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exclusive news

Exclusive: Script review of The Thing prequel

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It’s been 28 years since John Carpenter stood on the refrigerated Los Angeles set and gave directions on The Thing, his remake of the 1951 black and white sci-fi red scare classic film. When Carpenter made his version of The Thing, he had several great people contributing to what I and many horror fans consider one of the greatest monster movies of cinema: great source material in the form of John W. Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?”; comic book giants like Mike Ploog and Bernie Wrightson contributing the conceptual artwork of the creature design; a minimal but infinitely moody atmospheric score by Ennio Morricone;  a talented group of actors making up the doomed men of U.S. Outpost 31; and finally what I consider the most important element of the film, the sheer genius of a then 21-year-old make-up effects artist by the name of Rick Bottin. For anyone that has ever watched Carpenter’s movie and marvelled at its amazing practical effects – which still hold up to this day and under the all-seeing presence of computer generated digital effects – Bottin’s benchmark work in the film truly brought the deadly Thing to life.

Universal Pictures, the owners of The Thing, tried to make a four-hour sequel that would have aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. Unfortunately, that event was never realized. But like any studio executive worth their weight, the Universal people know that they have a mandate to make a new Thing movie. Maybe some of the reason to mine the Thing IP has to do with copyright renewal reasons but there’s also the fact that of all the major movie studios, Universal is known as the house that the monsters built. There’s a reason why the studio is where Guillermo del Toro brought Hellboy to after the collapse of Revolution Studios; Universal is the home of the monsters.

So here we stand, with a new Thing movie a guarantee at this point. It’s filming right now under the direction of Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. from a script by Ronald D. Moore, the guy that gave us some of the better episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one-half of two lousy Star Trek and Mission: Impossible movies and the way-better-than-anyone-believed-could-be-possible reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

the_thing_1982_spider_head

I wonder, what the creative thought process was on Moore’s Thing screenplay? Was he mandated by Universal to make his story serve as a prequel to the Carpenter film? Was the idea of telling the story of what happened to the men and women of the Norwegian arctic base his alone? How many other writers and their ideas did the Universal creative exec in charge of this project meet with and pass by? I don’t have any answers to these questions but I can tell you this: if I was asked by my agent if I wanted to go to the Black Tower and pitch a second Thing movie I don’t think that I would take that meeting. Three decades have passed by and it would take a skillful wordsmith to find a path out of that corner that Carpenter painted us in.

But even with my high expectations for what a Thing movie should to be – prequel, sequel or reimagining – I come not to damn Ron Moore’s Thing nor am I hear to place laurels of commendation and praise upon it either; this is the director’s movie to make or break. I believe that Moore fulfilled both the official (Universal) and unofficial (the fans) expectations that have been placed on him. He was charged with finding a way to resurrect the franchise and make it appear to people that have no expectations while also not alienating those that appreciate the Carpenter movie. I went in expecting to hate what Moore did. By the end I was surprised to discover that I had no qualms with the screenplay. Does that mean I’m stoked by what I read? No, because I still believe that David Leslie Johnson’s aborted Return of the Thing mini-series would be the purest sequel that I and fans would want to see. That said, Moore’s Thing has more commercial viability for resurrecting the franchise than Johnson’s, so from a business point-of-view I can understand why this is the road Universal decided to take.

All of this is preamble but it’s necessary to the fans out there that need to know where the 2011 Thing movie is coming from. It’s not the enemy but like I said, this is a movie that is going to be made or broken by its director and how he chooses to execute the material. One of those decisions will be in how van Heijningen had chosen to realize the creature effects (Amalgamated Dynamics are making the monster effects, and they’re hit and miss for me based on their past work.)

the_thing_1982_frozen_man

For those of you wondering if the 2011 Thing makes reference to Carpenter’s at all, it does. Although it’s never specifically stated when the action takes place, there are things like Rubik’s Cube and people watching VHS tapes that place the setting in the early 1980s, just as Carpenter’s 1982 movie. There’s a nice moment where we might get to see MacReady, Kurt Russell’s helicopter pilot character, referenced in a plausible and comedic way. We know that the Norwegian base will ultimately be destroyed, and that the Thing-dog will make its way to MacCready’s Outpost #31 camp. Moore doesn’t retcon the story anchors in the ’82 Thing. We will get to see how The Thing rampaged through the Norwegian base. We also get to find out other easter eggs that Thing fans will recall, such as why someone at the Norwegian base slit their wrists sitting in a chair, or why the melted two-face Thing body was laying out in the snow for MacReady and Doc Copper to find, or how the two Norg men in the helicopter came to chase the Thing-dog to the American base. In this regard Moore’s Thing story is water-tight with the events depicted in Carpenter’s film.

