Swamp Thing (US - BD RA)
Matt checks out Shout! Factory's recent Blu-ray release of the Wes Craven film...
A lot of folks, myself included, seem to forget that Wes Craven made this 1982 feature that he admits attributed to a downward career trajectory which saw him follow up the DC Comics adaptation with a made-for-TV feature ( Invitation To Hell) and the abysmal The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Craven's career wouldn't recover until 1984 saw the release of his best known work, A Nightmare On elm Street, which was difficult to get made given his circumstances at the time. But is Swamp Thing really that bad of a movie? I certainly enjoyed it greatly when I was a kid watching it on HBO every chance I got, and it's been one of those films that I'm unable to switch off while flipping channels every now and again.
Taking place deep in the Florida everglades, Swamp Thing tells the tale of a brilliant scientist, Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise), and a sexy government agent, Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), who develop a secret formula that could end world hunger. Little do they know, however, that their arch nemesis, Arcane (Louis Jourdan), is plotting to steal the serum for his own selfish schemes. Looting the lab and kidnapping Cable, Arcane douses Holland with the chemicals and leaves him for dead. Mutated by his own formula, Holland becomes Swamp Thing--a half-human/half-plant superhero who will stop at nothing to rescue Cable and defeat Arcane.
I'm no particular fan of Wes Craven's overall body of work and Swamp Thing is definitely a middling piece in his filmography, but seeing as it was made on a shoestring budget that dwindled even lower while they were filming I also think that it's a credit to him that the film looks and plays as well as it does, and my appreciation for it grew listening his recollections on the making of it during the audio commentary featured on this new Blu-ray release. The early portions featuring the build up to Swamp Thing's first appearance featuring Ray Wise are the best part of the film and it's a shame that more of his performance in the suit couldn't be salvaged, but veteran stunt man Dick Durock gives it everything he's got in a performance that is more than above average for a guy basically playing the part of "man in suit".
Likewise, the other performances are quite good too, with Adrienne Barbeau's nice mix of vulnerability and toughness carrying the picture, Louis Jordan's deliciously evil Arcane making a good foil for the heroes and young Reggie Batts' most surprisingly nuanced performance as the helpful Jude coming out the best. The script wastes no time in speeding towards its resolution once all the pieces are in place, and though a bit more depth to some of the characters and a slower pace might have helped, the 91-minute running time makes it feel breezy and light, especially compared to what at the time was the only other superhero to be brought to life on the silver screen in the age of the modern blockbuster, Superman. Craven's never been known for his great action set pieces, and along with the the constrained budget leading to some rather clunky sequences and iffy creature effects, sometimes Swamp Thing is easy to dismiss, but these shortcomings are also just good enough for it to get by on what does work and make it an enjoyable monster movie.
As far as I can recall Swamp Thing has never been a pretty looking film with lots of grain and softness that betray its low budget roots, but Shout! Factory's 1080p AVC encoded video transfer is pretty impressive if, like me, you've seen the film several times over the years on cable, VHS and DVD. The color on the new transfer pops really nicely, and black levels are more consistent here than any other previous release. Grain is prevalent throughout and especially during some of the darker sections of the film, but that's always been the case and it never becomes intrusive. This isn't a newly released theatrical presentation, so it's also more or less a given that the source print used presents a few artifacts and specks that pop up from time to time, but they're hardly noticeable. I couldn't detect many anomalies in the transfer such as edge enhancement or aliasing, and any banding that I did notice happens so infrequently that it's really a non-issue. There does seem to be some macroblocking going on when the grain structure and condition of the print present problems that the fairly high bit rate transfer can't seem to handle as well, but these issues occur infrequently and aren't as noticeable when the video is in full motion. The good news here too is that fine detail is for the most part very sharp--especially in up-close shots--and it looks as if Shout! has once again not applied any sort of digital noise reduction to the transfer. Given their similarities, this disc could have come out looking like the Predator Ultimate Hunter Edition Blu-ray released a couple of years ago, but fans have nothing to worry about. Does this Blu-ray make Swamp Thing look like a brand new, big budget movie? No, of course it doesn't and it's likely not to wow anyone seeing it for the first time, but it's a very good representation of how the film should look in high definition.
The sole option on the disc as far as audio choices are concerned is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track, and like the video it isn't going to wow anyone unfamiliar with the picture but it's a very well done presentation perfectly in line with the it. Though a few things such as pops, hisses and distortion of some sort were expected, I didn't notice any defects with the track, and dialogue is always crystal clear. It may be a mono track, but it's also forceful when it needs to be during action scenes while also offering up plenty of swamp ambiance during the quieter character moments. Overall this is a very nicely done audio track.
Throughout most of their Scream Factory line Shout! Factory has done a nice job with supplying neglected horror and genre films with some really nice special features, and their Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Swamp Thing is no different. First out of the gate is an all new audio commentary with director Wes Craven and frequent Scream factory collaborator Sean Clark. Craven's audio commentaries have always been good, and this track is no exception as he offers up plenty of behind-the-scenes facts and stories ranging between everything from pre-production and casting to the picture's release. The lighthearted tone is nice, and Clark makes sure there's rarely a lull in the conversation. The second commentary on the disc is with make-up artist William Munn and moderated by Michael Felsher, and though it's a bit more spare it's also full of detail on his career and the effects work on the film. I recommend that you give both tracks a whirl.
Also included are three new interviews in high definition, and the first one "Tales from the Swamp, 17 min.) features star Adrienne Barbeau as she recounts how she became involved with the picture, filming and working with Wes Craven and her various co-stars. She also touches on her infamous topless scene that was only seen theatrically internationally (and not included on this release), and her reaction is kind of humorous. The second interview on the disc features Reggie Batts ("Hey Jude", 15 min.), who played the young man alone in the swamp who aids Barbeau's character and Swampy throughout the picture. Very similar in tone to Barbeau's, the interview is a nice inclusion to the package. The final interview on the disc is with Swamp Thing creator Len Wein ("That Swamp Thing", 13 min.), who discusses his career and the creation of his most famous character. It's a nice extra and I wish other similar, comic book based movie releases would take the time to chat with the originator of the material.
The rest of the special features are rounded out with the film's theatrical trailer, a still gallery full of production and promotional materials and a DVD copy of the film. Overall this is a very nice package of extras created for the disc that Swamp Thing fans should really enjoy. Oh, and for those curious this release does not include any newly commissioned artwork for the cover since it isn't a Collector's Edition release, but the key art originally created for Swamp Thing made for one of the more memorable poster images from the '80s.
Swamp Thing isn't a great movie and belongs squarely in the middle of Craven's directorial efforts, but it's fun and fast paced picture that has plenty of things about it to enjoy. Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release features very good video and audio and a nice selection of quality extras highlighted by another strong audio commentary with Director Wes Craven. Fans of the film or the character are bound to like the disc and should certainly include it in their collection right away, and as far as anyone else that might be curious there are plenty of things in this Beauty & the Beast type story to enjoy, so I say take the chance.
The images on this page were taken from the Shout! Factory Blu-ray and MGM Region 1 DVD. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of each transfer.
Review by Matt Joseph
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 6th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Extras: Commentary with Director Wes Craven, Commentary with Make-up Artist William Munn, Interviews, Trailers, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jordan, Ray Wise, Dick Durock
Genre: Action and Fantasy
Length: 91 minutes
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