A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 368 – Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing (1982) – March 3rd, 2011

I never got into Swamp Thing, really. I think I mentioned my background with comics back when I reviewed the first X-Men movie but I’ll recap briefly here: Comics were frowned upon. Oh, they weren’t forbidden, but after all, I was an Excellent Reader, and reading comic books would have been Wasting My Potential. So I got into comics later and well, Swamp Thing just wasn’t one that attracted me. I think it’s pretty telling that my favorite Swamp Thing appearance is actually as a cameo in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Black Orchid book (which is awesome, by the way, and I highly recommend it). I get the character and all, and I like a lot of the concept, but well, give me Batman if you’re going DC.

The point being that I’m not so familiar with the Swamp Thing mythos. I know some of the Alan Moore canon, but pre-Moore? Not so much, and this movie is based on the pre-Moore stuff, so I’m going into it somewhat cold. Not that I think it matters much. I’m fairly sure this isn’t a movie overly concerned with cleaving to canon. It’s got its concept and a few key characters and plot points and off it goes! It’s really a pretty shallow movie, all things considered, but it’s not trying to be deep. Well, okay, there are a couple of lines that hint that someone read some philosophy in college, but that’s about as deep as it gets.

If you know any of the basics about Swamp Thing then it should come as no surprise that the movie centers on Dr. Alec Holland, a scientist studying swamp botany, and how he becomes a giant plant creature, the titular Swamp Thing. In the movie Alec and his sister are working on a secret project deep in the swamp while goons in fatigues are closing in on them. Federal agent Alice Cable shows up to replace their recently-attacked-by-a-gator technician. And before she’s been there even a full day she’s gotten a tour of the swamp, shown her technical prowess, witnessed Alec’s big breakthrough and then made out with him. That’s quite a way to start your new job. And then the goons attack the camp to get their hands on the formula for the sinister Dr. Arcane.

What follows is Alec turning into Swamp Thing and a whole bunch of running around in the swamp. Cable runs around, the goons run around, Swamp Thing runs around. There’s lots of splashing and shooting and shouting. Cable doesn’t know that the plant monster who keeps saving her when the goons close in is actually Alec since he doesn’t actually talk the first few times she meets him. She even tells him to “shoo” at one point and instead of being all “Dude, Cable, we made out! Are you dumping me?” he just sort of shrugs and leaves without a word. Eventually he introduces himself and she immediately goes from kicking ass to fainting. I suppose she did have a long day at that point, what with being shot at and almost drowned and all.

I don’t even really see the point of going into detail about the climax of the movie. Of course Arcane gets the formula that turned Alec into Swamp Thing and of course he takes it assuming it will turn him into some sort of brain monster, I guess. And of course it goes horribly wrong and we end up with a final fight between two rubber monsters, one of whom has a sword. I mean, of course that happens! And Swamp Thing wins and heads off into the swamps from whence he came, leaving Cable to go back to DC to explain all this weirdness. Fortunately for her, she does have a witness: The awesome Jude, a teenager she met at a gas station in the middle of the swamp while she was running from the baddies. Jude is pretty damn awesome in ways I can’t even articulate. He’s just so calm about everything, even when everything includes getting bashed over the head and healed by a swamp monster.

To be honest, I really kind of liked this movie. Okay, so the rubber suits are just silly and when Swamp Thing’s arm gets chopped off it’s painfully obvious that the actor in the suit just has his arm squeezed under the suit against his torso. The ‘romance’ between Alec and Cable is the fastest whirlwind ever (seriously, he makes Captain Kirk look like the master of slow seduction). The goons are ridiculous and the scenes in Arcane’s house after he captures Swamp Thing and Cable are silly at best. The wipes used as transitions add a ridiculous tone to it all that seems somewhat out of place. But I really liked that Cable was so competent a character. Sure, she’s a damsel in distress a lot of the time, but not for lack of her trying to handle things herself. She’s just outnumbered and Swamp Thing’s got super powers. Can’t really compete there. So I like that. I like that the movie has some fun action and a heroine I can enjoy (which is even better since a lot of the movie spends time with her) and I like that Adrienne Barbeau seemed to enjoy playing her. I wasn’t looking for a deep plot or fantastic special effects. I was looking for comic book cheese and I got it, with an unexpected and very welcome helping of awesomesauce.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swamp Thing

March 3, 2011

Swamp Thing

I have bought a lot of comic book based movies over the years. Some of them are spectacular, and some of them are less so. At one point I had made it my mission to buy every movie based on a comic book property that I could find. This is why we have in our collection such jems as Daredevil and Cat Woman. Compared to those I’d say this movie is far more watchable. It’s not a great film, but it doesn’t really have such ambitions. It’s a pleasantly cheesy movie with some rubber monsters that reminds me most of the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.

