The Thing (**½)

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A serviceable prequel to the John Carpenter film of the same name, ‘The Thing’ works best when it resists the urge to fall into being more of a remake than a prequel.  When it’s getting into the origins of the creature that terrorized Kurt Russell and company, it’s a decent yet unremarkable sci-fi/horror flick.  It’s the middle of the movie, when you’d be forgiven for not realizing it wasn’t a remake…that’s when things go a little off the tracks.  Nothing in this film is particularly great, but nothing is terrible either.  It just could have stood to have been a little more consistent.  Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. mixes in practical and CGI effects well enough, but doesn’t do much to elevate the terror beyond some “boo” moments.  Credit goes to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for being a strong female action hero of sorts, but her character isn’t exactly given much to do either.  Every element of this movie is decent, but lacking in some small way.

This version of the story focuses on the Norwegian research site that first discovers the alien visitor.  Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) is called in because there’s a specimen.  The scientists believe the thing to be dead, but when they bring it to their station (encased in the same ice casket as in the previous film), it defrosts and comes alive.  This leads to the same thing as in Carpenter’s flick, with the alien picking off humans and then copying them.  This leads everyone to question who’s human.  There’s even an heroic helicopter pilot, this one played by Joel Edgerton (though named Braxton Carter here).  The second and third acts resemble Carpenter’s movie too much to really be effective, but the beginning moments are interesting and different.  A quick note about the conclusion…it ties into the beginning of ‘The Thing‘ that Carpenter did in a decent but less than satisfying way.  It feels like it was tacked on a bit late.  Maybe that’s just me, but it bugged me a little.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead channels her inner Sigourney Weaver to “Ripley-ify” her character and try to save the day.  The script shortchanges her a lot, but Winstead is game enough to make it work.  You’re invested in her survival, so the film succeeds there.  The same can’t be said for anyone else, perhaps excluding Edgerton’s male hero character.  Everyone else is one dimensional and boring, which is a bit of a bummer since there’s plenty of them.  Those aforementioned people include Eric Christian Olson as a fellow American at the site, Ulrich Thomson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jorgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Roise, Stig Henrik Hoff, Jo Adrian Haavind, Carsten Bjornlund, and Jonathan Walker.  There are a lot of them, but they’re just not memorable at all.

As a director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has some talent but is a bit of a work in progress.  He’s too reliant on quick cuts that obscure what’s going on, but he’s got a small sense of atmosphere.  Essentially, this isn’t enough to judge him on, but it’s not something you’re particularly going to remember him for.  The same can be said for scribe Eric Heisserer (working off of the John W. Campbell Jr. short story ‘The Thing From Another World’ like each other version of this film has), since this script is rather mediocre, but so was his script for ‘Final Destination 5’.  At leas it’s better than the one for the remake of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. Heisserer doesn’t seem to have much originality to him, but he doesn’t mess this flick up too bad.  His only real misstep is turning it into a remake midway through.  Other than that, it’s competent.

‘The Thing’ is the type of movie you shrug your shoulders at.  Fans of the other versions of this story will see it as more than a step below, and people coming to it fresh will see something decent but less than noteworthy.  I personally was very interested to see it, and now see that it was never going to come close to Carpenter’s version.  It’s not a bad movie, but it’s really nothing special.  Check it out if you think it’s worth your time, but leave your expectations at the door, lest you be let down.

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