In 1982, publicist-turned-producer David Foster was convinced his new sci-fi thriller The Thing was going to be a massive hit. Directed by John (Halloween) Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell, with gut-wrenching creature FX by Rob Bottin, the film had every ingredient of a Hollywood blockbuster.
What no one anticipated was the arrival of a benevolent alien named E.T. Before you could say ‘Reese’s Pieces,’ moviegoers wanted their extraterrestrials friendly not frightening and Carpenter’s creatures became animalis non grata.
But thanks to cable TV and home video sales, The Thing not only found the audience it richly deserved, it became an undisputed cult classic. And three decades after producing the Carpenter film, Foster has returned to the Thing universe with a terrifying prequel that bookends seamlessly with its cinematic cousin.
During production of the 2011 film, the producer sat down on the Toronto set to discuss his long-standing involvement with the popular genre franchise…
Could you talk about the genesis of this project as far as your involvement?
About five years after I did the one with John Carpenter, I started thinking about how we could do a remake, but change it somewhat for audiences so it wouldn’t be the same movie. I went to Universal who said no, so it lay dormant for a hell of a long time.
Every now and then I would think, ‘Damn it, there’s something that wasn’t in the first film!’
I think the problem with the first film was that the characters were cold and the setting was cold.
I just kept banging away at it and finally a great friend of mine, writer/director Frank Darabont and I went to the Sci-Fi Channel and said, ‘We’d like to do it as a mini-series, two nights, two and a half to three hours each night and they said great.
Frank had this young man David Johnson who he thought should write it and Frank would supervise it. He would guarantee that if the script didn’t come out well from this guy, he would straighten it all out.
Dave Johnson wrote a brilliant script, and the Sci-Fi Channel said it was the best script they’d ever had. But it turned out that they had to option it from the Universal feature division, which Frank and I didn’t know about and they pulled the plug.
Then Marc Abraham and Eric Newman at Strike Entertainment talked to the feature division about doing not a remake but a prequel.
When I heard about it, I was obviously upset, because I had put in all this time with the Sci-Fi Channel, so I called [original prequel writer] Ron Moore who’s probably the most honorable guy I’ve ever met in this business.
I told him I was on the outside looking in after all this time and he said, ‘That’s not right!’ (although he used stronger words than that).
He called me back within an hour and said, ‘Okay, you will be the executive producer and you and those two guys are going to produce it,’ so I met them both and they were real gentlemen.
They already had a director with Matthijs and of course they wanted to know about the first film, where we shot it, how we shot it and they really welcomed my opinions.
If the original film wasn’t successful at the box office, why return to it in a sense?
It’s a different time. I think genre films are much more attractive to audiences today than they were back then. John Carpenter and I became friends on The Thing and this is the second movie of his that I’ve ‘remade.’
We redid The Fog and John’s attitude is amazing. I called him one day and said, ‘Why don’t we remake The Fog?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, go ahead, make me rich!’
John’s attitude is that he will personally never remake any of his films. He said, ‘I’ve done them once; that was my vision of the film.
I’m happy to be a producer with you, and we can work together with the writer on the script, but I don’t want to talk to the director if it’s possible, because I don’t want him to think I’m looking over his shoulder.’ His attitude is that this is Matthijs’ vision of the movie he wants to make and it’s not the same story.
The Fog was that director’s vision of the movie, not John’s, so he doesn’t want to do anything he’s ever done before.
One of the reasons the original film was considered a classic was because of Rob Bottin’s makeup FX. Where do you stand on doing physical creatures on this film as opposed to creating them digitally?
This group is very supportive of CGI, but the goal is always to top Rob Bottin. Whatever he did, you want to do it ten times better, but we didn’t have CGI when we did the original Thing. I think there were maybe one or two shots that were CGI, including the opening shot of the ship. But this group of filmmakers really feels that CGI can enhance the movie and it probably can. But there are also monsters that we’ve designed and built.
So we’ll be seeing lots of new creatures coming up in the prequel?
There will be lots of creatures and lots of things in different forms and shapes. That was part of the uniqueness of the original. We had things running around on the floor like little insects and then we had big mothers and we’ll be doing the same thing here.
This group of people really believes in the horror of the genre and they want to scare the shit out of people, so they will spare nothing to get the creatures to look unique. I’ve seen drawings of them and they’re scary as hell!
The Thing opens in theaters October 14, 2011