A shapeshifting creature from outer space. Interesting (and a bit campy) the first time it was introduced to movie going audiences in 1951’s “The Thing from Another World” (which was adapted from the short story “Who Goes There?”). Downright fucked up scary in 1982, when John Carpenter updated the scenario and released “The Thing.” Clunky and kinda creepy describes this latest Hollywood remake — I mean prequel — The Thing (a new name would have eliminated any confusion as to it being a remake or not).
It’s clear the penner of the screenplay, Eric Heisserer, watched Carpenter’s masterpiece, because for the majority of The Thing, he followed Carpenter’s template to a tee. Conspicuously missing, however, is the heavy air of suspense, distrust and fear that made “The Thing” so good. In its place, the alien is now front and center — enjoying nearly as much screen time as the heroine, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, herself.
She is Kate Lloyd, a highly regarded American paleontologist. When Norwegian scientists in Antarctica, led by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), discover a craft and a foreign body under the ice cap, she is called in to help identify.
What it is, much to hers and the isolated scientist’s worst fears, is a tentrically, amoeba-like creature with an awesome blood lust, which hunts its prey by emulating it. One by one, it picks off the researchers forcing them to distrust one another and second guess everything around them. It’s really too bad that the creatures rendering is below grade. When shot on its own, the various forms it takes on — grotesque, multi appendaged and toothed — are horrific and look real enough. When it interacts with the live actors, however, it doesn’t fare so well. And given the amount of air play the creature gets with its hapless victims, it’s inexcusable.
Also inexcusable, albeit less so, is the lack of character development. If the audience doesn’t know something on a deeper level about the protagonists, they don’t care how or when they die. Winstead, obviously, gets the lion share of attention and does well as the lead, although she is no Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, “Alien”). Thomsen comes in a distant second as the domineering doctor, acting mostly as an antagonist to Winstead’s Kate. The others — Sam (Joel Edgerton), Griggs (Paul Braunstein), Olav (Jan Gunnar Røise), Juliette (Kim Bubbs), Colin (Jonathan Lloyd Walker) and Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) — are interchangeable puzzle pieces providing fodder for the imitating alien and good to further the story along.
A story, which, by the way, we know the ending to.
Aside from the first 20 minutes or so, The Thing plays out very much like the 1982 version it claims to be a prelude to. And even with the updated CGI and nifty camera tricks employed by first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., it can’t compare. Check out the film it replicates for true tension and scares.