"The Thing": Effective if Witless Remake of Horror Classic

John Carpenter should approve of this reasonably respectful and tough-minded prequel to his 1982 The Thing. There in Antarctica, you'll recall, Kurt Russell and company encountered an alien with infectious/shape-shifting powers, making all parties justifiably paranoid about who was human and who was hidden monster. This time around, we're at the Norwegian base where the frozen — but not quite dead — beast is first discovered. Young American scientist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) helps dissect the 100,000-year-old ice mummy. That is, of course, a bad idea, and the carnage begins about 20 minutes in. Mr. Thing has a crabby carapace and pincers, and he employs the same sprouting tentacles to spear, suck, and genetically graft himself onto his prey (aided considerably by CGI). But though he's smart enough to pilot the giant flying saucer, he's only slightly more cunning than the two dozen disposable bearded Norwegians (Lars, Sven, whatever) chasing through the snowy night. Sharing a producer with the '82 version, this Thing is capably helmed by a Dutch director of TV spots, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., who matches the look and period feel of Carpenter's thriller (one character brandishes a slide rule), and brings the same blue-collar sensibility (bosses suck). But as written by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), the new Thing lacks much wit or self-awareness; it's more of a "final girl" formula film, but on ice. Still, why did it take 29 years to create this solid double-feature? And will they unfreeze Russell for a trilogy?

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