So as not to keep you in suspense I’ll cut right to the big, burning question regarding the latest version of The Thing (opening Friday nationwide): No, it doesn’t equal, let alone top, John Carpenter’s 1982 version. But it doesn’t totally suck, either. Neither necessary nor entirely unwelcome, the new Thing won’t outrage Carpenter devotees, but it’s not likely to be attracting an adoring fanboy base of its own, either. There, is that faint praise enough?

As much prequel as remake, the film details the events only hinted at in the previous film’s opening scenes, when Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady and crew investigated the devastated remains of a neighboring Norwegian arctic research station. And while the film boasts a game and appealing cast, some nice little scares and a few good laughs, it unfortunately runs into many of the pitfalls that plague both prequels and remakes.

While the prequel gambit was a canny move to avoid point-by-point comparison to Carpenter’s Thing and to try and expand on the story rather than dutifully repeat it, the story is still pretty much the same, only with different human hosts for the shape-shifting extra-terrestrial to consume in as gross and icky a manner as possible (like the 1982 version, this one bears little resemblance to the original 1951 humanoid carrot-creature Thing From Another World). As in all prequels the ending is more or less pre-ordained, but so too, to an extent, is the rest of the story, as what happened to the Americans in Thing ’82 was just a horrific replay of the fate that befell the Norwegians before them.

And in the interest of variation, the makers of Thing 2011 make the same mistake as countless other prequels by explaining a lot of stuff that had been better left to the imagination in the original. So now for instance, instead of using your imagination to fill in the blanks left by a giant, ominously hollowed-out block of ice, you get to see the thing exploding from the ice in shiny, hyper-pixilated CGI. Ah yes, we needed that.

To its credit Thing 2011 is respectful of its predecessor, and shares the affection of the Carpenter fans who’ll probably make up a large part of this new Thing’s audience. There are some nice, direct references to Thing ’82, such as a variation on that film’s classic blood test scene in which our female MacReady substitute, after determining that the Thing is unable to replicate inorganic materials when assuming human form, demands to look into the mouths of all her colleagues with a flashlight to make sure they have fillings in their teeth. But it’s not nearly as suspenseful or cinematic this time, and it makes the cardinal remake mistake of reminding the audience of how skillfully the same scene was handled the first time around. To be fair though, it does at least include a very funny line of dialogue (“You’re going to kill me because I floss?”).

As far as the monster itself is concerned, ehh. Besides the opportunity to cash in on a brand name, the main rationale for this Thing redux was no doubt the opportunity to go crazy with the CGI and do all sorts of nutty stuff that wasn’t possible in the dark, pre-digital age of 1982. But computer effects, while invaluable for big, spectacle-driven sci-fi and fantasy movies, are yet to prove themselves in the horror arena. They’re too glossy, too smooth and fluid to send shudders of revulsion up your spine. And though this new Thing is tricked out with all the CGI bling anyone could want, it lacks the tactile quality of Rob Bottin’s slimy, gooey handmade monstrosities. Watching Thing ’82, you could imagine what it would feel like to actually reach out and (eew) touch it. This Thing in comparison looks about as solid and substantial as Jerry Mouse dancing with Gene Kelly.

Aw geez, I could go on. Not enough claustrophobic atmosphere or deliberate pacing to build suspense. No spooky, minimalist electronic score by Carpenter and Ennio Morricone. No Wilfred Brimley or Donald Moffat or (sigh) Kurt Russell. I don’t mean to sound overly harsh here because the film does have its good points, including a strong lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who manages to be pretty yet believably intelligent and tough as nails as take-charge paleontologist Kate Lloyd, one of the handful of American characters on hand. And anyone who hasn’t seen Thing ’82 or can manage to forget it while they’re watching this new Thing will probably find it satisfying in a modest, Saturday Matinee Creature Feature kind of way.

And yet comparison is inevitable for a film that makes a point of leading off precisely where the first film began, a nice transition that incidentally earned the film an appreciative round of applause from its preview audience.