Friday, November 5, 2010

"They're not Swedish Mac, they're Norwegian"


Full disclosure: one of my most keenly anticipated movies of next year is the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing.

As I recently said of Alien, The Thing is another of my top-five "Mount Rushmore of Celluloid" films. A movie so influential on me, so close to my black, festering heart that it's position upon that gory edifice is assured until the day I die. So how can I condone this new abomination... this prequel? Quite simply, I just can't help it.

Although I've decried the practice of remaking recent movies, I've made my peace now with the remaking of older films. We've already seen so many of our sacred cows slaughtered (with varying results), it's become obvious that a new version of an old favourite doesn't really damage the original film's legacy. The original still remains - unsullied, unharmed and ready to be discovered by new generations of genre fans.

When it was announced that Dawn Of The Dead was being remade, I was among the hordes of righteously angry Romero fans. It was unthinkable to me that this cinematic sacrilege could possibly result in a good horror movie. But in spite of all my naysaying, James Gunn wrote a good screenplay (intelligent, nuanced, lacking Romero's social commentary but packed with solid characters and genuine pathos), and Zack Snyder directed a gory, scary movie that paid tribute to Romero where appropriate, while treading enough new ground to make it interesting.

Dawn '04 was brought to us by the same production company that is behind next year's The Thing - Strike Entertainment. With only eight films yet released (to my knowledge), Strike already has a very impressive genre pedigree: the aforementioned Romero remake; James Gunn's excellent but criminally overlooked Slither; Alfonso Cuarón's superb SF masterpiece Children Of Men; and this year's critically acclaimed The Last Exorcism (haven't seen it yet). As far as production companies go, The Thing appears to have found a good home (host?).

Who goes there? Not Mac and Childs.

But what of all the little creative details that are so crucially important for this movie, and without which it simply won't work? Well,
things aren't looking too bad:

- first time director Matthijs van Heijningen has always maintained that he has a huge amount of respect for Carpenter's film, and wants his prequel to dovetail with it, not "update it" or "make it fresh and hip" (ugh). The tone of the new film is said to be serious, grim and R-rated.

- This attitude is reflected in his casting choices. An interesting ensemble made up of more or less unknown Norwegian actors and a respectable group of english language thesps. The inclusion of an attractive young woman (i.e. the threat of an unnecessary love interest) isn't a worry - Mary Elizabeth Winstead has real acting chops, and van Heijningen is said to have made a point of "plaining her up", as befits her role of archaeologist. I also appreciate the "pseudo remake" casting of Joel Edgerton as a grizzled helicopter pilot and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (excellent in HBO's Oz) as his tough co-pilot. The two are obvious stand-ins for Kurt Russell's MacReady and Keith David's Childs, and I don't mind the homage. Sure, Edgerton is no Russell (who is?), but he's no air-headed pretty boy either.

- In line with the original's theme of isolation (not only in the hostile, remote environment, but within each person, as they come to distrust their colleagues), the word is that a major plot point involves the language barrier contributing to a rift between the inhabitants of the Norwegian base and their invited foreign guests. An interesting idea.

- As reported by various sources, an exhaustive amount of research went into replicating the Norwegian base as seen in the '82 film. Sets like the room that holds the "ice block" have apparently been slavishly recreated down to the finest details. It's also said that the Norwegian base sequence from Carpenter's film was religiously used as the primary source of reference for the screenplay and production design. All of MacReady and Copper's grim discoveries in the original will be included and explained in the prequel.

- The film was shot in the super-wide scope format favoured by Carpenter and frequently collaborating cinematographer Dean Cundey.

- Most importantly the creature FX are said to be mostly practical, generally only utilising CG to enhance details. This process was used extensively in del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II, and the results there were impressive and sometimes astonishingly good. Also, the company providing the visual FX are the talented folks who worked on District 9, so what CG there is should be top notch. As far as the actual design of the creature, there's a vivid description of one of it's incarnations here, and it sounds pretty much in line with Rob Bottin's work. Although reports of the budget seem to vary at between 35 and 70 million (depending on where you look), Twitchfilm recently quoted an article in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, which claimed that 15 million was spent on the creature FX alone. That's a fuckload of writhing, tentacled, DNA assimilating, weird and pissed off... THING.

So. Do I think it'll live up to Carpenter's movie... or come even close to it's awesomeness? No way. I'm not a complete chump. But if any of the above is to be believed, then there is some potential here. Like I said, I'm such a fan of J.C.'s flick that I just can't help but be enthusiastic about revisiting the ultimate in alien terror.

Artwork by Tyler Stout.

28 comments:

Will Errickson said...

This sounds intriguing. Glad to hear it too, because my original response was a sarcastic, "What do you *think* happened at that outpost?" I mean, I've always thought it was pretty obvious in the Carpenter film.