I’ll admit that I’m not too familiar with the books this movie is based on. I didn’t start following Swamp Thing until the Alan Moore reboot. Moore gave the Swamp Thing a mythical feel – building him up to be an elemental force and defender of the forgotten outskirts of the world. He also tried to create a darker horror themed comic which led to some interesting supernatural stories (and the introduction of a certain John Constantine.) It seems that the earlier Swamp Thing (if this movie is anything to go by) was more of an Incredible Hulk rip off.

Strangely Wes Craven (of Nightmare on Elm Street fame) chose when he adapted the comic for the screen to not really make the Swamp Thing the star of the movie. Maybe it’s that he knew with the make-up available to him at the time (1982) that his creature was going to have almost no ability to emote. Indeed it appears that the actor portraying the beast could barely deliver his lines, much less give a moving performance. So this movie is mostly about a young woman named Alice Cable, and how she was present during the genesis of the Swamp Thing.

I won’t argue with the casting of Adrienne Barbeau (and her cleavage) as the lead character. As a character Cable is actually fairly capable and able to defend herself. As an actress Adrienne manages to make her more than just a damsel in distress with a series of outfits that seem intended to accentuate her bust and disturbingly large eighties hair. I mean that, yes, that is the character she is given to play but it feels like she’s able to make her character more than just eye candy. Cable is some sort of government agent (it’s never quite clear what branch of the government) who is attached to a top secret and high security research project out in the middle of a swamp somewhere. The reclusive scientist heading the project is Alec Holland and he is working on a formula that will allow plants to grow in hostile environments by melding them with animal tissue to give them survival instincts.

No sooner has Alice been introduced to Dr. Holland (and abruptly fallen in love with him apparently) than a group of paramilitary hoodlums under the command of a nefarious mad genius named Arcane show up and sack the lab. They want this plant formula for its obvious applications as a weapon of mass destruction. (You just kind of have to accept some of this. There are a lot of government agents with guns defending these botanical experiments, so I suppose they must have some military applications. Somehow.) During the chaos of the invasion Alec’s sister is killed and he is doused in his formula and left for dead. But he does not die. He becomes a towering muscular plant-man with regenerative abilities and super strength.

The whole rest of the movie is about Arcane and his goons trying to capture Alice (who has the crucial last notebook that will allow them to re-create Alec’s formula) and the Swamp Thing showing up suddenly to toss them around like rag dolls and scream incoherently. Alice flees to a little middle-of-nowhere convenience store and befriends an extremely laid back young clerk by the name of Jude (one of my favorite characters in the movie because of the bizarre and hilarious line deliveries by young Reggie Batts who portrays him.) Then she runs away from the convenience store and back to Alec’s lab. Then from there deeper into the swamp where she takes off all her clothes for a while. And at every turn she and Alec are hounded by doofuses with guns and grenades who have no hope whatsoever of overcoming the unstoppable creature that Alec has become. Until ultimately she and the Swamp Thing are captured and taken back to Arcane’s lair for a completely predictable final showdown.

It’s not a movie that relies on plot twists or clever writing. It’s a movie that relies on rubber monsters, Adrienne’s skimpy (or absent) costumes, and some shootouts and explosions. It’s a care-free eighties monster cheesefest that feels like it could well be a feature length episode of the Incredible Hulk TV show of that era except that the guy in the rubber monster suit of the Swamp Thing isn’t as buff or as expressive as Lou Ferrigno.

You know what? I don’t hate this movie. It’s a silly little diversion that mostly accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It doesn’t have any of the sense of awe or power or larger purpose that I got from the Alan Moore Swamp Thing books, but it’s not supposed to. It’s just supposed to be an eighties adventure movie that keeps you mildly amused for about an hour and a half.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment