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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wild Thing (Blu-ray)
Wild Thing (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG-13 // July 7, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:

Imagine a cross between Tarzan and Batman and you've essentially got the gist of Wild Thing, an '80s guilty pleasure that dabbled in familiar "superhero origin" concepts some time before the saturation point we've reached in comic-book cinema. Emerging after Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan garnered a handful of Oscar nominations and when The Dark Knight's popularity was on the upswing before Tim Burton's blockbuster adaptation, there probably couldn't have been a better time for a merging of those ideas to swing into theaters, one that could've hit a compelling sweet spot between the two without seeming like a shameless knock-off. Director Max Reid partly delivers on that potential by cementing a familiar but stimulating foundation for this urban mythical hero, yet he can't quite figure out how to do more with it once he's shaped Robert Knepper into a untamed vigilante, resulting in a gritty, attention-grabbing premise that slumps into rote crime developments and questionable action later on.

Wild Thing hits several points throughout a roughly twenty-five year span, starting in the '60s with an infant boy traveling around with hippy parents in a stereotypical van. Tragedy strikes as his mother and father are murdered by a drug lord and a cop seemingly in cahoots, leaving young Wild Thing to his own devices and escaping when he has the chance. Taken under the wing of a local vagabond woman with psychotic musings about "bluecoats" and devil rats, the story jumps ahead several years to a point where Wild Thing has learned a thing or two about surviving on the streets, about hunting wildlife and how to shoot a makeshift gun through the dingy alleyways. Further events force the boy to live alone on the streets, eventually catching up to the modern era, where police corruption and the drug trade have worsened since his parents were killed. Rumblings of "the Wild Thing" have taken shape over those years, though, painting him as an enigmatic and mystical being who nurtures the helpless and deals with hoods in the area.

The circumstances of the child's orphaning and escape can be a tad silly -- an obvious adult stunt double dressed in overalls plunging into rushing water doesn't help matters -- but the stark premise revolving around the future hero's transformation in a homeless atmosphere compensates for the rocky path in getting there. Instead of seeking revenge, a luxury he cannot afford, Wild Thing splits his time between pure survival and learning talents in novel, voyeuristic ways. The script from Lone Star and The Howling screenwriter John Sayles instead concentrates on his resourcefulness and the rapport he builds with his loony guardian, his only source of information at first, building a warped foundation for a kid growing up in the urban jungle and just outside the reach of society. Bittersweet reminders of the life he didn't get to have and of his psychological torment at witnessing his parents' murder show up in his travels through the streets, adding layers of dubious but meaningful drama to his unorthodox childhood.

Wild Thing never really lands on an interesting place to go with this elevated-reality origin, though, going through the motions to the present era -- the late '80s -- where the legend of the eponymous, rarely-seen hero has spread throughout "the zone", a destitute area of the city controlled by drug dealers and corrupt policeman. Shadowed photography captures the metropolitan maze where Wild Thing feeds the poor and defends the troubled, reminiscent of the gangland atmosphere of The Warriors and Gotham-like hopelessness where everyone must stay on their guard and fend for themselves, containing few havens for the underprivileged. The dangers of the area never really go anywhere unexpected, though, even as it leads a newly-appointed social worker, the obviously named Jane (Kathleen Quinlan), towards one of the section's few safe havens during her first naive, frightened night there. From the ominous influence of the main crime lord, Chopper (a stern, crafty Robert Davi), to the way Jane stumbles into her intimate curiosity towards Wild Thing, the scope of everything going on in "the zone" never stops feeling recognizable and banal.

While the idea of a low-tech hero taking down armed thugs with a crossbow and makeshift gadgets can be charming, Wild Thing runs into a series of problems involving the conceit once the titular hero's anticipated crime-fighting objective -- finally getting rid of the tattooed drug lord and, of course, saving the girl -- comes into focus. Despite the bracing sensations running through the climax as Wild Thing gets closer to taking vengeance for his parents' death and rescuing his first real adult friend, the smaller-scaled action becomes preposterous as it avoids opportunities for the villains to use their superior firepower, and a proper amount of brains, in trying to thwart his advances. Robert Knepper's tribal paint job, out-there mannerisms, and sturdy physical presence makes it easy to root for the feral hero with a troubled past and a window to right the city's longstanding wrongs, but charisma can only help the absurd plotting along for so long when he's fooling pistol-wielding goons in cars and stringing 'em up with tricked-out umbrella frames. Sometimes simply making everything groovy isn't enough.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Olive Films continues to impress with their line of Blu-ray releases for lower-tier films that probably wouldn't ever get a high-definition release otherwise ... or, in the case of Wild Thing, didn't even get a DVD release until now! That the 1.85:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer they've got for this forgotten '80s flick looks as good as it does? A marvel in itself. Daytime sequences are the real source of impressiveness: they sport incredibly accurate, responsive skin tones and vivid shades of color in foliage and graffiti along the streets, while the caliber of depth and sharpness are incredibly inspiring. A lot of cool details emerge from the image as a result, from the detailed paint strokes on brick walls in Wild Thing's hangout to fine textures in the period's clothing. There are flaws to be found, sure. Grain occasionally becomes too aggressive and black levels are slightly overclocked, while small blips of print damage can be seen throughout. The positives significantly outweigh the negatives, though, and it's pretty satisfying to see such a competent visual treatment for this obscure film.

Less impressive but entirely suitable, Olive Films have included a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that handled the film's audio fidelity with aplomb, considering the limitations. Tense sound effects like the rushing of water, the assertive billowing of fire from a building, and the crashing of a car telegraph balanced and fierce sonic punches, revealing little of the film's age in their clarity and modest bass response while expanding across the two channels. Subtler components, like the snick of a switchblade and the movement of tires across pavement, are less assertive and fairly thin, but they still sound natural. Verbal clarity, the most important thing here, is entirely clear and resonant, working in tandem with the bustle of street sounds to satisfying ends. No subtitles or other language tracks are available.

Special Features:


Final Thoughts:

Wild Thing takes the Tarzan concept of a child raised outside the boundaries of society, relocates the setting to the city streets and throws a heaping helping of superhero origin drama on top. The end result tends to be hit and miss, succeeding more in how it sets up Wild Thing's development into a legendary figure while living among the homeless than doing much with him as a feral vigilante, with some outrageously scripted action later on involving his primitive tools and talents. There's plenty of charm to be found in Robert Knepper's handling of the adult Tarzan analog, though, and the mix of colorful, graffiti-coated setting against the shadowy grimness of the city provides a unique atmosphere for his bonding with Jane. Olive Films' Blu-ray looks terrific and sounds just fine, which will make for an enjoyable Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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