In The Thing, a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name, a team of paleontologists, Norwegian diggers and rugged helicopter pilots unearth an alien creature with the ability to disguise itself as the organic material surrounding it, i.e. feeble humans. Ironically, the movie itself also a deceptive shapeshifter, impersonating its chilling, horror predecessor with the same beats, same characters and same scaresbut completely void of soul.
A great remake brings something new to the table, either in the form of plot twists, design or fresh performances, but The Thing begs to be compared to the original by cowering in the face of innovation. The movie forgoes character building, wasting no time flying us to the familiar Antarctic setting: Girl-who-examines-unfrozen-animal-corpses Kate (played by the movie's saving grace, Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is introduced by her friend Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) to sinister scientist Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who quickly convinces her to throw away her life for a trip to the icy continent. When she arrives, Halvorson reveals his team has discovered an alien life form trapped inside a block of ice, and he needs Kate to watch him thaw it out.
Anyone with knowledge of the 1982 Thing (or horror movies in general) knows that the beast is far from dead and what unfolds is a flaccid translation of the first film's monster mayhem. Yes, the movie has plenty of jump scares, insane flesh effects and an increasing sense of paranoia throughout the groupbut only because the first movie dictates that it must. Thanks to the charm of Winstead and her Kurt Russell-esque co-star Joel Edgerton, the copy/paste script occasionally entertains (who doesn't love a gal who can wield a flamethrower?), but without characters to invest in, the alien's rampage of violence is mostly a bore. By the time the group points fingers, attempting to sift the real persons from the fakes by checking their teeth (their foe can't recreate metallic material, so everyone with fillings is safe!), the movie's floundered its chance to get you to care.
If the titular ''thing'' was slick enough in its bloodthirsty frenzy, perhaps The Thing could redeem itself as a creepy popcorn flick, but sloppy CG creature effects end up separating the beast from his prey and obliterating any sense of danger. If they could pull off a guy's head erupting with tentacles using puppetry and prosthetics back in 1982 , why not in 2011? When the movie does employ practical effects, the results are terrifyingbut the moments are few and far between. That speaks to the bigger picture: director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. attempts to mix the original Thing's slow burn terror with modern filmmaking and intriguing sci-fi concepts, but can't seamlessly weave them together. Every time Heijningen Jr's Thing defaults to mimicking the previous version, the movie craps out.
The Thing's nondescript title once represented the fear of the unknown, but for the contemporary rehash, it's an indication of a generic, lifeless 100 minutes. Buried underneath layers of icy homage is a decent flick, but unlike the film's otherworldly opponent, it's DOA.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.