Interview with The Thing Director Matthijs Van Heijningen

With the prequel to The Thing out Monday March 26th we where lucky enough to talk to the director Matthijs Van Heijningen on trails and tribulations of prefacing such a perfect picture with his prequel.

A huge John Carpenter fan (as all horror fans should be!) Matthijs talked to LoveHorror about his love for the original, how he made his movie and how it all started from hating E.T.

LoveHorror – You saw John Carpenters original The Thing when you where 17 years old, how did affect you and did you ever dream back then you would be making this prequel?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – (Laughs) No I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to be at that point. I just saw it and it just blew me away. This nihilistic paranoia came along and it was just great. I saw E.T about a week before and I didn’t’ like E.T at all.

LH – There pretty much opposite ends of the scale The Thing and E.T.

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Yes, I really remember like wow there’s no happy ending and everything is dark and unresolved and that’s cool and so non-Hollywood.

the thing

LH – This is your first major feature, how did you get involved in the project?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Well I was prepping a film called Army of the Dead produced by Zack Snyder and we where really far ahead like a couple of months before shooting this huge zombie feature and then the crisis broke so it was like end of 2008 I think and it was just too expensive in Las Vegas with Vegas completely destroyed by zombies and everything had to be built or cg it was just too expensive so that just went away from one day to another.

And then I was just thinking about new projects and I was thinking about The Thing, what ever happened to The Thing they never did anything with it. So I called around and I heard that the producers where prepping a prequel and as a European I thought that was sort of interesting you know from the Norwegian point of view so I got involved and we took it from there.

LH – In making this prequel you have spoken about reverse engineering in crafting your film from pieces of evidence left behind in the original, can you expand on this further and how did you go about this process?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Your watching that film and you’re doing a blown up version of something that has happened in that movie which is something that happened a couple of days ago as everything is still smoldering and then you watch really closely the remains of that camp and the holes and the things they find and the you use that as a starting point. I think the first thing was the two faced creature they find so okay that has to happen and how’s that going to happen and what can we do with that monster and how does it die? Which is all fun but its also very restrictive in a way you box yourself in recreating this event one of the critics of the film is that its too much the same but it was very hard to get out of the same logic and rhythm, we made it a little bit faster and ferocious.

LH – But in a way that what makes it such a great movie you find out all the things you never knew, its extremely respectful of the original whereas a lot of sequels, remakes and reboots disregard the original completely whereas your film is a prequel that works as a companion piece because it partners with Carpenters original perfectly.

Matthijs Van Heijningen– Its born out of the producers and me who all adore that original movie so we where not about to harm it or say ‘we can do it much better’ it was more like ‘can we solve the puzzle?’

Matthijs Van Heijningen

LH – The casting in your film is a clear departure from Carpenters movie not only in your female lead but the many Norwegian actors you have, what was the thinking behind these choices and how did they come to be?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – We originally again we had a male lead the difference was of course that the Norwegian’s find this spaceship so that was already something different in the original they are all blue collar workers so here its scientists and Norwegians scientist, o how could an American be there as there had to be an American somewhere it can’t be just 12 Norwegians…

LH – That would have been great.

Matthijs Van Heijningen– (Laughs) Yeah that wouldn’t work for the studio. So we had a male character but he became an old scientist a bit of a wimp and then you have this cool guy MacReady at one end of the spectrum and I thought we have to stay away from this male character its always going be compared to MacReady who is such an iconic character you’re never gonna win that battle so why don’t we do a sort of Alien approach. And with these bearded Norwegians it changed enough the dynamic amongst the Norwegians but it also made the movie a little different than the JC’s (John Carpenter’s) Thing.

Matthijs Van Heijningen

LH – The original movie is famous for its special effects – what where your visions for the monster and what techniques did you use on this film to create the many monstrosities that mutate from the hapless humans under attack?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – That’s was the most daunting thing because I think a lot of the people who cherish J.C’s Thing are mostly plus 30 people (laughs) the movie got rediscovered in the 90’s through VHS and there is nostalgic value to what you see but if I show it to my son whose 13 and he loves movies and he says ‘yeah the movies great but all these puppets they look so fake’ (laughs) not all of them. So there was a dilemma because I know how it works so I really made all these monsters in prosthetics all practical effects on set and we filmed it and we cut it and it just looked like an 80’s movie. So we used some of it but we also used cg.

LH – In your film we finally get to see inside the spaceship which brings the thing to earth. How did you come up with the design and look of the craft?

MVH – That was also challenging because if you do research about alien spaceship interiors there are not many in film history that are really great. I mean Giger’s alien of course is fantastic that’s the best basically but you can’t replicate that because its already been done but that’s iconic to me so what came out of what we had something that resembled that idea.

LH – What where the filming conditions like and how did you recreate Antarctica without freezing to death?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Well we did the exteriors partly in British Columbia very close to where John Carpenter shot his movie so that was cold but easily doable. It was more actually when we shot parts in Toronto it was the hottest winter ever it was the same year s they did the Olympics in Vancouver and they put fake snow on the slopes. That was hard for the actors sometimes to pretend it was freezing while they where actually sweating to death. The interiors where all studio, we didn’t freeze them like I think they did in John Carpenter’s movie we just added CG breath and stuff.

Matthijs Van Heijningen

LH – What’s your second favorite Carpenter movie after The Thing of course?

Matthijs Van Heijningen– I think Halloween.

LH – And what did you think of the Halloween prequel remake?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – I haven’t seen them, how are they?

LH – I only mention it as an interesting comparison to your movie as Rob Zombies remake is part prequel as it goes into the history of Michael Myers trying to explain his transformation from child to psychopath filling in the gaps of the story John Carpenter left in the same way your film does.

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Right, I haven’t seen it, minus points here (laughs).

LH – Would you have made a prequel to Halloween?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – No (laughs)

LH – How have you found the film to be received by the real hardcore Thing fans?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – That was pretty tough I expected it actually but sometime sort was sort of harsh. Maybe it’s a matter of time.

Matthijs Van Heijningen

LH – What’s next for you?

Matthijs Van Heijningen – Nothing is really confirmed and I’m still examining everything I can’t say much about that actually.

LH – Will we ever see Army of the Dead completed?

Matthijs Van Heijningen– Maybe, maybe um its still the same price tag so I’m not sure if that has changed much.

LH – How about a sequel to The Thing?

Matthijs Van Heijningen– No, I think its time to create my own reality now.

Matthijs thank you.

The Thing is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on March 26th and you can check out the trailer below:


Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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