A.Jaye said...

Beware false idols.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 will do that to ya.

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

So many people are so in love with The Thing and the first time I saw it only a few weeks ago..................... I thought it was good, but not THAT great.

I KNOW. I'M SORRY.

I'm thinking I'll have to watch it again and pay more attention to it or something. I loved the effects but never thought it was scary or suspenseful really. I don't know what I missed from the movie, but it was obviously something big! Like I said, I'll give it another go.

Aylmer said...

Will- it's a foregone conclusion, but I just want to see more Thing in Antarctica.

A.J.- True enough. But NOES 2010 was made by Platinum Dunes, ergo Michael Bay. I rest my case.

M.E.- your homework is to watch The Thing 100 times until you like it.

Doug said...

my friend,
The Thing is also in my pantheon of best horror ever committed to film. it's just plain SCARY, no way around it. Rob Bottin's fx in it are up there with Savini's in Day Of The Dead and De Rossi's in The Beyond for me. It could be interesting, and I hope this director does show some respect for the original material. That being said, have you ever read Dark Horse Comics 2 part 'The Thing From Another World" series? It picks up right where the movie left off, and is ultra gory and beautifully painted to boot.

Aylmer said...

Doug, you read my mind - I came THAT CLOSE to posting those two TFAW comics at the end of this post. Decided against it at the last moment, but maybe I'll reconsider and post them tomorrow.

And yeah, De Rossi's work on The Beyond and Savini's in Day are WAY up there for me too.

Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't tear me a new asshole for this post as I know you're somewhat of an old school purist ;)

Doug said...

i'm starting to come around to yr line of thinking, as described above. and plus, when you get down to it, The Thing is a remake as well, so is The Fly, and we both hold them in the highest regards as remakes that WORK. maybe this, where it's a prequel, will work.

on the subject of Tom Savini, he spoke recently at this college in Kingsport, where I live, and i didn't get a chance to see him, but my buddy took my copy of Deep Red #3, with the big Savini interview, and got it signed by him for me, so that's pretty awesome.

what do you think of They Live?

Aylmer said...

I love THEY LIVE. Not my fave Carpenter by any means but it's great nonetheless. One fucking subversive punk-ass movie. I've got a cool still from it as the footer for my blog.

A while ago a guy named Jeremiah Kipp asked me to review his short film CONTACT. He's directing a feature starring Savini now. He's playing a crazy homicidal war vet. It's a slasher in the woods type affair, but I can't remember what it's called now. I'm hoping he brinds some of "Blades" to the role.

I ebayed all my Deep Reds years ago man. Shoulda hung on to em. I was sad when Chas died.

A.Jaye said...

Just thought I'd add - The Thing and The Fly were adaptations of previously published material. You can add the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the list. Maybe the reason why Remakes per se fail is that they're adaptations of screenplays.

Prequels have an even worse track record. Hannibal Rising comes to mind. Why. Because what comes before the story you're about to tell? If anything then why didn't you tell it?

Notwithstanding The Fly is the most anticipated film of 2011.

We'll see.

Aylmer said...

That's a good point, because there's richer material to mine from novels or even short stories than from a script. And Body Snatchers '78 is indeed another good remake.

The Fly 2011? You mean The Thing? Cronenberg HAS talked about remaking The Fly again (having already turned it into an opera).

A.Jaye said...

Yeah The Thing.

Despite your post everything rides on the script - like every movie. There's no audience reward in great acting, set design etc if the story drolls.

And there aren't that many good storytellers in horror (or the movies). 500 American films per year. If I say 10% are good I'll lose credibility.

Dude I'm sneering at Ridley Scott's proposed Alien prequel.

Aylmer said...

Yeah, it does indeed come down to the script, so we'll just have to wait and see.

I want Scott's return to Alien to be good so badly, but I have a very bad feeling about it. Even if he has the best intentions, Fox will probably fuck it up.

Doug said...

you have a bad feeling about it because we're holding anything he does up to Alien and Blade Runner. and nothing will compare to those...well, maybe Legend...;)

i almost flipped when i saw The Fly was gonna be remade, please tell me thats just bullshit. unless....cronenberg does it.

can you imagine cronenberg combining scanners, videodrome, and existenz...with the fly? i don't know if you know this but Scanners/Videodrome are high on my list too.

and i was very sad when dan o'bannon and chas balun died with a day of each other. big bummer.

Aylmer said...

I've still only seen Legend once, like 20 yrs ago, gotta give it another watch.

Yeah, Cronenberg is remaking his own remake. I dont know HOW to feel about that. I'd rather he just do some new original SF/horror again.

I can honestly say I love every movie he's ever done, except Fast Company which I can take or leave and M. Butterfly which I haven't seen.

