‘The Thing’ returns

PREVIOUS versions of the "The Thing" have been very dude-centric, in terms of cast and director (Howard Hawks, John Carpenter).

The new incarnation adds a female - the hardy Mary Elizabeth Winstead - to the mix, and, of course, she's well-prepared for the role, having survived "Black Christmas," "The Ring Two," "Final Destination 3," "Die Hard 4" and other hardships.

Antarctic terror? Bring it on, boys.

In "Thing" the Third, Kate Lloyd (Winstead) is a paleontologist with a special expertise in recovering and analyzing species captured in ice.

She's summoned to the Antarctic by a team of Norwegian scientists to examine a fantastic new find - all they will tell her is that they've found a "structure" and also a "specimen."

For the benefit of those who don't know any "Thing," we'll sidestep specifics.

It's enough to say that the new "Thing" has the same basic horror movie framework as its antecedents - she ends up part of a small group of people, completely isolated from the world, facing a deadly new threat.

Hawks' original exercise in tension drew upon the unusual atmosphere - nocturnal, snowbound, frigid. Characters could die at the hands of this new threat, be killed by the elements, or by the eroding bonds of trust among the increasingly desperate survivors.

The new "Thing" is efficient, competent and initially pretty good. As it unspools, however, we see that its director is less interested in atmosphere than in showing off new-generation animatronics and digital effects. They make Winstead's adversary more palpable, but no more frightening.

Less so, actually. It starts to look kind of familiar, given the way the director chooses to shoot it: Winstead hiding in a crawl space, her terrified head pressed to a wall as some snaky appendage searches for her in the half-light.

It's very "Alien," and Winstead should send a thank-you note to Sigourney Weaver. But maybe not to her own agent. She needs a rom-com.

The Thing

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.. With Joel Edgerton, Jørgen Langhelle, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Trond Espen Seim, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Kim Bubbs, Stig Henrik Hoff, Jonathan Walker. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 43 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language).