intriguing is that it promises to actually show the spaceship that the Norwegians find out on the tundra, of which we only see vestiges of the dig in the original movie. The production was able to shoot some of the exteriors in British Colombia just five miles from where they shot Carpenter's movie, but due to the hard weather there, they also shot some stuff north of Toronto and had taken over another stage for the base's exterior and the nearby generator room where a couple of the team would come to an untimely end. The entire soundstage had been covered with very real-looking Styrofoam snow that looked very real until you started walking on it.
Underneath the generator was something clearly not human, which we were told was the alien found in the spaceship that brings the virus to earth. This large insectoid creature had crab pincers and insect legs, and we watched as the rest of the FX crew were working to get Gillis out of the bug suit where he'd been for them to do a few camera tests. It was strange seeing this alien creature in the light but we were reassured we would only be seeing fleeting glimpses of it as it mainly stayed in the shadows, scuttling under the generator sometime after being brought to the base.
Storyboards at the side of the stage gave us some idea what they would be shooting in that space, which involved some of the base's occupants wandering around the generator with flashlights at night before one of them is attacked by a tentacle then pulled underneath by this infected alien. Even though they would be creating lots of the mutated infected, some aspects of the creatures, like tentacles and such, would be replaced by CG in post-production.
After spending some time talking to the FX guys, we went back to the main stage where we got to watch Mary Elizabeth do her thing. She looked very serious as she started at something intently and breathing heavily as she makes the decision to let out a blast of flame from the flamethrower, burning someone (or something) that we couldn't see. She was quite fearless as she walked around between takes with the flamethrower lit, jogging in place and doing knee bends to keep limbered up while carrying all that weight on her back. Then the camera would roll and she'd let out another giant fireball towards the camera.
That's pretty much all that we can say about our visit, but by clicking on the appropriate link below, you can check out the interviews we did with the four actors:
Mary Elizabeth Winstead â€“ "Kate Lloyd"
Joel Edgerton â€“ "Sam Carter"
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje â€“ "Derek Jameson"
Eric Christian Olsen â€“ "Adam Goodman"
The Thing is scheduled to open nationwide on April 29, 2011. Look for our interview with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and the FX crew sometime later this week leading up to the premiere of footage at New York Comic-Con. We also had a chance to talk to producers Marc Abraham and Miles Dale, which we may run sometime down the road.
Source: Edward Douglas