Yeah that week sucked, and we lost Stan Winston and Forry Ackerman in that same year.

Doug said...

why'd you have to remind me...

just kidding about legend...i don't really care for it.

yes, cronenberg horror/sci-fi..i like the crime movies he's been doing, but c'mon...body horror or russian mobsters....hmm.

Aylmer said...

Yeah, I suspected that was sarcasm.

Eastern Promises was pretty good, but History of Violence was fucking AWESOME!

Signing off now buddy it's 3:30am here :)

Doug said...

i agree...history of violence was fucking awesome. the comic book was pretty awesome too.
yr just going to bed and my work night hasn't even started...heh

Steven Seal said...

I'm totally sold on The Thing prequel. I didn't know about the Dawn '04/Thing connection, but that pretty much seals the deal. That's a good pedigree.

I'd be grateful to see the Dark Horse Thing book. I remember reading those when they came out and not liking them. Something about leaving Antarctica rang false.

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

Whoa, Cronenberg is remaking his own Fly? Hmm, not sure how to feel about that. The mechanical effects of The Fly are still awesome and disgusting, and aside from the 80s fashions, everything holds up really well.

I loved eXistenZ! And Scanners of course, but Videodrome was hard to get into because it was so freaking confusing. I still don't know what the hell Videodrome really IS. Oh, and yes, History of Violence was fucking awesome. I need to watch that shit again.

I'm in love with Ridley Scott and would adore that Alien prequel. It's gotta kick ass.

I will do my homework and get back to you. :)

Aylmer said...

Doug: I never read the HOV graphic novel. I might have to have a look around for it.

Steven: Dark Horse released a few mini-series', but the only one I read took place entirely in Antarctica. It's just a short 2-parter. I'll up it for you later today.

M.E.: Yeah, he's been talking about it, I think because he enjoyed doing The Fly opera so much last year, but at this stage it's just talk. And yeah, it's held up incredibly well... except for Geena Davis' hair.

Videodrome is SO out there that I think it's open to a vast amount of personal interpretation. In the end I think it's best not to get too tangled up in that, and just take the trip as the scary hallucinogenic headfuck that it is. I feel the same way about some of Lynch's movies, like Mulholland Drive. I'd rather just "experience" it, as a kind of cinematic nightmare, than try and analyse it to death.

I want the Alien prequel to kick ass, but I have a bad feeling. For one thing fucking Fox is pushing for a PG rating. Hmmm.

Just kidding about The Thing - each to their own. But what's your favourite Carpenter pic??

Doug said...

my favorite carpenter flick? tough damn question.

i love the thing for all the things it shows, just like i love halloween for all the things it doesn't. i love they live because of the same reason you like it. in the mouth of madness? creepy as fuck. don't care much for starman. love the fog. hell, vampires wasn't too bad. cigarette burns was also good, nothing like seeing Udo Kier feed his guts into a film projector;).

but when it all comes down to it, i think Assault On Precinct 13 is the most badass movie he's done.

cholo means they don't give a fuck!

Aylmer said...

Yeah AOP13 is just cool and mean. My other faves are all predictable: The Thing (duh), EFNY, ITMOM RULES, The Fog, Halloween, They Live, Christine, Cigarette Burns and... wait for it...

GHOSTS OF MARS!

Yeah, I said it. I really like that movie. Don't get the hate. I consider it to have a lot in common with some of his classics like AOP13 and EFNY. Another one that I HATED when I saw it, but want to give a second chance is his Village of the Damned remake

Aylmer said...

... Oh, Big Trouble is pretty good too. But yeah, my #1 is this one, followed by EFNY.

Doug said...

man, i completely forgot about VOTD..and how could i forget big trouble or escape from new york...jesus...i'm slipping. those are all awesome movies....john carpenter and kurt russell man, they get together and make fucking magic!

Aylmer said...

Yeah, I wish they'd collaborate again. Not a sequel, something fresh.

And we both forgot Prince of Darkness and Dark Star. As you can see, naming my fave Carp flick is pretty futile. I end up just listing 80% of his filmography.

All this talk makes me very keen to see THE WARD, apparently it's quite a good "second tier" JC flick.

Doug said...

never even heard of it. you could've asked me what my favorite Argento movie was and i would've said without hesitation "Deep Red"...had to make it Carpenter, make it hard for me to choose!

Aylmer said...

THE WARD is his new one, doing the festival rounds at the moment.

Argento for me = Suspiria and Opera

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

There are some big holes in my Carpenter viewing so I don't know if picking a favorite right now would be fair. Halloween is a gimme, but I have a soft spot for Christine. I just saw The Fog recently and really enjoyed that one even if it wasn't all that scary. Still good. I was actually planning on watching his Assault on Precinct 13 today. Always heard awesome things about it; it should rule.