Thing, The: Remake? Reboot?

The origins of “The Thing” go back to 1938, when the science-fiction author John W. Campbell Jr. re-leased his pulp novella “Who Goes There?,” a terrifying story that explores what happens at a research station in Antarctica when a crew of scientists unearths an alien vessel.

Inspired by Campbell’s novella, Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby crafted the 1951 film “The Thing From Another World.” That thriller expanded upon Campbell’s exploration of group paranoia and demonstrated the story’s parallels with the Cold War period.

Thirty years later, John Carpenter returned to Campbell’s book for inspiration when he wrote and directed 1982’s “The Thing.” With its groundbreaking practical effects, the film, which was written by Lancaster and produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman, became a classic thriller that has inspired a generation of fans and filmmakers alike.

In 2004, producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman had just released Universal’s blockbuster “Dawn of the Dead,” when studio executives approached the partners about shepherding another project.

Newman recalls that early conversation: “Nobody’s got a better, richer pedigree in the monster/horror zone than Universal. They said, ‘Here’s our entire library. What do you think about ‘The Thing’?’ Our first reaction to it was that you’re not going to improve upon it; you’re not going to do a better version of ‘The Thing.’  It’s not a movie that could be rebooted or remade.”

After careful consideration, Abraham and Newman found themselves drawn to the story’s themes of trust and paranoia. Abraham explains: “This story has always been—in every incarnation, whether it was Carpenter’s film or back to the novella—about paranoia.” He believes those themes to be “consistently relevant because they’re about trusting—or distrusting—people that you’re stuck in a very dire situation with.”

Newman adds: “The first thing we said about this version of the movie is that its theme had to be about who you can trust and who you can’t. More than ever, we live in a time where if there is an enemy, it’s very likely that the enemy’s not someone you would suspect. The bad guys don’t wear uniforms anymore.”

Once they decided to tackle the project, the production partners needed to find a way into the story and add to what had been so cleverly done before. Explains Newman: “The only way that this project appealed to us was if it fit in the Carpenter universe in a way that was respectful but creatively consistent. What always interested me was the fate of the Norwegians who are obliquely referenced in the original movie.”

In determining the direction of this companion piece, Abraham credits his fellow producer’s encyclopedic knowledge of the source material. “Eric’s a true aficionado of these movies and has enormous respect for John Carpenter,” he says. “He’s got a photographic memory, so he knew every single beat in the movie. Once we decided that we didn’t want to remake “The Thing,” he came up with the idea of telling the story about what happened before we get to the dog that opens the Carpenter film.”

David Foster, who produced Carpenter’s version, joined Newman and Abraham on this project as an executive producer. He makes it clear that “this is a stand- alone picture. This is not “The Thing” that John Carpenter made, which I loved, and John will tell you it was the best film he ever made. This ends where that picture began. It’s pretty important that fans of “The Thing” know that they’re not going to see the same thing over and over again.”

When plans for the prequel of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” became public, Eric Heisserer launched a campaign to write the screenplay. As a longtime admirer of the property, he wanted to ensure that the film would work for him.

Comments the screenwriter: “Knowing it was going to get made, I felt I had to jump on the grenade, as it were. I knew that if I could deliver something that satisfies the fan in me, hopefully, it will satisfy other fans elsewhere.” Heisserer went to the filmmaker meeting armed with ideas of what the movie should be. He wanted his version to look and feel much like an extension of Carpenter’s vision. Heisserer recalls: “I focused entirely on character and story. I focused on continuity, and I looked for surprises. I looked for opportunities that I could bring to this that we hadn’t seen before. I tried my best to do something unexpected in a world where we already know the outcome.”

Ultimately, Heisserer tapped into the story’s central themes of suspicion and distrust. He says, “I felt ‘The Thing’ has always been a paranoid thriller and a case study on trust, and what you can give and what you can take.”

Finding Heisserer to be a like-minded collaborator, Abraham and Newman welcomed him to the project. The producers then approached director Matthijs van Heijningen to helm the thriller and found that their instincts about his suitability were spot-on. Newman describes their first meeting: “We just started talking about it and never stopped. It was like a date that never ended; next thing you knew, you were married.”

A veteran commercial director from Holland, van Heijningen makes his feature-film debut with “The Thing.” Abraham admits that he was sold by van Heijningen’s skills at crafting fascinating tales. “This guy is a storyteller,” Abraham commends. “So you combine that with a good visual sense. Also in his commercial work, you see he’s very passionate about character and authenticity. He was clever about what he wanted to do and how he envisioned this. He was respectful of the original; he knew it cold. I think his time has come to make a feature film, and this is a good one for him.” “I adored the original movie; it’s one of my favorites,” van Heijningen states. “I jumped into this project as I was carried away with the idea. Sometimes I would wake up thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ Of course, I felt that pressure. I’ve tried to make the biggest tribute to the original movie as I can.” Heisserer, van Heijningen and the producers began a period of intense collaboration during preproduction. Newman explains: “We looked at the set of the ruined Norwegian camp in the Carpenter movie. We thought, ‘How do we, working backwards, arrive at this? They found a freakish, burned carcass of some half man/half monster, a fire axe in the wall and a torched compound…’”

Comparing the process to an autopsy, Heisserer extrapolates: “We have relics from Carpenter’s film that inform us of what had to have happened at the Norwegian camp. But that was just forensic evidence. We had to figure out what happened and make sure that we counted for that in our story.” This painstaking attention to detail proved to be quite productive. Says the screenwriter: “Because we approached it with that level of scrutiny, it kept us all on our top game. It was excruciating, but it was also incredibly rewarding.” To ensure accuracy, the filmmakers spent a great deal of time examining each frame of Carpenter’s film and making sure that, where appropriate, touch points and artifacts were referenced. “As fans of the movie, it was a world that we were very comfortable in,” shares Newman. “We could talk about it all day long, and we did. It was impossible for us to make this movie without acknowledging in a very real way that the Carpenter movie exists. That was the design from day one.”

The team’s attention to detail was so exacting that the filmmakers even brought in Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s classic original score (known as “Humanity [Part II]”) from the 1982 film to complement the work of this film’s composer, Marco Beltrami. Says Abraham: “There’s something incredibly haunting about that score. It almost bleeds tension and paranoia…and we knew we had to honor it.”