Kurt Russell and his crew do end up stumbling into some terrifying answers, but Carpenter's flick concentrates on the alien horrors the Americans endure. The 2011 fall movie season, however, is set to uncover what really happened before Russell touched down in the Antarctic, as director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. delivers a prequel story, also called "The Thing," to theaters on October 14.
As part of MTV News' Fall Movie Preview, we're not only debuting an exclusive clip and photo from the horror flick about an alien able to mimic the likenesses of other life forms, but we sat down for a chat with star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays a young researcher confronting the extraterrestrial danger. She spoke about the pressures of remaking a classic, the criticism from some corners about introducing a central female character to the action, and the challenges of reinventing an alien creature while staying true to its original form.
MTV: What's the bigger threat for you on set in Canada? Is it losing your voice from screaming all the time or losing your fingers from frostbite?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think it was fainting from nearly hyperventilating. That was the biggest thing. Also, by the end of it, we were shooting in the summer and we were acting like it was freezing cold and we were all in parkas and layers and layers of gloves and hats, and it was humid and hot outside. There was a lot of heat exhaustion setting in. It was kind of crazy — we had to act cold. I didn't have to do a lot of screaming in this, which was good. It was just a lot of that kind of heavy breathing, where you're trying to keep your composure and trying not to fall apart. It's that really small, fast breathing and take, after take, after take of that kind of thing, you start to get lightheaded and start to get a little woozy.
MTV: There are a lot of remakes and new takes on cult classics, and I think a lot of people feel, "I'm OK with it, if they get it right." For you guys on set, was that sort of pressure on your minds? And do you think you did get it right?
Winstead: There was definitely a lot of pressure, because everyone involved is a fan of the John Carpenter version. None of us wanted to mess it up and none of us wanted to sully the legend of the John Carpenter film. We wanted to add to it in a positive way, a fun way, and make something that could go hand in hand with that film. And that's what we did. I think we made a film that's a really great standalone film, but also something that's really cool if you're a fan of the John Carpenter version, just to get a little insight into what may have occurred before. I think it's just a good movie regardless of how you feel about remakes and prequels and all of that. At least you can go see a good film and hopefully put that aside and just be there and go along for the ride.
MTV: Since this is a prequel, we presumably know what's going to happen at the end. How did you keep the suspense going?
Winstead: I think that it's exciting to wonder who is a Thing and who isn't, and that's really where the suspense lies. A lot of films in the genre, you kind of know it's not gonna end up well. I don't think anyone is really expecting a happy ending. But that kind of going along for the ride and being in the suspense of the moment is what's really exciting. Our story is so great and it's one that could be played out in so many scenarios, and I think with bringing in completely different characters from completely different backgrounds and countries brings a whole other level of paranoia. It takes it into a different direction, having this language barrier between the characters and having a lot of "us" vs. "them" between the Norwegians and the Americans and things like that was an interesting take on it, made it a not straight-up remake. And it was exciting to me to put a girl in the mix, which people have different opinions on it. But for me, that's what differentiates it from the John Carpenter version in a big way and makes it a different film, makes it a unique film and one that stands on its own.
MTV: What do you mean by different opinions? Do you think people are skeptical of a woman battling aliens?
Winstead: I read a lot of comments, which kind of surprised me, to be honest, of people who were really upset that we would dare put a female in "The Thing" when the John Carpenter version was all men. I do think it was an interesting dynamic to see men, grown men, all living together and dealing with this paranoia and isolation. But I also think it's interesting having a young woman thrown into the mix trying to take control of the situation where nobody trusts her opinion. It's a very different and interesting dynamic and it's not gonna be the same as the original version, but that's what's great about it to me.
MTV: Anyone who's seen Ellen Ripley [Sigourney Weaver in "Alien"] do her thing knows that a woman can take on an alien.
Winstead: What's cool about it, for this character, a lot of her strength lies in her intellect rather than her muscles. It's not like one of those characters where I come in and act like I can kick everybody's ass. It's not realistic. All these guys are bigger than me, stronger than me. But my character has a really strong intellect, which gets her far in this film.
MTV: So you didn't have to hit the gym?
Winstead: No, none of that, which was nice.
MTV: How does this one build? How long before, you know, sh-- gets bad?
Winstead: It's a definite slow burn, which is great. It makes it feel like a classic horror film. You really set up the characters and you really build the fear slowly, and once sh-- hits the fan, it gets crazy and it doesn't stop. It's super-intense, the last half of the film. You just hold your breath and you don't breathe again till the credits roll. That's really great. The first part of the movie is really slow and foreboding, and you feel this slow dread building because you do know what's coming. You know that something crazy and horrible is gonna happen to these people, but they don't know it yet and kind of having that feeling as the audience is one that's exciting and creepy and terrifying.
MTV: Carpenter's movie really was horrifying and just gross. Really gross. Are you guys taking the same angle?
Winstead: The "assimilation scenes" are definitely terrifying and disgusting and just creepy as hell. There's one in particular that stands out to me that's just horrific. I can't really describe it in too much detail because I don't wanna give anything away. It just blows your mind. Just seeing it being filmed, because we have a lot of practical effects stuff there, which is great and kind of seeing the beginning of it on set was terrifying in itself and disgusting. They just took it to a whole new level, the stuff they added in postproduction.
MTV: We get a glimpse of the creature in the trailer. Because it's a prequel, do you guys have to stay very true to the first one or do you have room to play?
Winstead: I think they definitely kept the John Carpenter version in mind when it came to the creature design. Definitely it is still that same world, but there is a somewhat new look to it and somewhat different take on it. It's sort of the 2011 version, but still with that spirit of practical effects. It certainly doesn't look exactly like the John Carpenter version. As awesome as those effects are, they are out of a certain period. And when you see that, you can kind of tell like, "Oh, those are really awesome '80s effects." So you can't really go exactly for that. You have to bring a little of the modern element in to it too, but hopefully keeping that real tangible quality the '80s effects had as well.
From "Abduction" to "Muppets, "Moneyball" to "Breaking Dawn," the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest upcoming flicks in our 2011 Fall Movie Preview. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films' biggest stars.
Check out everything we've got on "The Thing."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.