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 Post subject: Review: Man-Thing (2005)
PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 10:18 pm 

Joined: Wed Sep 14, 2005 10:54 am
Posts: 34
Man-Thing, the movie adaptation of Marvel Comics' 1970s comic book about a swamp-dwelling muck monster, was originally supposed to receive a U.S. cinema release in late 2004. But this was pulled, and the film eventually debuted on the American Sci-Fi Channel earlier this year, and has since been released on Region 1 DVD.

Initially it was intended for the movie to be filmed in Louisiana, the same setting as the comics, but production shifted to Australia due to budgetary reasons, and the cast was filled with local actors.

This is perhaps the main reason why Marvel had second thoughts about launching Man-Thing into cinemas: the lack of star power. Even low budget U.S. movies that are made for the direct-to-video or cable markets have at least a couple of familiar character actors or B list names amongst their casts, but the only recognisable face in Man-Thing is Aussie glamour model and lads mag favourite Imogen Bailey. She has a minor role, and provides the movie with it's skin quota by going topless in the first four minutes.

The most surprising and best thing about the film is that it avoids the approach previously taken by the two movies and TV series based on DC Comics' rival creature Swamp Thing, and doesn't portray it's title character as a monstrous but kindhearted do-gooder battling against bad guys. Instead, this film is an outright horror film, which boasts a fair amount of gore and some pretty gruesome deaths.

The story concerns a new sheriff arriving in a small town on the edge of the bayou, and immediately finding himself caught in the middle of a dispute between an oil company that's draining the swamp on one side, and environmental protesters (including the local Native American population) on the other. But he's more concerned about the large number of people going missing in the area, including the previous sheriff, especially when some of them start turning up as extremely messed-up corpses.

It's not the most original plot in the world, and based on the brief summary I've just given, you can probably guess how it all turns out. There's also no prizes for the characterisations on display: the Native Americans are portrayed as noble and wise, most of the white locals are violent and racist rednecks, and the oil drilling villains are irredeemably evil (in one terribly misjudged scene, the two main bad guys discuss killing someone, then laugh for several seconds just to prove how evil they are).

Despite such unoriginality, it's a shame that Man-Thing got dumped straight to cable, for despite it's meagre budget, this is a film that would not have looked embarrassed on the big screen. The visuals are amazing. The bayou scenes are wonderfully lit in lush shades of green, and the swamp looks beautiful, fascinating, eerie and forbidding, often all at the same time. I'm assuming that the majority of filming took place on location, but even those scenes that logic dictates must have been shot on a set (such as the film's explosive climax at an oil drilling station) look just as real. It's impossible to tell the difference between the sets and the actual swamp.

Regarding the title character, the movie ignores his (it's?) origin as portrayed in the comics. But considering that Man-Thing's origin involved Marvel Comics mainstays such as the world-conquering covert organisation A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, if you're wondering) and the secret serum that created the superheroic Captain America, it's a wise move. Trying to introduce such concepts into a stand-alone film that commerically must appeal to non-comic readers would have been too time-consuming and confusing. Instead, the Man-Thing is just vaguely referred to as being 'the guardian spirit' of the swamp, from Native American folklore.

That said, a handful of references to the original stories are littered throughout the film for fans to spot: Ted Sallis and the Nexus of Realities are both mentioned, plus a couple of supporting characters are named after writers and artists who worked on the comic book back in it's 70s hayday.

Actual appearances by the title character are kept to a minimum, but instead of making the viewer feel short-changed, it just means that the Man-Thing's scenes have all the more impact when they occur. I mentioned earlier that this movie looks amazing, and that extends to the Man-Thing itself, a wonderful special effects creation that combines a man-in-a-costume with overladen CGI. Despite the low budget, it's one of the most impressive monsters I've even seen on screen, and possesses a subtle Lovecraftian quality. Full marks to all involved.

In conclusion, I rate Man-Thing as one of my favourite Marvel movie adaptations, second only to the under-rated Daredevil (2003).

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