Blu-ray Review: Swamp Thing

When people debate the best superhero films of all time, there’s a big green creature that gets neglected. I’m not talking about any of the Hulk movies, especially the mess from Ang Lee. There’s another green character that went from the comic book pages onto the silver screen. Where is the love for Swamp Thing? Contrary to lame cinephiles, Swamp Thing is a DC Comics super hero just like Superman, Batman and Aquaman. He got his start in 1970 and has been murking about ever since. Watchman‘s Alan Moore wrote a few issues. But a recent survey of the 108 greatest superhero movies ever didn’t even list it, but gave a slot to Hancock. Give the man covered in organic growth some respect. His feature film debut aptly called Swamp Thing was the only real superhero film playing in 1982. No other film dared challenge its supremacy.

Deep in a remote bayou location, Alice (Maude‘s Adrienne Barbeau) takes a helicopter ride to her latest government assignment. She’s supposed to assist Dr. Alec Holland (Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise). He’s creating serious scientific progress in bio-engineering using the local plants. His work is considered very cutting edge as he seeks solutions to global hunger and healthcare. There can be so much money to be made from those who control his research. The diabolical Dr. Anton Arcane (Octopussy‘s Louis Jourdan) has hired mercenaries to raid the compound and steal everything Holland has done. Before the raid, Dr. Holland takes a liking to Alice. He shows her his swamp kingdom. However before anything can blossom, the mercenaries arrive and decimate it all. Holland becomes a test subject for one of his experiments and gets tossed into the swamp. Alice does her best to escape. She needs to call in back ups, but it seems futile. Then out of the water rises The Swamp Thing. The vegetative superhero battles Arcane’s soldiers of fortune and save Alice. It’s a bitter battle in water and bog between the gunmen and the green creature. The only real assistance for Alice and the Swamp Thing is a kid named Jude (Reggie Batts) who isn’t quite sure why there’s so much action in his sleepy world. But he’s game for helping Alice get back to civilization or a working payphone. The action accelerates when Arcane does his best to duplicate Holland’s work, but can he really create his own Swamp Thing?

Even after more than 30 years, Swamp Thing is a fine superhero flick that doesn’t try to overwhelm you with special effects. This has aged better than Daredevil and Thor. Unlike so many of the ’70s and ’80s superhero adaptations that ran on TV, Swamp Thing is enjoyable without tapping into kitsch. The movie smartly focuses on the characters and not merely the super powers. There’s an honesty when Ray Wise flirts with Adrienne Barbeau. What’s the secret to why Wise is so chipper and happy while showing Barbeau around the complex? Because in the heat and humidity, Wise knew that he wasn’t going to be wearing the Swamp Thing costume. That honor went to Dick Durock (Any Which Way You Can). Durock would play the role in Return of the Swamp Thing and the TV series that aired on USA in the early ’90s. The swap to Durock isn’t jarring since Holland’s attitude changes with the transformation. He’s no longer the happy go lucky doctor portrayed by Wise. He’s now more serious as he assesses his situation. Can Dr. Holland ever be human again? Can he ever fulfill his desire for his assistant. Or is he now a creature of the swamp like an alligator or crawdad?

The movie on the Blu-ray is the PG rated cut. There was an R-Rated European cut that accidentally came out on DVD a few years ago. It contains a few extra seconds of Barbeau bathing and naked hookers at an Arcane party. Why no uncut release? Supposedly it’s in Barbeau’s contract that the US market gets PG. This should be a PG film since it’s for the whole family. Director Wes Craven was looking for a way to prove he could do more than direct horror flicks and rumored adult features. He did achieve success with Swamp Thing, but stuck with his scare genre with the very profitable A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sometimes you have to get back to your strengths.

Swamp Thing deserves a lot more respect for pioneering the low budget superhero genre. It’s not coated in CGI candy and slumming it superstars. It has the one thing that so many super hero flicks in the last decade have lacked: a soul. The look the Swamp Thing gives the bathing Alice contains more hurt and humanity than all the superhero films over the last decade have truly expressed. Next time you see a Greatest Super Hero Film list and the top 10 avoids Swamp Thing, dismiss it as the rankings of amateurs.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the humidity in the swamp location. Your HDTV should be sweating. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0. There’s no need to dazzle your ears with wrap around sound effects. This is old fashioned center channel audio. The movie is subtitled.

DVD has all the features on the Blu-ray.

Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Wes Craven lets him recount how he kept his sanity and focus as the budget kept melting in the Southern heat.

Audio Commentary With Makeup Effects Artist William Munns lets him explain how to work in extreme conditions and a tightening budget.

Tales from the Swamp (16:55) are memories from Adrienne Barbeau. She pays tribute to Wes Craven’s ability to deliver a top notch film with a shrinking budget. She took the role at the insistence of her husband John Carpenter. She felt it was more Beauty and the Beast than a horror flick.

Hey, Jude (14:29) lets Reggie Batts recount his time dealing with Adrienne Barbeau and the Swamp Thing. This was his only role. He used to collect Swamp Thing comics so he was thrilled with the part. He has plenty of tales from the set since he was the only kid on the set. He did some extra work in films made around Charleston, but didn’t seriously pursue larger roles.

That Swamp Thing (13:18) explores the character and his history with Swamp Thing creator Len Wein. He wanted to be an artist, but the writing in his samples turned on the editors of D.C. Comics. He reveals how the hero got his name. He likes how the film cared about the humanity of his creation.

Theatrical Trailer (1:31) sells the fun attitude of the film.

Photo Galleries has dozens of press release pictures.

Swamp Thing deserves a rightful place amongst the best of the superhero films. The movie has just the right sense of action, sentiment and humor to make it more than just a comicbook movie.

Scream Factory presents Swamp Thing. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by: William Sachs. Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, Louis Jourdan and Reggie Batts. Running Time: 91 minutes. Rated: PG. Released: July 30, 2013.

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