'The Thing' is lowlier the third time around

The best thing about The Thing, the third - and the least interesting - big-screen adaptation of the John W. Campbell Jr. short story "Who Goes There?", is its closing credits.

As the names scroll by, we see a re-creation of the opening images of John Carpenter's exceptional, and exceptionally gory, The Thing, a superior version of the story from 1982.

Carpenter's music, on a sparse electronic keyboard, swells up. It would be a lovely way to end an homage to what many consider to be Carpenter's best film and the best version of this story, which first hit the big screen with 1951's The Thing From Another World.

But the closing sequence used here only serves to remind the viewer that the new film could never measure up to its predecessor.

Set in Antarctica, The Thing is about an alien and very dangerous, um, thing from outer space discovered frozen in ice by a team of hapless scientists. Thinking they have an ancient fossil on their hands, they thaw it out.

Bad move!

The alien wakes up and attacks its captors. It's a stealthy hunter because it can mimic, with perfection, any living creature that it munches on.

The Carpenter film opens as the alien arrives at an American research station staffed by a ragtag group of malcontents lead by Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. It reaches them after having destroyed a Norwegian encampment.

The new film, from Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., shows what happened to the international team based at the Norwegian station when they first uncovered the alien. That team features three no-nonsense Americans, scientist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and helicopter pilots Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

Unfortunately, they are under the command of a pair of naive Norwegian Ph.D.s played by Dane master-thespian Ulrich Thomsen and Norwegian heartthrob Trond Espen Seim, best known as the titular star of the brilliant detective film series Varg Veum. Sadly, the Scandinavian actors aren't given the chance to shine, and instead are used as bland, cookie-cutter stereotypes.

The problem with the new film is that rather than explore the story from a fresh angle, it follows, virtually beat by beat, the events of the Carpenter film.

The director even uses the perennially disheveled Edgerton and an aggressive Akinnuoye-Agbaje to re-create the shaggy-dog Kurt Russell-Keith David pairing that made Carpenter's film so much fun to watch.

The new film's only fresh contribution to the story is a late scene set in the alien's ginormous spaceship. Even here it fails to achieve originality: The ship looks as if it was designed by an untalented devotee of H.R. Giger - the surrealist artist who created the famous alien ship in Ridley Scott's genre masterpiece, Alien.

Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2746 or tirdad@phillynews.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).