Friday, August 5, 2011

3 paragraphs on: Swamp Thing

1982, Wes Craven - netflix

There are two things that surprise me about Wes Craven's modest adaptation of DC Comics' Swamp Thing character: 1) just how bad it is and 2) just how good it is. Visually it's a dire product of a low budget, of 1980's cheap effects, of at best A*Team-like action sequences, and of atrociously bad supporting actors. The Swamp Thing costume ages worse each time I see it, looking more like a rubber suit with each viewing (this would be my third ... or fourth). The thugs who work for Anton Arcane (Louis Jordan) are in full campy acting mode, they apparently didn't get the memo that it was supposed to be a serious action-fantasy-drama. Yet, the remainder of the cast, Jordan, Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Durock, Reggie Batts all give the characters the same investment as they would in a John Carpenter flick. There's actually character behind these characters, personality and a connection with the events of the film.

Though titled "Swamp Thing", it's Adrienne Barbeau that carries the picture, providing a tough, smart, resourceful, and drop-dead sexy (without being all sexy about it) Abigail Cable whom we follow as she arrives deep in the Louisiana swamps at an experimental and deceptively primitive research facility where Dr. Alec Holland and his sister are on the path to new breakthroughs in plant-based weaponry and science. But they have an adversary in Anton Arkane who will stop at nothing to steal their research, and does, killing Alec and his sister and fire bombing the lab. Abby escapes but in the bayou escape isn't so easy and Arkane's men, though all giggling fools, still seem to be around every corner. But Abby has a protector in the form of a hulking green plant-man who intervenes at every interception. It's Alec's spirit manifested into a supernatural, super-powerful being, his resurrection allowing Abby and Alec to explore their romantic connection that was snuffed out just as quickly as it was lit. But first, revenge. Swamp Thing fights a Pig Man. The end.

Swamp Thing works tremendously well in its human connections and character development, and fails tremendously when it strives for action and fantasy. Though I was never much of a fan of the comic book series, I'm acutely aware that it was largely a drama, with elements of fantasy, horror and romance throughout, but it rarely ever strove to be the same as its DC Comics contemporaries, and in turning Swamp Thing into a poor man's Lou Ferrigno, the film suffers over and over again, each time he's called upon to intervene. I would love to see someone like Guillermo Del Toro tackle the character with a modern effects budget. I'm sure an environmentalist bayou fantasy wouldn't be a commercial blockbuster but it could be a hell of a film.