GUEST COLUMN: Brian Baer’s Giant Sized Man-Thing

Posted: June 27, 2014 in Baer, Guest Column, Man-Thing, Marvel

**This entry was written by Brian Baer as part of my Guest Column series. Thanks Brian!**

“Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!!!”

This oft-printed caption box is typically the only introduction to the Man-Thing required. A brilliant scientist was betrayed in the Florida Everglades and, thanks to an experimental serum, became fused with the swamp vegetation. Now a shambling, barely conscious creature, the Man-Thing’s highly empathic nature causes him to reach out with a burning touch. Anyone in his presence feeling fear would be scarred, immolated, or worse.

The Man-Thing is rather obscure by most standards, but is also the most beloved of Marvel Comics’ 1970s horror and monster characters, appearing in books like Savage Tales, Adventure into Fear, and a few self-titled series, including (drum-roll please) Giant-Sized Man-Thing.

He was largely an anthology-host character, peeking into the lives of one-off protagonists. However, thanks to brilliant writers like Steve Gerber, second-person narration would put the reader in the mind of the Man-Thing, able to look out into that world but never quite comprehend what was happening.

Man-Things…ATTACK!

Following the sucess of X-Men and Spider-Man franchises in the early 2000’s, Marvel was eager to adapt any property they could into a feature. And so, their muck-monster with the burning touch was sold to Lionsgate Films. This time around, the creature was given the backseat as the plot focused on a small-town sheriff who investigates a series of gruesome attacks in the surrounding swamps. He learns that the town of Bywater (because it’s by the water) has a nasty secret. After confronting a greedy oil tycoon and some Native American shaman-types, he decides to head into the deep swamp to find his answers. And there waits the Man-Thing.

It’s a straight-up creature feature, evident from it’s opening sequence with the obligatory graphic sex scene / grisly murder of partying teenagers. Originally intended for theaters, the budget was slashed repeatedly throughout the troubled production until it was finally released as a Sci-Fi Original movie. Though Man-Thing’s production values are slightly above the norm, thematically-speaking, it fits right in with Sci-Fi Originals like Ghost Shark and Chupacabra vs. The Alamo. No, I didn’t make those up.

When interviewed by Fangoria magazine, screenwriter Hans Rodionoff said, “Because I grew up reading Man-Thing comics, I approached the character with nothing but admiration and respect. Even with that approach, it was necessary to have the Man-Thing’s new incarnation deviate slightly from the established mythology.”

You just got Man-Thinged!

In the movie, the Man-Thing is some combination of a plant elemental and an avenging ghost. He strikes out seemingly at random, ripping humans apart or making plants grow inside their bodies, bursting out with bloody results. He was originally a Native American buried beneath an oil drill, and he is only defeated when that drill is destroyed.

The point of view was also changed dramatically. Instead of the monster as our viewpoint, we follow the human beings while the Man-Thing, like every monster movie baddie, stays in the background. Rodionoff described his version of the character as “Lovecraftian”. “It’s something that we will never be able to fully comprehend,” he stated. “And if we could see into its mind, even just for a brief moment, we would instantly go insane.”

Pictured: Smoldering intensity

This change is fairly understandable, as the storytelling possibilities vary so considerably between comics and film. Another change that could not be avoided was the origin. For all intents and purposes, Man-Thing was created the exact same way as DC’s Swamp Thing. There is some dispute as to which character was actually created first, but as of the 2005 release date, there had already been two Swamp Thing films, along with both live action and animated TV series.

And though the Man-Thing is an imposing visual, his “burning touch” could be difficult to express and explain. For a traditional monster movie like Man-Thing, they needed something more graphic, something more closely connected to the swamp theme. But those effects can get expensive and it was becoming apparent that the producers had no faith in the project.

Behold! Movie Magic!!

According to Nick Nicolaou, co-founder of Make-Up Effects Group, “The script was cool — but so many things started to be cut and changed due to budgetary issues. I feel the final film lost so much by the time it got to the screen.”

The Man-Thing creature seen in the film was not actually finished. Make-Up Effects Group’s costume was meant as a stand-in, to be recreated with CGI in post-production, but this was never completed. “In the end,” Nicolaou said, “no 3D creature was made due to diminishing budget. Our physical creature suit is in every shot.”

As much as fans love to complain, some changes to the source material are expected, even necessary, as a character or story is adapted onto film. But there is a line to draw, when an adaptation skews on so many fundamental levels, when we must ask, “Why not make an original movie?” And with Marvel and Lionsgate expecting so little from the film, and giving the filmmakers even less to work with, another question is “Why make this movie in the first place?”

No one responsible for Man-Thing, apparently, can answer that question.

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