By now you’ll note that for this script review I’m really doing my best to stay away from spoilers. If you’re reading this hoping that I will tell you who turns out to be a Thing and what happens at the end of the film, sorry to disappoint. I think that the bigger question that fans of The Thing want to know is whether this project is a creative failure at the script level and whether there’s any reason to look ahead. That’s precisely what I’m hoping to give to you by the end of this article, not a blow-by-blow summary of the story’s plot points. If anything, you already KNOW what happens by having knowledge of the 1982 film; all that’s new is finding out the nature of how The Thing came to thaw out in the Norwegian camp and subsequently destroy it. The spectacle will be in seeing the new Thing effects and seeing if they’re worthy of standing alongside the Bottin creature effects of the original.

Rest assured that there are scenes which will show The Thing morphing its shape, attacking from its duplicates in human form. One deviation with the way Moore’s described his Thing transformations from the Johnson mini-series Thing transformations is that there aren’t any Thing metamorphosis reveals/attacks that are carbon copies from the Carpenter movie. In Johnson’s climax for Return of the Thing there were hundreds of spider-heads Things in mini-spaceships trying to flee to the outside world; in Moore’s there’s no duplicate creatures, it’s all new monster shapes. Indeed, there’s one Thing reveal that, if properly delivered, could stand alongside the Norris-chest-bursts-open moment from Carpenter’s movie. I totally didn’t see this particular Thing reveal coming (and neither did the human characters left who happened to be standing in the same room) but the way that The Thing chose to reveal itself and attack the remaining people makes a logical, if grotesque, sense. I hope that the director pulls that particular scene off well in the film because on paper it's a pretty "Goddamn that's insane!" scary moment.

the_thing_1982_norris_whoa

I’ll add this: we’ll get to see the inside of The Thing’s saucer as well as a hint as to what it may have been doing in there. The otherworldly-ness of the saucer’s insides was described well by Moore and I hope will remain intact in the finished product.

Alas, if there’s a major flaw in Moore’s story it’s that it doesn’t add anything new. We’ve seen this same story played out in the Carpenter movie; we watch the characters discover what the threat is they’re up against and then paranoia sets in amongst them as they freak out about who’s not really human anymore. The Thing’s goals aren’t any different in the prequel than the first film, which are to get out of isolation and absorb everything on the planet. There’s flamethrowers, sticks of dynamite and a snowstorm to cut off the base from the rest of the world. Ironically, in every way Moore’s Thing movie is perfect imitation of its originator when it’s really a franchise reboot that comes looking and sounding like it’s a prequel. By not taking any risky story chances Universal is getting a second shot at making a Thing movie that could make its money back and conceivably allow for a third movie. The downside is a narrative repeat of what played out in the first film, minus not knowing which Thing 2011 characters will live and who will be Thing’ed.

Look at this from a business standpoint. This path is safe and self-contained; if the 2011 Thing movie fails the franchise could always be thawed back out again in the form of a sequel, either directly or one that takes place years after the aftermath of the events at Outpost #31. If Thing 2011 is a success, the door is open for continuing the story established here and it violates none of the Carpenter movie canon. It’s a win-win for Universal, which brings us back full circle. This is why I believe they’re making their second Thing movie this way and not as a present day sequel like Return of the Thing's premise.

While neither a great script nor a poor one, Ron Moore did his job and earned his check for a harder-than-average yet creatively uninspired assignment. Now the success or failure of 2011’s The Thing lies on the shoulders of its director, his actors and the team making the monster effects. This one could go either way.

