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Swamp Thing: the Series Vol. 2

Shout Factory // G // July 15, 2008
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted August 21, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Swamp Thing The Series: Volume Two:
Swamp Thing is a sincere cult item. DC Comic's moss-encrusted monstrosity bowed in the funny pages in the 1970s. A creation of Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for a one-off story in The House Of Mystery, the character proved popular enough to evolve and get his own book. After a couple years, that book came to an end, and since then green old Doctor Holland (the titular thing) has been ebbing and flowing like an algae-choked alluvial tide. Wes Craven and Adrienne Barbeau took a swipe in a beloved-by-a-select-few '80s movie, which itself spawned a sequel. Comics maestro Alan Moore revived the guy in four colors in the '80s, and the series has endured through numerous personnel changes since. In the early '90s the Swamp Thing even got his own USA Network TV series. This four-disc, nine-hour, 26-episode chunk o' TV trash encompasses only the first half of season three from that round of slimy, harmless fun.

Swamp Thing The Series isn't really trash, but to my virgin eyes it fits in perfectly with the USA Network's 'Up All Night' aesthetic - campy, lightweight and focused on cheap fun. I've read plenty of Swamp Thing, and seen the movie, but this is my introduction to the series. Though a mildly engaging show, a few things seem to get in the way of viewers really becoming invested in the mucky one. First, low budgets mean thrills are tepid. Secondly, the episodic nature of the show short-changes much of what should be an emotionally resonant arc of the type that sustains today's TV audience. Sure, we all want Holland to figure out how to get human again, but on the way what's delivered is one 22-minute stand-alone story after another, many of which mirror the consequence of your average episode of The Golden Girls. Maybe it's not fair to compare Swamp Thing to The X-Files, a show that bowed at about the same time Swampy sank back into the mire, but if you consider that show's back-and-forth episodes -various supernatural beasties vying for time with the 'mythology' plotline - you can see it's still possible to provide entry points for the casual viewer while fanning the flames burning up your core audience. Heck, even Land Of The Lost seemed to have more of a sense of urgency than Swamp Thing The Series possesses.

Nevertheless, over the course of this sprawling half-season we get varying degrees of tongue-in-cheek as Swampy and friends move along. The set-up is thus, Doctor Alec Holland was working on a super-secret scientific formula (for the good of mankind) when utterly self-absorbed, evil and profiteering scientist Anton Arcane, (Mark Lindsay Chapman with ridiculous hair) in trying to steal said formula, caused the lab to blow up. Holland leaped for the swamp to extinguish his flaming body. In-swamp, his formula-soaked form fused with the local flora, and instead of drowning, he became the plant-like creature, psychically attuned to the environment, that we know and love. But, if you've got a monster in a swamp, the drive to regain your humanity is superseded by the impetus to battle all the other monsters and supernatural forces that needs must appear. Cue the evil mist, Satan, satanic carnies, married ghosts, vengeful Mayan ghosts, Civil War ghosts, ghosts-of-the-past, poisonous frogs, vampires, ultra-aggravated panthers and what have you, all the while fending off Arcane and his minions. It's stuff that would certainly read better in four colors, seeming more dire than it appears on your television screen. With limited back-lot swamp sets (if you're at all concerned about where the series was shot, an appearance by Norman Bates' house from Psycho should eventually clue you in) and low-low budgets (only two Mayan spirits make the scene, for instance) the ghastly thrills you might seek are in limited supply. Not the least of which is the fact that Swamp Thing is mostly seen only lurking in the shadows, archly staring out from behind a shrub.

Though Swamp Thing The Series is not a spoof this collection sports some spoofy stories, and it's obvious that overall we're not meant to take things too seriously. How can we, when Swamp Thing makes his standard appearance from behind those palm fronds - head tilted back, eyes flashing like a jealous husband - each and every episode? Swamp Thing (assayed by Dick Durock from the movies) acts more as a stern moral guide for his young friend Will, (Scott Garrison) voicing gravelly aphorisms about life. But for variety, episodes like the one where Swampy gets all depressed, drowning his sorrows in hallucinogenic iguana eggs crop up, enabling the show's creators to add another bit of advice to the list: don't do drugs, don't commit crimes, etc. In all, Swamp Thing The Series fits the USA Network's standards perfectly, slightly silly genre stuff best viewed in the wee hours, when being half-asleep works magic on your viewing mood.

The episodes in this collection are as follows:
Night Of The Dying
Love Lost
Mist Demeanor
A Nightmare On Jackson Street
Better Angels
Children Of The Fool
A Jury Of His Fears
Smoke And Mirrors
This Old House Of Mayan
Dead And Married
Powers Of Darkness
Special Request
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Fear Itself
Mirador's Brain
Easy Prey
The Handyman
The Hurting
The Chains Of Forever
An Eye For An Eye
Swamp Of Dreams


Preserving the original 1.33:1 broadcast ratio of the series, the episodes on this disc look better than they did for original fans dimly scoping the coaxial-delivered action on CRT monitors. I say dimly scoping because this series appears to take place almost entirely at night, a very dark, swamp-mist enveloped night. In fact the strongest aspect of the visual treats on hand is the deep black level, with Doctor Holland truly fading into the recesses of every stygian shot. Otherwise, colors lean toward the washed-out side, but the picture contains a decent level of detail and is relatively clear, if not terribly crisp. Again, it is likely way more crisp than when originally aired. Other than the somewhat faded color palette, Swamp Thing Volume 2 looks pretty nice for an almost 20-year-old cable TV show.

Though it's not like we're listening to audio through a layer of slime coating our ears, the (possibly) Dolby Digital Stereo Audio treatment for Swamp Thing The Series Volume 2 is just all right. Music and dialog are mixed accordingly, so that no huge discrepancies exist between the volumes of the two, and source quality is acceptable with little in the way of decay or damage found in the remastering.

Extras are limited to nothing beyond Chapter Stops.

Final Thoughts:
Maybe I'm taking the potential of gothic horror comic books as TV fodder too seriously. But with other examples of similarly themed shows - The X-Files, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Tales From The Crypt spring to mind - representing something more engaging, my hopes for Swamp Thing The Series are unfulfilled. Instead of finding the body-horror of the comic's first incarnation, or the coy metaphysics of Moore's rendition, we get the boneheaded dopiness of the movies. It's certainly fun in a lowbrow way, and Dick Durock's swampy portrayal is way more charming than one would expect, but this is a series most at home in the margins of late-night television - a show bizarre and benighted in composition, for when you wake up with a half-eaten slice of pizza on your chest. The show's dedicated fans deserve more than this bare-bones release, meriting at best a Rent It, but the idly curious should just paddle on by.

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