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I have seen a good many straight-to-video films in my lifetime. Many of them, especially in recent years, have been very good. So, it is with no disrespect to this industry when I say I cannot believe Lion's Gate was seriously considering a theatrical release for MAN-THING. Because in actuality, I'm shocked they bothered releasing it at all.
MAN-THING is based on the Marvel comics character of the same name, but it is really more of a horror film. Not that it matters. As both a comic adaptation and horror film, it fails on every conceivable level. As an adaptation, it can be safely mentioned with the worst films in the genre's history - CATWOMAN, BRENDA STARR and that Albert Pyun-directed CAPTAIN AMERICA film.
You'll forgive the Cliff's Notes background I'll give the character. See, even when I was a teenage comic geek, I never really read MAN-THING. Not that it matters, since obviously neither did the filmmakers. The original comic seemed to have something to do with a guy named Ted Sallis, on the run from a shadowy organization. He takes refuge in the swamp where he is exposed to strange chemicals. The chemicals are the offspring of Science Gone Wrong, I believe an offshoot of the old CAPTAIN AMERICA serum. So, he becomes MAN-THING, a non-thinking purely instinctual creature who can sense the emotions of those around him and ooze through the landscape, taking evildoers with him.
Now forget everything in that last paragraph because it has nothing to do with the film. This film has a ridiculously young sheriff (Matthew Le Nevez) who takes charge in a small swamp town called Bywater, so named because it's "by the water" - har-de-friggin'-har. The town is made up of simple folks. Not your average blue collar folks, these folks are real simple. Plain-spoken people who... oh let's just say it. These people are dumber than a pack of Sea Monkeys. Virtually everyone in the town, save for the unusually hot-looking school teacher of course, are like the black sheep of the family even those folks from DELIVERANCE don't like to mention. Like Larry the Cable Guy, except without the irony. They are however, about as funny which is to say, not at all.
The town is divided in their loyalties. Most of the people stay loyal to the Native American tribes that settled there years ago. Why settle here? Hey, we didn't give them anything better. Crack open a history book sometime. So, they have their feelings about the land, certain parts of which are sacred. Here, Ted Sallis is mentioned in the past tense. He is spoken of as a tribe elder (!) who bought up land to make sure it stayed pure and untouched by modern man. The common theory goes however that Sallis quickly sold the land to Fred Schist and ran off. Schist and his industrialists are the other faction in town, pumping oil from the fertile swamp land. Waitaminute, fertile... never mind.
The new sheriff suspects that Ted Sallis didn't run off, but instead met up with foul play. Or at least he should suspect that if he was able to reach any conclusions that didn't fall right into his lap. But unfortunately, our hero is just a cocky jerk with absolutely no procedural skills whatsoever. The young buck must have treated some rich guy really good or really bad to get his present promotion.
His lack of intelligence or competence is especially unfortunate since he has landed in the town right when there are a number of strange disappearances. Bodies start turning up, looking like the swampland simply exploded in them from the inside out. The few who witnessed these occurrences are typically too scarred to say anything. That it because this is not the act of any man, but the Guardian, a creature in the swamp who is none too happy about the land developers. In retaliation, it kills anyone who crosses its path, no matter what their allegiance.
The design of the Man-Thing is almost non-existent. It's one of those films in which you rarely see the creature unless its hidden in shadow. This is not to create a feeling of suspense, like in ALIEN for example. Rather, it's to hide the shoddy design. Man-Thing takes two forms in his namesake film, one in which he's a poorly constructed monster suit and another in which he is poorly executed CGI.
The filmmakers cannot seem to decide what Man-Thing is either. Throughout the film, it is implied that Man-Thing is a demigod sent by the vengeful ancestors of the wronged tribe. Or perhaps it's a mutated Ted Sallis still alive for some odd reason. Or perhaps it's a demonic ghost of Sallis, like a slimy version of THE CROW. Or perhaps it is even a monster from another dimension that came into being from a Nexus of Realities that gets mentioned only in passing (How do you mention a dimensional portal in passing anyway?). The film never bothers to resolve this conundrum and because of their incompetence, it's up to the viewer to take a guess at just what the hell is going on.
Not that the human characters are that much better. I have already mentioned the lunkhead passing for a protagonist. We also have the hot school teacher. And then there's the Schist empire, a bunch of fat underworld types prone to fits of diabolical laughter. Papa Schist is exactly what you'd get if the Antichrist were played by Joe Don Baker. He's the type of guy who would wear a cowboy hat, indoors or out, as a legitimate accessory to his business ensemble. Let me say this here, if you are wearing a cowboy hat you had better be singing country ballads, rustling cattle or going to a costume party. There is just no other reason for it. The rest of the cast is made up of folks too rowdy to be admitted to the latest tractor pull and assorted extras from DANCES WITH WOLVES and ONCE WERE WARRIORS.
I sincerely hope that the script was not this full of swiss cheese from the beginning. The film takes the worst cliches of films gone by. It makes the same meaningless gestures towards issues the film is too insipid to really give a damn about (in this case, the environment). And it rips off other films shamelessly. Not only is the opening sequence lifted straight from JAWS, a very Richard Dreyfuss-like character turns up later in a supporting role. The dialogue is horrible. When characters start dropping the "F" bomb with more and more frequency, it doesn't seem to be a natural extension of their backgrounds but a case of the writers running out of things to say.
Director Brett Leonard has created a truly odious cinematic experience. In the past, he's had a few hits and misses. I liked his 143 minute director's cut of THE LAWNMOWER MAN and his adaptation of Dean Koontz's HIDEAWAY in an under-appreciated horror film, even if it does have a cheesy climax. This is Leonard's first fiction-based film in ten years and one has to wonder if something horrible happened to him in the meantime. Okay, he was never David Cronenberg, but he made some entertaining films and certainly was a competent director. This newest film doesn't look like anything he has done before and I have some theories.
It seems that Uwe Boll has had a few slumber parties in recent years and I think he spiked the Kool-Aid. I believe this to be true and I also believe Leonard was permanently stationed at the punch bowl yelling, "Oh yeah!" This is not merely to suggest that Boll is our standard punching bag, but the style of direction (or lack therof) seems uncannily similar to Boll's work. The only other recent precedent for the shoddy camera work, the bad editing, the nonsensical approach to structure, is in the films of Uwe Boll. So perhaps there is an intensive training school in which filmmakers unlearn what they have learned about logic and basic competence.
Also like a Boll film, MAN-THING looks like it cost less than a tenth of what it did. Can the IMDB figures be right? Did Marvel's Avi Arad really shell out $30 million for this piece of garbage? If so, there should be a major investigation because someone pocketed something. Most of the budget on the film seemed to go for lighting with green gels.
MAN-THING was originally set to be one of Artisan Entertainment's last stabs at greatness before being swallowed up by Lion's Gate. In order to try and secure their own future, they staked a lot of money on a few productions. The other films they bet the farm on were THE PUNISHER, HOUSE OF THE DEAD and DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS. Artisan didn't even live long enough to see all these films released. MAN-THING is the last to escape, a multi-million dollar blunder. It's a sign of a studio that has gone so downhill they can't even detect a decent film anymore. Blair Witch or no, it reminds us that perhaps we should never mourn the loss of Artisan. If MAN-THING is any indication of what they intended for the rest of us, we would be better off dancing on their ashes.