Okay, it might have sounded like a good idea on paper. The recent slate of movies based on Marvel's comics has ranked in hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars, but their library only has so many characters with that sort of $48-million-opening-weekend marquee value. Marvel Studios head honcho Avi Arad figured it'd be worth dipping into some of the publisher's lesser-known properties and churning out lower-budgeted films based around them. They pull a profit on the movie, the characters get more exposure, the comics get a boost in sales, there's more licensing revenue being tossed around...perfect! I guess the only question was who'd get the nod first,
and after the astounding box office success of Howard the Duck a couple decades earlier, Marvel turned to another character popularized by writer Steve Gerber in the 1970s -- Man-Thing.
Man-Thing is set in a backwater Leeziana town with an unusually large number of unexplained disappearances, the previous sheriff among them. Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) isn't on the job as Bywater's new sheriff long before he's saddled with a murder investigation, one that's interrupted by a squabble involving protestors at Schist Petroleum. Schist has set up shop in swamplands held sacred by the three...well, two, now...Indians that call Bywater home. Schist's buyout happened under extremely suspicious circumstances, and townsfolk like schoolteacher Teri Richards (Rachel Taylor) aren't going to stand for it. So...you know the drill. More unexplained murders. Kyle and Teri fall madly in love inexplicably quickly as they investigate. Can't trust rednecks or blustering corporate weasels. Climax when the Man-Thing finally comes.
For a movie titled Man-Thing, the plant-like creature almost seems like a minor supporting character. Sure, there are plenty of P.O.V. shots. A hand. A briefly glimpsed arm. A fuzzy photo. You don't really get a full-on, unobscured look at Man-Thing until the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie. Sure, a "less is more" approach can work extremely effectively in a movie like Jaws, but Man-Thing isn't Jaws. Wow. It really, really isn't Jaws.
Very loosely based on "Cry of the Native" in Adventures into Fear #16, the basic story is a mishmash of clichés -- amorous kids who stumble into the path of a killer before the opening titles, the new cop in town, the corrupt, murderous businessman, a wronged man wreaking havoc from the grave, the quarreling, determined woman who gradually steps into the role of love interest, two scoops of cryptic Native American hokum... The creature looks like Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway's creation, and a character named Ted Sallis does factor in, but the origin and motivations are both completely different. Nothing that happens bears much resemblance to the comics; the creature is practically a guard dog, killing pretty much everyone who crosses his path indiscriminately. No one who knows fear even burns at the Man-Thing's touch. Violent shaking and stabbing vine-tentacles, sure, but no burning touch. I guess even if he is a second or third-tier character,
"Man-Thing" still carries more marquee value than "Boring Sheriff", the bland character who winds up snagging most of the screentime. The cast as a whole ranges from mediocre to there-are-twenty-million-people-in-Australia-and-I'm-pretty-sure-you-could-find-someone-better-than-this-guy. Also, Australians attempting a Southern accent are about as convincing as me trying to adopt an Australian accent. Stop it.
Although Man-Thing debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel a couple months back, this DVD has the full R-rated version of the movie, complete with a little bit of silicone-enhanced nudity and plenty of profanity. Some of the special effects wound up looking reasonably nice, and it's unflinching about lingering shots of mangled corpses and skewering much of the cast. Doesn't do much to redeem the movie, tho'. If I were watching Man-Thing on television, I'd have given up before the opening titles. The original description of the plot I read from screenwriter Hans Radionoff sounded a lot closer to the comic, and considering how much I love his movie Sucker: The Vampire, I'm going to assume it's botched direction and corporate interference that wound up making Man-Thing as bad as it is. There's no sense of tragedy or emotion or fear or excitement or...anything. Man-Thing isn't unendurable or unwatchable, but the movie's so bland, so uninteresting, and so sluggishly paced that it's nearly impossible to recommend with a straight face.
Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video is pretty typical for a recent almost-theatrical release -- clean, crisp, and detailed. To help hammer home the swampy setting, quite a number of scenes are bathed in either a green or yellowish-green tint. A bunch of scenes take place at night, and black levels are appropriately deep and inky. Even in the most dimly-lit swamp sequences, the image doesn't really ever look fuzzy or obscured. Some shots pulse a bit, perhaps a side effect of the thin veil of film grain, but there really aren't any problems or issues worth noting.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (384Kbps) is big on dynamics, tossing in a deafening seismic boom every few minutes. That's not just the way Man-Thing punctuates its jump scares -- for a big chunk of the movie, that almost seems like how it indicates a new scene's about to start.
It's a decent mix overall -- dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly, sound effects frequently bounce from speaker to speaker, and the surround channels keep pretty active when the cast is trudging through the sacred swamp. Pretty standard, but no complaints.
Other audio options include a stereo mix and subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: The DVD doesn't offer any extras related to the movie itself -- just six and a half minutes worth of trailers for Alone in the Dark, The Undead, Zombiez, The Slaughterhouse Massacre, and The Punisher. The disc includes a set of animated 16x9 menus and 24 chapter stops.
Conclusion: Whatever has taste burns at the Man-Thing's touch! Man-Thing is far from the worst comic book adaptation ever made, but it is pretty thoroughly mediocre. This is the type of movie that springs to mind whenever someone uses the phrase "direct to video", and I'd have a hard time even recommending it as a rental. Skip It.