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The Thing: Nondescript horror prequel

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The summer of 1982 found audiences so enamored with a little fellow named E.T. that they ignored two other science fiction flicks that have since been recognized as classics of the genre. One, of course, is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner; the other is John Carpenter's The Thing, the second adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There?" (the first being 1951's The Thing from Another World). Based on the title, one would assume that this new version is, like fellow weekend opener Footloose, a remake, but that's not the case. The 2011 model of The Thing is actually a prequel to the 1982 film, leading one to wonder why they didn't more accurately name it The Thing: The Beginning, The Thing: The Early Days or even I Was a Teenage Thing.

Whatever its moniker, this new endeavor is, like many prequels, a movie that adds little to the conversation, filling in details that audiences frankly didn't care to discover. The '82 edition opened with the evil alien invader, in the guise of a dog, escaping from a pair of Norwegians stationed at an Antarctic research station and into the safety of a nearby American camp. This new version backtracks to show how the Norwegians first came across the frozen creature, and how, after it thawed, they soon discovered its frightful ability to perfectly absorb and replicate any life form, including themselves.

Mindful of the fact that U.S. audiences wouldn't shell out to watch a bunch of no-name actors speak in a foreign tongue, Universal Pictures and scripter Eric Heisserer (who also penned the dreadful A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot) helpfully added an American and an Australian to the cast and decreed that all but one of the Norwegians would speak English. To grab the female demographic (the '82 film was a boys-only club), they also made the Yankee a woman in the form of paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). That actually turns out to be a decent decision, since Winstead (best known as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) makes for a solid and sympathetic heroine. Unfortunately, she's about the only one afforded a personality; that's a far cry from Carpenter's take, in which all of the characters were unique individuals.

The visual effects and makeup designs by Rob Bottin (The Howling) in the '82 version offended many critics with their gruesomeness, but the rest of us were astonished by the imagination that went into them, particularly since this was before the advent of CGI. To his credit, this new film's director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., also employs some hands-on FX-building in addition to the expected CGI, but with little variation in the (sometimes laughable) designs — and since they're in the service of a movie that only sporadically grabs us on a gut level — The Thing turns out to be much ado about nothing.

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