Deep in Florida's darkest everglades, a brilliant scientist, Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise, Robocop) and a sexy government agent, Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau, John Carpenter’s The Fog) have developed a secret formula that could end world hunger and change civilization forever. Little do they know, however, that their arch nemesis, Arcane (Louis Jourdan, Octopussy) 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 in the swamp. Mutated by his own formula, Holland becomes “Swamp Thing” - a half human/half plant superhero who will stop at nothing to rescue the beautiful Cable and defeat the evil Arcane... even if it costs him his life.
MVD brings both the North American and European cuts of Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing to 4K UHD, presenting the film on a triple-layer UHD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation has been sourced from a brand new 4K restoration (that I believe was performed by StudioCanal). The release also includes a standard Blu-ray that houses a 1080p presentation of both versions of the film and all of the video supplements.
The film has always looked reasonably rough, which has never been too much of a surprise considering its low budget, dark look, and problematic production (filmed in an actual swamp). While that still shows through to an extent, this looks shockingly good for what it is.
The restoration work has been extensive (for both versions), and nothing significant remains damage-wise. I suspect the original negative was used as a source for most of the film (I don’t see any notes included about it) since detail levels can be relatively high, despite what appears to be an inherent softness at times. However, several moments still have a dupier quality to them with weaker contrast and a chunkier grain, looking to have come from a later-generation print. Still, most of the film looks as clean as possible, and the heavy grain is rendered well. The finer details are also more apparent, though this harms the film a bit because that Swamp Thing costume manages to come out looking even more latex-y and foamy than before.
The film's color scheme is minimal (greens and browns primarily), but the saturation looks fantastic. Blacks are also solid and inky, and the broader range in the shadows helps with the film’s darker sequences, which there are plenty of. That said, there are moments when things can get a bit murky and black levels flatten, especially in the film's last section. Dolby Vision and HDR do improve some aspects, like rendering smoke, enhancing highlights, or pulling out more detail in darker sequences where possible, with some limitations in this area being baked into the photography. It does a wonderful job with that glowing green juice central to the film's plot, though.
It could be better, held back by the original materials, but this looks great, all things considered. It’s significantly cleaner and more film-like in look than previous presentations.
As with all previous releases, the film only comes with its original monaural soundtrack, presented in 2-channel DTS-HD MA this time. I’m still a little surprised this hasn’t been updated to a surround soundtrack, though maybe there isn’t much of a point. The overall sound quality is decent, if nothing special: dialogue sounds clean with decent fidelity, while action scenes and music feature adequate range.
MVD ports most of this edition’s material from Shout! Factory’s previous edition while adding some of their own content. The most significant inclusion here, though, is the alternate European Cut of the film, running 2 minutes longer, which has (technically) not been released in any official capacity in North America. This version features nudity that would have earned the otherwise PG-rated superhero film in the U.S. an R-rating. Even if that played a part in the sequences being removed from the American market, it does sound as though it may have had more to do with Adrienne Barbeau’s contract, which contained language indicating her topless scene would not appear in any North American cut. MGM accidentally released this version on DVD only to pull it and replace it with a new edition that only featured the North American cut. Even Shout! Factory’s edition only includes the North American cut, so why it’s being allowed here, I can’t say.
As to what it adds, it should be no surprise when I say it doesn’t add anything other than some topless shots. The only real advantage is that the nude swamp-bathing scene (which is, of course, something everybody would naturally do) is edited less awkwardly. You also get a hilarious, out-of-nowhere stripper sequence thrown in near the end. Director Wes Craven even laughs about the added nudity in the included audio commentary ported from the Shout edition (recorded with Sean Clark), mentioning that the producers wanted it for the European market (getting Louis Jourdan wasn’t enough, apparently) and he had no sway at the time to refuse. He mentions it’s pointless, and his ideal version wouldn’t include it, which would make the North American version his preferred cut, I would have to guess.
