The Thing (2011) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Last Updated on June 14, 2023

The The Thing 2011 episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Jason Hewlett, Edited by Victoria Verduzco, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

When given the opportunity to revive The Thing for Universal Pictures, producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman chose to craft a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter movie. Unfortunately, this new version of The Thing (watch it HERE) turned out to be a box office disappointment, just like Carpenter’s had been. It also managed to disappoint fans of the Carpenter film and the members of its own special effects team when the impressive practical effects that had been put to use on the set were completely covered over by unconvincing CGI effects in post-production. There were some interesting decisions made behind the scenes of The Thing 2011, but also some very poor ones, so let’s look back ten years and find out What the F*ck Happened to This Horror Movie.

The Thing 2011 exists because of Dawn of the Dead 2004. That remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic was produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, and when Universal Pictures released the film it earned more than 100 million dollars at the global box office. So it’s no surprise that Universal wanted to stay in the Abraham – Newman remake business after that. There’s conflicting information on how exactly the producers got involved with the new version of The Thing – in some interviews, it was said that they chose the project after looking through Universal’s library of titles, but on the audio commentary Newman says Universal brought the project to them and asked them to revive The Thing in some way. Whatever the case, the duo knew very early on that they did not want their take on The Thing to be a remake. They knew there was no way they could make something better than what Carpenter had done. Instead, they decided to make something that could be seen as a complimentary companion to the Carpenter movie. They decided to make a prequel.

It’s quite interesting that they felt The Thing was an untouchable film, when they had just produced a remake of Dawn of the Dead, which many horror fans would argue is also an untouchable film. There could have been some extra hesitancy to produce a remake in this case because Carpenter’s The Thing had already been a remake itself, of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, and who wants to say they made a remake of a remake? Then again, since the source material for all of these Thing projects is a 1938 novella written by John W. Campbell, there are some who wouldn’t use the term “remake” for Carpenter’s film at all. They would prefer to say that it’s another adaptation of the Campbell story, not a remake of The Thing from Another World.

The Thing 2011 WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

You don’t have to worry about arguing semantics for the 2011 movie. It is a prequel that leads directly into the events of the Carpenter Thing. In the 1982 film, the titular alien creature arrives – in the form of a dog – at an American outpost in Antarctica after it has already decimated a Norwegian outpost not far away. The American characters, with Kurt Russell in the lead as helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, are able to deduce that the Norwegians discovered the alien and the spacecraft it came to Earth in thousands of years ago buried in the icy ground. The block of ice containing the alien was taken back to the Norwegian outpost, the alien escaped from the ice, and by the time MacReady and his associates reach the place it has been burned out and it appears that everyone is dead. There’s a fire axe stuck in the wall, the frozen corpse of a man who slit his own wrist and throat, and nobody else around. Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster had already set up the prequel very well, Abraham and Newman just had to figure out how to fill in the blanks.

Ronald D. Moore, best known for his work in the worlds of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, was the first writer hired for The Thing 2011. Moore was the one involved when they had to feel their way through some really bad early ideas, like the possibility of having the lead character in the film be MacReady’s brother. Never mind that MacReady had never mentioned having a brother at all, let alone one that was also in Antarctica and had been at the Norwegian outpost. Or the Swedish outpost, as MacReady would call it. A draft was written with this MacReady sibling, who had some booze he was going to share with his brother and even had a flashback to a climbing accident he and his brother were both present for, a scene that would have required the casting of a young R.J. MacReady. This idea was wisely abandoned. Still, figuring out who the lead character would be was a challenge, because Russell’s performance as MacReady had been so iconic that they had to be careful not to focus on someone who could be unfavorably compared to him. So his brother was out. A male scientist who would have been presented in what they described as a “wimpy” manner was also out. The decision was made to set the lead apart from MacReady by making the character a female. Since there had not been any female characters in Carpenter’s film, this eliminated the problem of direct comparisons.

As the development of The Thing went on, Moore fulfilled his contract and then Eric Heisserer was brought in to work on the script, making this the third high profile horror franchise he had worked on in a row; around this time, Heisserer also wrote Final Destination 5 and the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The rewrite he performed on this project was substantial enough that he is the sole credited writer on the finished film, although Scott Frank was brought on to do an uncredited polish, just as he had done on Dawn of the Dead 2004.

And like Zack Snyder made his feature directorial debut on Dawn of the Dead, The Thing also marked the feature debut of a director who had been working in commercials and music videos up to that point, Matthijs van Heijningen. Interestingly, Heijningen was only available to make The Thing because the film he had signed on to direct the previous year had fallen apart due to the Great Recession, and that project had been Army of the Dead, a zombie movie that was being produced and co-written by Zack Snyder. Army of the Dead wouldn’t end up being made until a decade later, with Snyder at the helm for Netflix, but in 2008 it got very close to happening with Heijningen at Warner Brothers. After Warner decided Army of the Dead was too expensive, Heijningen went looking for another job. Snyder introduced him to Eric Newman, and he got hired for The Thing.

The most admirable element of the prequel is the dedication Heijningen, Heisserer, and the crew showed to making sure their film would match up to what Carpenter had shown of the Norwegian camp in his film. Heisserer made sure to show the alien escaping from the block of ice, he shows who put that fire axe into the wall and why, he introduces us to the man who will end up slashing his wrist and throat. Still frames from the movie, along with maps that were already available online, were used to recreate the layout of the Norwegian camp as shown in 1982, with the height of Kurt Russell and how he looked in the rooms he passed through being used as a guide for the construction of rooms in the 2011 movie.

