REVIEW: SWAMP THING: THE SERIES

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CAST

Dick Durock (The Enforcer)
Mark Lindsay Chapman (Lois & CLark)
Jesse Zeigler (Captiva Island)
Carrell Myers (Problem Child 2)
Scott Garrison (Xena)
Kari Wuhrer (Eight Legged Freaks)
Kevin Quigley (Sheena)
Anthony Gaide (Just One of The Guys)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Martha Smith (Animal House)
Marc Macaulay (Monster)
Roscoe Lee Browne (Babe)
Jacob Witkin (Hail, Caesar!)
Summer Phoenix (The Faculty)
Sandahl Bergman (Red Sonja)
Patrick Neil Quinn (Days of Our Lives)
David Ackroyd (After Mash)
Kevin Nash (The Punisher)
Christie Lynn Smith (Bones)
Elizabeth Fendrick (Vacation)
Janet Julian (King of New York)
Heather Thomas (The Fall Guy)
Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey)
Ray Wise (Agent Carter)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)

I enjoyed the Swamp Thing films but didn’t know what to expect of a weekly show that would have a small budget. Looking back, I feel the series succeeded as often as it failed.

The best episodes were those that focused on Swamp Thing (or ‘Alec’ as he was referred to by the people who knew him). The series started out on shaky footing, and had Swamp Thing act out of character. In the first episode he turns a bad guy into a tree until the writers establish that he would never take a human life. Any episode that had him turn back human was well done.

Most of the episodes made him a Rod Serling of the swamp, taking a back seat to the action. A lot of these weren’t too bad. These boiled down to two plots: bad guys hide out in the swamp, only to have to face their crimes in a nightmareish way, or people with problems wander in the swamp, to become better by facing their fears. The best of these was when Ray Wise (Dr. Holland from the original movie) guest starred as someone who might be an alien and almost kills Swamp Thing.

I enjoyed the show Although it could have been so much more, it was certainly better than many other shows or movies based on comic books.

REVIEW: CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)

CAST

Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator)
James Earl Jones (Star Wars)
Max Von Sydow (Game of Thrones)
Sandahl Bergman (Red Sonja)
Ben Davidson (Behind The Green Door)
Cassandra Gava (The Amityville Curse)
Gerry Lopez (Big Wednesday)
Mako (Memoirs ofa Geisha)
Valérie Quennessen  (Summer Lovers)
William Smith (The Outsiders)
Sven-Ole Thorsen (Mallrats)

Conan the Barbarian is a film about a young barbarian’s quest to avenge his parents’ deaths. The story is set in the fictional Hyborian Age, thousands of years before the rise of modern civilization. The film opens with the title card, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, a paraphrasing of Friedrich Nietzsche, followed by a voice-over that establishes the film as the story of Conan’s origin.After watching his father forge a sword, Conan is told of the Riddle of Steel, an aphorism on the importance of the metal to their people, the Cimmerians. Soon after, the Cimmerians are massacred by a band of warriors led by the evil wizard Thulsa Doom with Conan’s father killed by the band’s dogs. After watching his father’s newly forged sword being used by Doom to decapitate Conan’s mother, Conan is taken into slavery where he is chained to a large mill, the “Wheel of Pain”, for years. Having grown into a strong man, Conan is then sold to a new master and trained to be a gladiator. Eventually, after winning many pit fights, Conan is freed. While fleeing from wild dogs, Conan stumbles upon an ancient tomb and takes refuge inside it. Inside the tomb, he finds an Atlantean General’s ceremoniously displayed corpse along with his sword which he takes as his own. As he wanders the world, Conan encounters a young witch, with whom he has sex in exchange for information about Doom. However, she turns into a demon mid-coitus, forcing Conan to drive her off. Conan also befriends the witch’s captive Subotai, a thief and archer who becomes Conan’s companion.
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Following the witch’s advice, Conan and Subotai go to Shadizar, in the land of Zamora, to seek out Doom. They meet Valeria, a female brigand. The three burgle the “Tower of Serpents”, a temple of Doom’s snake cult, and steal a large jewel—the Eye of the Serpent—and other valuables; Conan and Subotai also battle and slay a large snake, to which a girl was about to be sacrificed. After escaping with their loot, the thieves celebrate and end up in a drunken stupor. Conan and Valeria fall in love. The city guards capture them and bring them to King Osric. He requests they rescue his daughter, who has joined Doom’s cult. Subotai and Valeria do not want to take up the quest; Conan, motivated by his hatred for Doom, sets off alone to the villain’s Temple of Set.
Disguised as a priest, Conan infiltrates the temple but he is discovered, captured, and tortured. Doom lectures him on the power of flesh, which he demonstrates by compelling a girl to leap to her death. He then orders Conan crucified on the “Tree of Woe”. The barbarian is on the verge of death when he is discovered by Subotai and brought to Akiro, the Wizard of the Mounds and Conan’s future chronicler, who lives on a burial site for warriors and kings. The wizard summons spirits to heal Conan and warns that they will “extract a heavy toll”, which Valeria is willing to pay. These spirits also try to abduct Conan, but he is restored to health after Valeria and Subotai fend them off.
Subotai and Valeria agree to complete Osric’s quest with Conan and they infiltrate the Temple of Set as the cult indulges in a cannibalistic orgy. Though they succeed in getting away with the princess, Valeria is killed by Doom using a stiffened snake as an arrow. After cremating Valeria at the Mounds, Conan prepares with Subotai and Akiro to deal with Doom’s men through booby-traps and exploiting the terrain. During the fight, Valeria reappears for a brief moment as a Valkyrie to save Conan from a mortal blow.Conan recovers his father’s sword during the fight, although its blade is broken. After losing his men, Doom shoots another stiffened snake at the princess. Subotai blocks the shot and the villain flees to his temple.
 Conan sneaks back into the temple where Doom stands at the top of a long stairway, addressing the members of his cult. Conan confronts Doom, who attempts to mesmerize him, but the barbarian resists and uses his father’s sword to behead his nemesis, finally avenging the deaths of Valeria, his family, and his people. After throwing Doom’s head down the stairs, with his disillusioned followers leaving for their homes, Conan burns down the temple and returns the princess to her father before heading westward