JonChambers
Location:
Posts: 2
Posted: 4 years 12 weeks ago

PATRICK!! You didn't talk about ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SUBJECTS OF THIS NEW MOVIE: do they ever show "The Thing" creature as it ORIGINALLY LOOKED? WHAT WAS ITS SHAPE ON ITS HOME WORLD? WHAT was the creature's physical look when it was flying the spaceship???? EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST A MIX-MASTER OF FANGS, DOGS, TALONS, ETC. SO - DO THEY EVER SHOW WHAT THE CREATURE FIRST LOOKED LIKE BEFORE IT CAME INTO CONTACT WITH HUMANS? BEFORE IT BEGAN MORPHING? Remember the book? Remember the BLOCK OF ICE? Do we EVER get a good view of its shape - when it was first frozen in the ice?! Patrick - I'd love to hear from you about this - PLEASE POST!

mckracken
Location:
Posts: 965
Posted: 4 years 12 weeks ago

Patrick, i'm worried (not with Moore's script) but with Universal. If the movie succeeds, will Universal want to remake John carpenter's 1982 The Thing in order to make a modern sequel?

Jon, as much as I'm a fan of Carpenter's 1982 Thing, I don't think its that big of a deal to show the creature in its original form, i always assumed it had morphed more than a few times long before it crashed on Earth anyway so there really isn't any "true form" for Thing... besides, I think I like not knowing what it looked like better than having it shown on screen... but that's just me.

how long before a Thing vs Alien vs Predator movie gets made? i wouldn't want to see that either.

the real question is this, will this entire movie be in the original Norwegian language and subtitled?

Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20025
Posted: 4 years 12 weeks ago

@JonChambers:

The way Moore presented it in his script you don't see what The Thing looked like in its block of ice. You see the dark shape in the ice but it's impossible to discern any specifics. Whether that will remain in the end film, your guess is as good as mine.

As for whether you might get to see The Thing in its true form at some point in the movie, that's a question that I can't really answer. There's two moments in the script where you might be getting a clue as to what the original shape of The Thing might be but it's left ambiguous. There's more questions raised than answers. And there's stuff you see inside the saucer that raise those questions.

@McKraken:

If the 2011 THING movie is a hit and it comes out in finished form close to this script the next sequel doesn't have to be a sequel or remake to Carpenter's movie. If anything, the nods to the era in Moore's script and a Kurt Russell as MacReady cameo (yup) seems to lend weight that Carpenter's version is canon to the THING-verse.

No matter where you go, there you are.
JonChambers
Location:
Posts: 2
Posted: 4 years 12 weeks ago

What no one here has mentioned is that John Carpenter himself actually came up with his own SEQUEL story for the thing...AND NOBODY EVER WENT TO HIM FOR IDEAS ON THE PREQUEL/SEQUEL. WHICH IS TRULY INSULTING, considering the bullshit 'REVERENCE' these morons claim to have for Carpenter's work! Read This: In 2004, John Carpenter said in an Empire Magazine interview that he has a story idea for The Thing II, which centers around the two surviving characters, MacReady and Childs. However, Carpenter felt that due to the higher price associated with his fee, Universal Studios will not pursue his storyline. Carpenter indicated that he would be able to secure both Kurt Russell and Keith David for the sequel. In his story, Carpenter would explain the age difference between the two actors by having frostbite on their face due to the elements until rescued. The assumption of the sequel would rely on a radio signal being successfully transmitted by Windows before Blair destroyed the communications room. Thus, after the explosion of the base camp, the rescue team would arrive and find MacReady and Childs still alive. Carpenter has not disclosed any other details.

mckracken
Location:
Posts: 965
Posted: 4 years 12 weeks ago

Jon,
a few years back Dark Horse had followed up JC's Thing with an "official" comicbook of The Thing sequel, whether or not it was Carpenters script is anybody's guess but it did start out with MacReady and Childs being rescued.

Samplelord
Location:
Posts: 1
Posted: 3 years 27 weeks ago

@JonChambers

When the creature transformed it used PARTS of everything it had been in contact with prior to landing on earth, it did not start assimilating creatures on earth.

It had already taken over alien life forms.

When it morphs, we see all kind of tentacles, strange limbs, weird fluid that it spews, in short, forms that are not on this planet.

It is even said in the movie by Blair that they do not know how many creatures The Thing has been in contact with.

Also when it attacks it takes the shape best suited for attack/defense.

Which is not it's original form, since it only morphs for those reasons there is no need to see it in original form, except for pleasing the fanitics.

ps...The original form of the Thing as in the book looks dumb....they tried do a design for it in JC The Thing, but ditched it, cuz it looked like a man in a suit.

I have a picture of it in a book about JC, cant find it online though...

A tall, blue alien, with a tail, three limbs and 3 eyes...looked something like this

http://www.flickr.com/photos/67896537@N00/315042384/

Not very cool.