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Director of 2011's The Thing Prequel Reveals Sequel Would Have Taken Place Aboard Antarctic Oil Rig
There's still time for Kate to team up with MacReady and Childs!
Over the summer, John Carpenter hinted that The Thing franchise may return in the form of a direct sequel to his paranoia-soaked body horror classic. But if Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. had his way, the series would have clawed its way out of the ice over a decade ago with a follow-up to his 2011 prequel, The Thing (now streaming on Peacock, alongside the 1982 original).
"We fantasized about a sequel," the Dutch filmmaker exclusively tells SYFY WIRE over email, revealing that he wanted to continue the saga of paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), sole survivor of the Norwegian camp massacre. "Kate would escape and would be picked up at sea and tries to warn the world at an oil platform near the South Pole," the director continues. "The monster would break loose on the the rig. I liked the oil rig mayhem idea."
Talk about serendipity: the developers behind The Thing video game also considered using an oil rig as a major location for their own scrapped sequel. In any case, van Heijningen Jr. never got to see the idea through to the end once his film underperformed — both critically and financially. "The Carpenter version was so good and a lot of fans were almost offended by the prequel and didn’t see the necessity for a follow-up," he says. "But now I fully understand that it was a bit early."
His hope is that a new generation of viewers who aren't "too close" to the '82 version will be able to judge his film on its own merits. Indeed, that seemed to be the case this past spring when the prequel suddenly became one of Netflix's most-viewed titles in the United States. "That felt good," the director admits.
What went wrong with the 2011 prequel to The Thing?
Well, the general consensus among fans is that the unconvincing CGI used to bring the shapeshifting monster to life woefully paled in comparison to the groundbreaking practical effects of Rob Bottin. The proverbial salt in the wound was the revelation that van Heijningen Jr. and his team actually used practical rigs (developed by SFX legends Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics) during principal photography, but later replaced these physical effects in post-production.
"I know this is a debated topic, but looking back, we were caught in a cross-zone where animatronics were old-fashioned and the CGI wasn’t good enough," emphasizes the director. "We made the wrong decision to do it in post-production [when it came to] making the monster design in the computer. I regret that now."
Still, that '80s-era ingenuity of being forced to do everything in-camera was alive and well on the set, recalls costume designer Luis Sequeira (recently nominated by the Academy for his work on Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley):
"We had exploding T-shirts and blown-open coats. We had to literally rig that ourselves. It was augmented with CG, but I remember fishing line and really old school prop-ish costume rigs being put together. I think that’s the fun aspect of filmmaking, is to not just to rely on the CG, but to have a bit of actual physical interaction. Not only for us as a viewer, but also for the actors when they're filming," Sequeira tells SYFY WIRE. "It was a great learning curve for me on working in conjunction with prosthetics and special effects and fire and snow. Each costume had its own journey. We had to track that and ensure we had enough of each of those stages to film with."
In fact, it was on this production where Sequeira learned the hard way that minimal costume changes doesn't always equate to "an easy project."
What is the 2011 prequel to The Thing about?
Inspired by the smoldering ruins and bits of evidence discovered by MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) in the 1982 film, the prequel explains what occurred at the Norwegian outpost once the alien entity was foolishly carved out of its icy tomb. Of course, that meant reverse-engineering the events leading up to the Americans' arrival through the grisly clues left behind: a hollowed out block of ice, a bloody axe stuck in a door, a half-charred horror lying outside, etc.
"The Carpenter film gave us some real insight of several places in the camp," notes van Heijningen Jr. "It was up to us to make them all logically connected. I remember that we had some fun with the two-headed monster because that was lying burned outside and we had to imagine how it got there. Those clues not only helped us construct the layout of the Norwegian camp, but they also helped creating logic in what happened at the camp."
They even went so far as to shoot exteriors in British Columbia (the same Canadian province where Carpenter filmed exteriors on the '82 version). What the director didn't count on, however, was a patch of unseasonably warm weather.
"We shot the exterior camp in a quarry in Canada in the winter, so we would be sure that is was freezing cold and snow," he remembers. "That year, 2010, was the Winter Olympics in Canada and one of the hottest winters in decades. It was warm, the ground water melted, flooded our set, and all the actors were sweating in their Nordic gear. I remember that one of the Norwegians fainted from being overheated." Well, it was either that, "or he had a hangover..."
Knowing that Bottin's monstrous creations would be "hard to beat," the director set out to place his own unique spin on the various types of abominations the Thing could transform into by taking inspiration from the Dead Space video games. "I tried to fuse Bottin’s world with that of Dead Space," he adds. Very fitting, given that Carpenter is a big fan of the series and has even voiced interest in directing a film adaptation of the franchise.
Sequeira, meanwhile, was tasked with not only recreating the heavy winter fashions of the late '70s and early '80s, but also making sure the outfits accurately reflected the different nationalities of the characters. "American versus European parkas and the underclothing," he explains. "We had a bit of a military aspect to things as well. Ultimately, we wanted it to look cool."
That's "cool" in both senses of the word. The outfits needed to look badass and also show signs of being in the harsh terrain of the Antarctic. "The frosted look," Sequeira says. "I remember us putting together the breakdown on what we were calling things: crispy-frosty, frosty-crispy, pre-frost, post-frost."
And while the retro aesthetic of the Reagan era couldn't be hotter in this post-Stranger Things reality, the cultural appetite for a true taste of the '80s didn't really exist during production on 2011's The Thing.
"[It] was a very scary little era to be to be working in," remembers the costume designer, theorizing that the decade was simply too recent to be considered chic by audiences coming out of the early aughts. As such, his overall goal was "to do the period in a way that was not going to be shocking in any way to the viewer ... trying to fine-tune the essence of the period to the contemporary eye."
Just as important was finding "a subtle way" to carve out a distinct look for each actor in the ensemble. He uses Winstead's Kate Lloyd as an example, describing the shrewd scientist as "the Ripley character" (an obvious nod to Sigourney Weaver's Alien icon).
"It was about making her strong and an unsuspecting leader," Sequeira adds. "Because she isn't a leader, but becomes a leader in the film. It was really about [giving] her some internal power in the choices. And so, there was nothing that was really frivolous or super sexy. It was really about [how] she was super intelligent and had figured things out before most of the other characters had come on board."
Why The Thing prequel deserves another chance
When we ask van Heijningen Jr. what he'd do differently if given the chance to make the prequel over again, he replies: "Better character development, less CGI, and more paranoia between the characters. The Thing is about not being able to trust anybody. That could have been explored further."
Now with that said, the film is still worth another shot by virtue of its central concept: "[That] There is a monster between a group of people is fascinating and you don't know who is the creature. For that reason, alone it’s good to see it."
"It’s a bit of a potboiler of a film," echoes Sequeira. "On a cool, dark fall night, one can curl up and watch this movie and enjoy it."
How to watch both versions of The Thing
Peacock currently offers two monthly subscription plans: Premium ($5.99 a month with ads) and Premium Plus ($11.99 a month with no ads and download access for certain titles). If you're a student, you can enjoy the Premium plan for just $1.99 for an entire year.
Looking for more classic Carpenter action? Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), and Village of the Damned (1995) are also streaming on Peacock! Carpenter finally returns to the director's chair October 13 with the premiere of Suburban Screams.