Mary Elizabeth Winstead breaks out the flamethrower.
  • Photo by Kerry Hayes/ Universal Pictures
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead breaks out the flamethrower.

Opens Friday

Considering it pits its heroine against a ravenous space alien whose man-eating orifice resembles a vagina dentata, you’d be forgiven for believing The Thing actually contains a thing or two to think about. Or at the very least, something to differentiate itself from John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing (which itself was a remake of the 1951 horror classic, The Thing from Another World).

The 1982 movie, made during the height of Carpenter’s career, benefited from the director’s then-deft suspenseful touch, a terrific cast, Ennio Morricone’s score and Rob Bottin’s cringe-inducing makeup effects. This pointless new film, purportedly a prequel, features direction by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. that’s as cold as its Antarctic setting, as well as unremarkable actors and a soundtrack that’s forgettable except when it incorporates Morricone’s pulsating bass chords. Moreover, gooey prosthetics are replaced by computer effects that, while competent, lack any tactile ickiness.

The plot: Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (well played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by snarky scientist Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen) to fly to Antarctica to join a Norwegian scientific team. Given Kate’s thin résumé and Sander’s clear contempt for her, it’s never clear why she was invited. Nevertheless, the expedition’s purpose is to inspect a buried spaceship that crashed to Earth thousands of years ago, as well as the frozen corpse of its alien pilot. You know bad things are bound to happen: The alien revives and turns out to be a carnivore that takes the shape of any life form it consumes.

But like the shape-shifting alien, The Thing absorbs its predecessor and spits out a pale carbon copy; here, the friend-or-foe conceit lacks emotional punch when the humans aren’t particularly interesting to begin with. What’s especially discouraging is that the film’s floundering gets worse on the few occasions it threatens to break away from its predecessor’s moorings. That said, kudos to the filmmakers for making Kate the smartest person in the room and not turning her into a sniveling scream queen. As The Thing demonstrates, if you’re going to make a copycat sci-fi movie, there are far worse ideas than including an imitation Ellen Ripley.