The effort to match up with the earlier film extended to a shooting location, as some of the snowy exteriors were filmed in Cumberland, British Columbia, not far from where the cast and crew of the ’82 film had been set up in Stewart, B.C. But while Carpenter was blessed with the opportunity of having his outpost set built in true isolation, in an area of Alaska that was about a 30 mile drive from Stewart, the prequel had to stay closer to civilization. The outpost for this one was built in mine pits near Toronto, Ontario.

The Thing 2011 WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

Only half of the characters who populate the outpost in the film are Norwegian, because of course Universal wasn’t going to release a film that was entirely populated by Norwegians speaking their first language. The eight Norwegians are joined by Danish, English, and French characters, plus five Americans, including the lead. Since the characters are from all over the place, they default into speaking English with each other; only one person at the outpost doesn’t speak English. The lead, the one they made sure we couldn’t compare to MacReady, is Kate Lloyd, a vertebrate paleontologist who is brought to the outpost by antagonistic scientist Doctor Sander Halvorson after the discovery of the spacecraft and the frozen alien. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, she’s not only the audience surrogate character that we follow through this crazy situation, she’s also the most observant and sensible person of the bunch, and turns out to be a capable heroine.

The casting of Halvorson was one of the bigger issues to arise during production, as Norwegian actor Dennis Storhoi, who was initially hired to play the role, was replaced by Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen after a week of filming. Some sources say Storhoi was fired due to personal issues, while Storhoi himself said that he chose to leave the production. This switch-up required some digital effects work in post, as Thomsen’s face was put on Storhoi’s body for scenes that had already been shot with the other actor.

Although The Thing 2011 turned out to be a decent film and the material was certainly handled with respect, the film does come up short in comparison to the Carpenter THING in the way the producers always seemed to know it would. That’s why they made a prequel instead of a remake in the first place. The writing isn’t as good as the script Bill Lancaster wrote for Carpenter’s movie. It can’t achieve the level of suspense and paranoia the ’82 film had, and instead of building a feeling of dread it increases the amount of action, showing off alien attack sequences that aren’t as impressive as what Carpenter showed us nearly thirty years earlier. But the prequel’s greatest downfall is its presentation of the alien. This film was following – or technically, leading into – a movie that is filled with some of the most awe-inspiring practical special effects ever put on film. The work Rob Bottin did on The Thing was incredible. During the production of the prequel, the correct decision was made to have the effects artists from Amalgamated Dynamics on set to bring the monstrous alien shape-shifter to life through practical effects. There was always the thought in mind that the creatures would receive slight CG enhancements in post, but as the movie was being filmed the actors had the opportunity to interact with animatronic monsters. Sadly, the studio ended up deciding that the practical effects needed to be completely covered over with a layer of CGI, and they apparently made this decision after some misguided audience members at test screenings made negative comments about the effects. The designs created by Amalgamated Dynamics remained, the animatronics and puppets were just replaced by CGI versions of the exact same creature – so it was like the effects artists never needed to be on the set at all. Effects supervisor Alec Gillis was so depressed to see all of their practical work get tossed aside, he wrote and directed his own creature feature called Harbinger Down a few years later as a way to try to get over the disappointment of The Thing.

For his part, Heijningen seemed quite willing to have the practical effects replaced by CGI effects. On the commentary, he and Newman said that the replacement was necessary because the effects team didn’t have enough prep time; Bottin had a year to work on the effects for the previous Thing, they said, while Amalgamated Dynamics only had a few months to get ready for this one. Heijningen said the creatures required more articulation than the puppets had, that they couldn’t do much with the practical stuff. In one interview, he even said that the practical effects had made The Thing 2011 look “like an ‘80s movie” – and he said this as a negative, even though the film is set in the ‘80s and its entire purpose was to emulate an ‘80s classic. He felt the CGI effects made the film more accessible to the modern audience.

Universal also demanded that the end of the film be reshot. The original cut involved Kate entering the spacecraft to find the corpses of multiple aliens that had died from their contact with the Thing. She was then attacked by the Thing in the form of an alien that had no human element to it at all, meant to be a copy of the spacecraft’s pilot. The studio didn’t like that, and viewers in the test screenings were reportedly confused; they didn’t know what this creature was supposed to be. Since Kate and Halvorson had been butting heads throughout the movie, Universal wanted the final creature she encounters to have Halvorson’s face on it. So in the version of the film that was released, Kate’s climactic confrontation is with a Halvorson monster, which Heijningen admits looks like it was created at the last minute, since it was. CG enhancements were also added to the interior of the spacecraft to cover up the alien corpses, which were taken out of the movie entirely.

The Thing 2011 WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

All of this tinkering was done in the attempt to turn The Thing 2011 into more of a crowd-pleaser, but it didn’t do much good in the long run. The general audience didn’t seem to be very interested in this project – made on a budget of 38 million dollars, it earned just 31.5 million at the global box office. The failure of The Thing 2011 shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of Heijningen, his work here is effective enough and shows enough promise that it should have led to more feature work – but nine years would pass before he directed another film. This may have been his own choice. Unsourced online trivia claims that he found working on The Thing to be a negative experience due to studio interference, so he has purposely avoided working with Hollywood studios since then. His 2020 film The Forgotten Battle was a Dutch and Belgian production. If Heijningen was disenchanted by his experience working on The Thing, he is a great “grin and bear it” team player, because there is no hint of disappointment in the press he did for the film at the time of its release or on the audio commentary.

However Heijningen truly felt about his film at the end of the day, it has gained some fans over the years. Still, a lot of the viewers who enjoy it in its current state would like to see the movie the way it was before all of the CG additions, and before the ending was reshot. There have been “Release the Amalgamated Dynamics Cut” and “Release the Pilot Version” movements, but Universal doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Yet. Ten years have gone by, but there’s still hope that someday we’ll get a special edition release that will remove the CGI from those monsters the effects team brought to set.

A couple of the previous episodes of the show can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.