The Thing is being billed as a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic of the same name, but don’t be fooled: This is essentially the exact same movie (except for the final 15 minutes; more on those later). No wonder the filmmakers didn’t even bother to come up with a different title. Once again, we are back in Antarctica, on a remote base where a group of Norwegian and American researchers discover a spacecraft that’s been buried inside a glacier for 100,000 years — and its unearthly, exceedingly ugly pilot frozen in a block of ice nearby, apparently long dead.
The minute the ice begins to melt, though, the researchers (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen and Eric Christian Olsen) find out the alien is still very much alive and has the ability to genetically duplicate whoever it eats and hop from host to host like a virus. Paranoia quickly sets in after the arctic crew realizes any one of them could be the thing in human disguise. Flame throwers — the only truly effective weapon against the monster — become invaluable. A yucky autopsy on one of the extra-terrestrial’s former bodies is performed. Two men suspected of being infected are quarantined and locked inside a shack removed from the main base. A makeshift test is performed to determine who is infected and who is still human. The researchers turn on each other. A dog chews on the wire grating of its kennel, desperate to get away from something nearby.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you saw Carpenter’s film, it should: Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (whose previous credits include Final Destination 5 and the ineffectual Nightmare on Elm Street remake) settles for stealing most of the best moments from the original movie, bringing shocking little that’s new to the story until the end (even the presence of two women amongst an otherwise all-male crew has no payoff whatsoever). And although first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen acquits himself admirably at using the confined spaces and hallways of the base for suspense and thrills, the special effects rely too heavily on CGI to be anywhere near as frightening as Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking, hair-raising creations from the 1982 version.
Despite the relentlessly derivative nature of the film, most of The Thing makes for a tolerable homage to Carpenter’s film — a pale but still passable imitation — until the climactic sequence, as ill-conceived a finale as following Richard Dreyfuss inside the mothership at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition. By then, The Thing has degenerated into a rip-off of every monster-from-outer-space horror flick you’ve ever seen, only badly done and not the slightest bit frightening.
The argument behind most remakes is that there’s an entire generation that has never seen the original film. But Carpenter’s The Thing, which flopped on its original theatrical release but has grown mightily in stature over the ensuing decades, is well-known and has been widely seen. There is absolutely nothing in this prequel/remake that improves on the first film or negates it in any way. If you’ve never seen The Thing — and you really should — stick with the genuine 1982 article and skip this elaborate act of mimicry.
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Trond Espen Seim.
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen.
Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer. Based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr.
Producers: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, extreme violence, heavy gore. Opens Friday Oct. 14 at area theaters.