The film that kicked started the Barbarian craze of the early 1980’s, often imitated but never equalled. Starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role which fit him like a glove Conan the Barbarian has it all from sword and sorcery to epic battles and even a reasonably emotional back story, the film is justifiably a true classic of its time.

REVIEW: RED SONJA

CAST

Brigitte Nielsen (Terminal Force)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan The Barbarian)
Sandahl Bergman (Xanadu)
Paul L. Smith (Dune)
Ernie Reyes Jr. (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2)
Ronald Lacey (Raiders of The Lost Ark)
Pat Roach (Willow)
Terry Richards (Star Wars – Episode V)
Sven-Ole Thorsen (Mallrats)

Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja (1985)It is hard to revisit the 1985 sword and sorcery film Red Sonja with any sort of freshness. The movie, historically, has been comically criticized for decades and stands as an example of Hollywood´s eagerness to cash in on previous genre successes. There is even a quote from the films “star,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, about Red Sonja being the worst film he has done and is now used as a punishment for his kids. Where do I go from here? Where does anyone go from here? My previous review of Fire and Ice basically lauded the sword and sorcery film genre as an escapist vehicle unfettered by story and conceptual flaws. Could the same sentiment hold up under the weight of a poorly executed blockbuster? Could the same sentiment hold up to probably one of the worst fantasy films ever made?Brigitte Nielsen and Ottaviano Dell'Acqua in Red Sonja (1985)Red Sonja is a character best defined by comic books written by Fire and Ice / Conan writer Roy Thomas along with one of my favorite fantasy artists Barry Windsor Smith. The character was loosely based on a variety of pulp heroines pioneered by short stories from Robert E Howard. Red Sonja, now, stands as the female equivalent to Conan and shares the same fictional universe during the Hyborian Age. The important thing to remember about sword and sorcery is that despite instances of brutal violence carried out by demonic aggressors and less than favorable clothing for both genders, females have a surprisingly fair amount of power. Barbarian heroines are just as strong as males and can make decisions and carry the plot without male involvement. Despite a ridiculous amount of sexual exploitation, sword and sorcery breaks the majority of female stereotypes and did so years before other fantasy genres. This is important to remember when watching the cosmic disaster known as Red Sonja.Red-Sonja-movie-700x300To investigate why Red Sonja is so bad one has to look at individual aspects of the film. The story is not the problem as Red Sonja’s plot is standard sword and sorcery revenge involving magic, immediate scope, and visceral adventure. In fact, I am trying to think of a film genre less simplistic than sword and sorcery. A green glowing magical orb is sought after by a group of roving warriors while an evil Sorceress, Queen Gedren, uses it to conquer kingdoms. The film´s heroine is hellbent on revenge after seeing her family slaughtered by the aforementioned sorceress. Pretty simple. There may be a comic duo planted for laughs but all in all standard. While the costume design is silly bordering on psychotic and its action sequences are quickly approaching narcoleptic, Red Sonja could have been an enjoyable film. Its critical weakness does not rest in any one part, but rather many aspects executed together cause its downfall. One of the most cited examples of Red Sonja´s ineptness is the acting, which oscillates between laughable and embarrassing.Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja (1985)The wooden exchanges between characters merely drag the plot further much in the same way a mortally wounded human would lurch across a floor gasping for air. Scratch that. Dungeon. Bridget Neilson, who has the muscular build of a fine heroine fails to outact an 8 year old side character and the underwater machine serpent sent to kill her. Take this and combine it with a universal battle over which antagonist, the evil Queen Gedren or her smarmy advisor Ikol, is more uninteresting and ridiculously dressed. Do not forget characters placed on set with no logic or reason or ones that would have made the series more interesting if more was known about them and you have a colossal trainwreck of a film. Scratch that. Horsewreck. It is also important to realize this does not make the film truly terrible. what makes this film truly terrible is the attempt of a feminist agenda. Scratch that. Sabotage.Aside from the already stated sword and sorcery base of a strong female character, Red Sonja, the film, continuously undermines any instance of a female lead doing anything without the help of a man. This aspect is seen in most fantasy films but becomes more obvious when Red Sonja is supposedly centered around the plights of a strong female. Whether or not saved at the last second by Lord Kalidor from Lord Brytag´s men or narrowly escaping the collapsing castle saved only by the combined brute strength of two sweaty men holding up heavy things, Red Sonja fails to convince the audience she wouldn’t choke on her food or stab herself with a fork if not fed by a strong male. It is important to note that I do not strive to pick out themes of feminism within fantasy films.It is an interesting field of thought, but a film can exist without critical analysis. My cross section into this film is because Red Sonja’s waffling between feminism and misogyny is so abrupt the analysis is almost inescapable. Rather than silently attempt to create a female Conan, Red Sonja stmblefucks its way to the winners circle taking the trophy for the strangest blunder one has ever put to film. The universal orphanage fire that is Red Sonja has not, however, derailed any longevity of its protagonist. Red Sonja, the character, is still seen in better written media and fawned over at comic and fantasy conventions by both men and women.