“Every time you’ve seen the girl, you’ve seen the beast,” says international villain Arcane, issuing instructions to his demented henchmen. “We’ll find the girl; the beast will follow.” That’s a good plan, except now they have to find the girl.
Luckily, Cable has managed to find an excellent hiding place: in the middle of a lake outside of Los Angeles, about 2,500 miles away from the South Carolina swamp where they filmed the rest of the picture.
This is the movie’s big maritime action-adventure reshoot, where Swamp Thing steps out of his comfort zone, and battles some boats in a freshwater environment.
During the South Carolina ordeal, the producers and the completion bond company nickel-and-dimed poor Wes Craven into cutting what he considered to be important scenes, not to mention decent coverage on the scenes that he shot, but once they got back to Los Angeles, they looked at the rough cut and decided that the film needed some naval gazing, right here in the middle.
Naturally, they weren’t interested in hiking all the way back to Magnolia Gardens and subjecting the suit to another dip in acidic swamp water, so they figured let’s just go out to a lake and make a day of it. As long as there’s some green in the shot and we cut around the freeway, it’ll be good enough for the film.
This was a somewhat slapdash decision, of course, but they’d already seen the rough cut, so it’s not like they had any illusions about the film’s chances at the Academy Awards that year. They knew what they were getting. Shooting in a lake would be fine.
So, in keeping with the that’ll-do attitude of this lakeside do-over, they all trooped out to the park and filmed whatever they felt like, without much regard for visual continuity or the basic elements of film grammar.
Here, I’ll show you what I mean. The sequence begins with Swamp Thing in the burned-out science barn, standing on the porch and looking out onto the water.
This is what he’s looking at, and according to the way that editing works, this is supposed to be directly in front of him.
That’s reinforced by a second shot of Swamp Thing, still looking straight ahead.
And now we’re in the Los Angeles area, with Ferret, Bruno and some other hapless white guy tooling around in a snub-nosed motor-boat by a bank of reeds.
“Local people say this place is full of ghosts,” Bruno complains, so I guess he’s been reading the trades. Then Ferret, sighting his quarry, proudly points across the water. “Well, there’s gonna be one more, before this day is through. There she is!”
And there’s Cable and Jude in their swamp skiff, entirely out in the open, easy to spot from any direction. The sight lines on those two shots help us to understand where the characters are in relation to each other, and the fact that the skiff is obviously in a completely different environment should not bother us at all. There, as Ferret puts it, she is.
So now we’re looking from Cable’s point of view, and we see Ferret’s boat traveling in the opposite direction from the previous shot, with the reeds on their left. It’s going to be like this through the whole sequence.
There’s another shot of Cable and Jude, who exclaims, “Who’s that?” He must be an agent.
Cut back to the guys, who turn their boat and start moving towards us. As they approach, an enormous muck-monster pops out of the patch of reeds on the right, going RRAAHHH!
Then Swamp Thing slips in the mud, and sinks down to a sitting position. Seriously, that’s the take that they used.
Another shot of Cable and Jude, who’ve managed to turn their boat. “Who’s that?” Jude repeats.
And now Ferret and Bruno are stationary again, next to the bank of reeds.
“That was that thing!” Ferret exclaims, and at least he points in the correct direction. “Let’s go, come on!” he says, and they have to start the boat again, and turn to face the monster.
They head straight towards the patch where Swamp Thing is standing, and the monster ducks out of sight.
Jude turns to Cable, and says, “What the heck’s going on here?”
And now we’re looking from Swamp Thing’s perspective. The boat is still heading straight towards the camera, apparently passing the patch of reeds where Swamp Thing was just a second ago. Now he’s somewhere else.
Then the guys are here again, right back where they started, but facing the other way.
And suddenly we’re in the swamp again, for a shot of Cable and Jude hurrying out of the danger zone. This is an amusing shot, because not only are they transported back to South Carolina…
but they’re also continuing a shot from the previous sequence, which we saw two minutes and twenty seconds ago.
And that’s a wrap for Cable and Jude, as far as the boat fight is concerned.
Back to Ferret, who jumps on the walkie-talkie, and says, “Units 1 and 2?”
“Roger!” says either unit 1 or unit 2.
“Sector 4, on the double!” Ferret says. We got him cornered.” I don’t know how Ferret thinks you corner people in a huge open space, with one boat.
And then we’re somewhere where I don’t know where we are, watching two airboats approaching sector 4.
Back to the motor-boat.
“Where is he?” Bruno asks.
“Huh,” Ferret scoffs. “What is he?” Okay, but you still need to know where he is.
Here’s Swamp Thing coming through the reeds, to their immediate left.
Ferret thinks he spots the creature, and points in front of them. Bruno puts his leg up on the seat, and leans forward. The third guy is immediately to Bruno’s left, next to the reed bank.
And here’s Swamp Thing approaching, with a direct line to Bruno’s crotch…
And now Bruno is standing at the rear of the boat, so Swamp Thing can throw him.
The third dude is now standing at the front of the boat, next to the machine gun.
With Bruno taken care of, Swamp Thing jumps onto the back of the boat…
The third guy jumps behind the wheel and starts the boat up again…
And the motion knocks Swamp Thing back, off the boat and into the water…
which appears to be exactly where Bruno fell, although the two of them are nowhere near each other.
So that’s how this entire sequence works; it’s just individual shots patched together any which way. There’s a shot of the boat moving forward into the open part of the lake, with Ferret yelling into his walkie-talkie…
And then two shots later, they’re stationary and in a different position, so they can pull Bruno up into the boat.
I’m not actually going to go shot by shot through the whole sequence — now that you know how it works, you can watch the scene and do your own nitpicking — but I’ll point out another few shots.
This is a good one: when the airboat approaches Swamp Thing, you can see that his scalp is clearly not connected to the rest of his face.
Right after that, the airboat flies out of control, and the guys tumble into the water. This is a great stunt and fun to look at, but it’s not super motivated — in the previous shot, Swamp Thing seemed to duck out of the way. I’m not sure what’s supposed to propel them skyward; maybe the boat just got excited.
Then there’s a little epoch where everybody shoots machine guns and throws grenades at Swamp Thing, with people pointed in various random directions.
I’m not going to get into the ins and outs here, but when you watch the scene, look out for this shot, which is absolutely pointed in the wrong direction.
The creature disappears in a cloud of smoke, and there’s a lull in the action. The boat drifts near an open bank, with the thugs looking around for Swamp Thing…
And two shots later, the monster jumps into the boat, from the cover that isn’t there on the bank that they’re not next to.
There’s also a very noticeable Wilhelm scream here…
And the whole thing ends in an exciting but unmotivated boat explosion, where two airboats bump into each other and ignite their cargo of plastic explosives and oily rags.
Then there’s a little post-game wrap-up, with Arcane and Bruno.
“Smart,” Bruno offers. “That thing is smart!”
“Very smart, Bruno,” Arcane replies. I wouldn’t say very smart. “This thing has considerable intelligence. He’s like a brilliant chess player; he anticipates every move.” Mostly he jumped out of the reeds and went RRAAAHH.
“A strong adversary,” Arcane continues, “is like a beautiful, dangerous woman. I’ve never been able to resist either.” Fine. “Tell the captain to weigh anchor.”
“We’re going home,” Bruno says.
“No, we’re not,” Arcane corrects. “Captured our knight, exposed his queen. Our move.”
This doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, because nobody’s captured a knight yet. I think he’s referring to Swamp Thing killing Ferret, but that happens about five minutes from now. And that’s the end of our trip to the lake.
3.28: The Notebook
— Danny Horn