All of that backroom stuff proves interesting, and there ends up being more material along those lines throughout the track. Craven talks about the things he couldn’t control on top of what he wished he could have done. It should be no surprise to anyone, but budget restrictions limited what he could do, explaining the film’s last act. You get a sense from his comments that the film breaks his heart (even if he laughs about it now), as he did come into it fully committed with big plans following his initial research of the comic books. He talks in great length about what he had hoped to do and how he ended up having to compromise, like having to drop a “cool underwater sequence.” Filming in an actual swamp also proved significantly more difficult. He’s very good-humored about the whole affair, though, and the track is ultimately very entertaining and informative, with plenty of funny moments (like when he expresses his shock at Roger Ebert’s positive review).
MVD also ports Shout’s commentary featuring make-up effects artist William Munns interviewed by Michael Felsher. Munns covers his early career before getting into the difficulties around the film’s make-up effects, explaining the rushed production and how he managed to navigate himself through the biggest job he had ever taken at the time. Despite some dead space, it proves to be interesting and worth a listen, especially when he gets into having to decide on the anatomy of Swamp Thing, with the “morals” of North America limiting what he could do.
The tracks are included on the 4K and 1080 presentations and only play with the Theatrical Version; they’re disabled for the extended version. No other video features are included on the UHD, with all other supplementary material located on the included standard dual-layer Blu-ray that also features the high-def version of the film. The video material starts with three interviews ported over from the Shout! Factory edition: actors Adrienne Barbeau (16 minutes) and Reggie Batts (15 minutes), along with Swamp Thing’s creator, Len Wein (13 minutes). I enjoyed the two actor interviews, especially Batt’s, who recounts how he was discovered and what it was like filming. Barbeau enjoyed the experience, though she admits she did not like the film and was horrified at the prospect of having to promote it. She still defends Craven, pointing out that the film is not what was initially envisioned, and is happy that there is a cult audience.
Wein’s contribution is probably my favorite of the three, especially since I’m unfamiliar with the character and the comics. Wein talks about how he came to work at DC (as a writer and not as an artist as he had initially wanted) and recalls the exact moment when he came up with Swamp Thing. Humorously, the character only received that name because he always referred to the project as “that swamp thing” he was working on. He then gets into Craven’s adaptation and others, pointing out how they probably work best when they focus on the character's humanity. There’s also the suggestion here that Guillermo del Toro wants to make his own version, but Wein points out that the characters' movie rights are complicated.
The disc then features two new interviews, one with the film’s production designer Robb Wilson King (21 minutes) and the other with film scholar Kim Newman (17 minutes). King’s comments resemble make-up artist Munn’s in some respects, more in how they had to work quickly with a limited budget and few resources to create the look of the film’s settings and characters. King even talks about the 1989 sequel, commenting on how the director of that one wanted a more cartoony look and feel.
Newman looks at the film in terms of where it fits in Craven’s filmography and that period of his career, the film being his first mainstream Hollywood film following low-budget, independent efforts like The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left, even using the film as an example as to how Craven could quickly adapt to material and periods. He also talks about the film in the context of a comic book adaptation, explaining how films like Swamp Thing could be made by outsiders back then simply because no one saw the value in comics at the time, even if something like Superman: The Movie could still be a hit. I was hoping for a scholarly track of some sort for the film that delved a little deeper into the subjects Newman covers here, but he does a fine enough job with the time allotted.
The disc then closes with the film’s original trailer and then a few galleries featuring posters and lobby cards, production photos, and then behind-the-scenes material shot by William Munns and Geoffrey Rayle, Munns’ photos documenting the costume.
In a cute little touch, MVD also releases this as the first title in their 4K LaserVision Collection, with artwork that replicates the late 70’s, early 80’s RCA SelectaVision home video format, right down to the ring that frames the poster art on the front. It does not replicate the actual artwork used for the RCA release, which doesn’t feature the “ring,” but it gets the spirit right. The included poster does a better job of replicating the format by featuring the plastic edges of the sleeve. As someone who grew up with the format, I was pretty taken by the level of detail that has been worked into the design, like the wrinkles on the artwork that the wearing adhesive would have caused. It has been put together by someone who is obviously very familiar with the format. Admittedly it’s unnecessary, but I enjoyed the little nostalgic touch nonetheless.
Overall, it’s a fun release with a wonderful set of features.
A fun special edition with a nice nostalgic touch added to the artwork. The film can still look rough in places, but the new restoration and 4K presentation still pull off wonders.