Swamp Thing Review
Although comic-book adaptations are suddenly very big with the explosion of Spider-Man, studios were using them as sources of inspiration years before. Swamp Thing, based on the DC comic strip that was launched in 1972 and ran until 1976, and became a cult horror classic in the early eighties when it was released. Looking back, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about concerning Swamp Thing, as it's nothing more than a cheap, dated piece of horror/science-fiction that will please no-one but ardent fans. However, the film is still fun to watch in the silliest style of comic-book adaptations, and is probably worth a look.
Plot-wise, the film tells of a Doctor Alec Holland (Ray Wise), locked away in the depths of a slime-ridden swamp researching a task to design a new species that combines animal and plant DNA, thus helping the new species to thrive in harsher climates. Government agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) joins Holland in his research, and sexual chemistry is sparked instantly between the two. However, Holland's rival, Doctor Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) has infiltrated the research post with his gang of rogues in an attempt to steal the secret formula. In a bid to escape, Holland plunges into the swamp inadvertently drenched in his formula, and emerges as Swamp Thing, a half man/half plant organism possessed with enormous strength, and an infatuation with Cable. Meanwhile, Arcane must still be stopped, and together with Cable, Swamp Thing is the only being in his way.
In the right frame of mind, Swamp Thing is very enjoyable. It's currently causing a stir stateside as Blockbuster have had to recall every copy of the DVD because despite the PG rating, the film contains two sequences of nudity that had previously been excised from the film. These sequences are not necessary, but it is arguably better to have them rather than not. Nudity and PG ratings are not a happy marriage in the states, and so the DVD has been recalled until MGM decides what to do about it. Therefore, the DVD is a hot item, perhaps undeservedly so.
The grotesque visual look to the proceedings seems to bizarrely fit the film - the swamp is typically murky and slimy, and Swamp Thing as a costume is cheap and fun to look at, but Craven doesn't know how to keep things moving along. Each scene lacks any sort of edge; the dialogue is stilted and uninteresting, and the action sequences fail to excite. Luckily, the chemistry between Swamp Thing and cable is a winning formula, with a good dose of humour. Adrienne Barbeau has never been the greatest of leading-ladies, but she handles the film with confidence, and she certainly has the looks in an early-eighties sort of way. Louis Jourdan is on ham-overkill for his evil performance of Arcane, and he certainly looks menacing if nothing else.
Despite being written and directed by horror maestro Wes Craven, Swamp Thing moves along at a pedestrian pace. He certainly has the right framework with the film, bestowing upon it comic-book style edits such as long fades and quirky wipes, but it still doesn't do enough to make the film feel like a visual comic-book. Maybe Craven should have stuck to horror, as the problem with Swamp Thing is that it's more grotesque character is actually the film's hero, and so the villains are bland by comparison. Craven is a technically-excellent director, but his screenplay skills fall by the wayside, and the film would have been more suitable as a piece of entertainment had Craven brought onboard some of the comic-book's original writers. Maybe they could have extracted a better story.
With Swamp Thing you have a mildly entertaining cult comic-book romp through an hour and a half of clunky pacing and ropey visual qualities. By no means the best of Craven's career, or indeed the best comic-book adaptation, the film will only serve fans of the comic-book or anyone wishing to make a quick buck on Ebay.
Two versions of the film are present, a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen version of the film on one side and an unmatted fullscreen version on the other side. The unmatted one is the version to go for, showcasing considerably more visual information and appearing more as a comic-book because of its square dimensions. Both versions of the transfer look very good if excessively dark, and carry with them an excessive amount of grain and a few traces of digital artefacts.
Presented in mono, the sound mix for the film is average, with dialogue balanced nicely with the background effects (which themselves are atmospheric despite being mono) and musical score.
Menu: A static menu that looks splendid and is in keeping with the film.
Packaging: Presented in the usual MGM template with amaray casing and four page production note insert, which also features chapter listings.
Trailer: An enjoyably hammy trailer that sends up the fun aspects of the film without taking itself too seriously.
It's rarity-value alone makes it a bare-bones classic, but there is unfortunately little else to offer about Swamp Thing. It's a slow, uninspired romp through the swamp, and certainly not a highpoint of Wes Craven's career.