Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wolfman (2010) Review

The Wolfman (2010)
When the moon is full, the legend limps to life

I should have known better. I mean, I wanted to believe that The Wolfman remake could overcome its troubles in getting a release and surprise me, but that rarely happens when the production is so haphazard. Allow me to elaborate. The original director, Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), was replaced by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3) just before shooting was about to begin. The original release date was back in November of 2008 (!!!), but then Johnston called for almost a month of reshoots. The special effects had to be redone because they wanted the beast to walk mostly on all fours rather than simply two. Composer Danny Elfman’s music score was scrapped in favor of another…and then subsequently brought back into the fold. And finally, a new editor was brought in to recut the film. The release dates that followed were February, April, and November of 2009 before finally settling on Valentines Day weekend in 2010 (did they really want to position this as a “date” movie?), where it was kicked aside at the box office by the cash-grab rom-com Valentine’s Day. Hey, it could be worse…it could be Alien 3, although I do say the endless tinkering on The Wolfman sure gives that other movie’s infamously botched production a run for its money. Can’t the filmmakers just leave well enough alone?

Plot Synopsis: While off in America working as an actor, Lawrence Talbot receives news that his brother Ben has been murdered back in England. He hasn’t seen his father in many years, mostly due to the tensions that arose between them after his mother’s death, but Lawrence is convinced to stay after he meets Ben’s fiancĂ©e Gwen Conliffe. Despite keeping the Talbot estate up and running, Lawrence’s father has clearly been driven mad over Ben’s murder in the years since Lawrence left the country. Suspicions that a werewolf may be responsible have been brushed aside by the authorities, but Lawrence takes it upon himself to investigate the gypsy camp in the forest where the werewolf is believed to be hiding nearby. While there, the wolf attacks the camp and escapes harm free, but not before biting Lawrence. He soon begins to feel delusional, with visions of his dead mother, unexplainable occurrences, and wolves appearing in his mind. At this time, Scotland Yard inspector Francis Aberline arrives on the scene to make sense of all the killings that have occurred recently. Aberline believes Lawrence might be playing a part in this, but he can’t prove it. That is, until the next full moon when Lawrence will turn into the wolfman at night and terrorize the local village of Blackmoor.


Just like Alien 3, I came out of The Wolfman feeling satisfied that something enjoyable was able to come out of this debacle, but the interference is noticeable (even if you had no previous knowledge of it). The movie’s first half especially feels edited to the last inch of its life. Scenes such as the supposedly scene-setting opening attack and others end before they barely begin. The characters are introduced, the threads for their relationships are set up, plot points come into focus, and then we get to the first action scene. Where’s the depth and suspense? The suspense, in particular, feels like it has been sucked out. There’s very little build-up in the horror scenes, and the tension is minimal. Things picked up once the blood started flying during the action, but I wasn’t feeling the intensity. The characters also get suitably shortchanged. While Lawrence’s relationship with his father was fairly well handled, Gwen’s increasing interest in him was lacking and didn’t make sense. It doesn’t help that Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt lack the chemistry to make their situation remotely believable.

Although it sounds like I’m tearing the movie to shreds, and I could go into further detail about its flaws, the fact is that there is still a lot to like here. Johnston certainly has an eye for visuals, which are pretty to look at but don’t draw attention to themselves. Think Sherlock Holmes minus Guy Ritchie’s hyper-caffeinated editing and flourishes (slow-motion, fast-forward, and the like) and that’s the basic idea. If nothing else, Johnston recreates the moody, Gothic-horror type atmosphere that was a staple in Universal’s old horror flicks to a T. The look of the movie is magnificent, and Johnston’s experience in special effects action is also strongly felt. The transformation effects by Rick Baker are an impressive melding of both practical makeup and CGI assistance that recalls Baker’s excellent work on An American Werewolf in London. And once the wolf side is complete, the design of the monster is a nice homage to the wolfman design from the 1940s original, which was more of a “man” than a wolf. Plus, once the wolfman finds its prey, things get nasty and thrilling. Blood flows like water, limbs get torn off, organs are strewn everywhere, and heads are lopped off. It’s all bloody fun, and gore hounds will certainly get their fill with this one.


The top-flight cast fills their parts admirably, even though a few could have been better. Del Toro is a minor example of this. As Lawrence, Del Toro is brooding, mysterious, and communicates more with his sad, sullen eyes than most of his dialogue would show (much like how Lon Chaney Jr. was in the original). He puts on a compelling show, but I had this feeling that he could have been a bit better. The same goes for Anthony Hopkins, who grabbed my attention most of the time as Lawrence’s father, while some of his scenes could have benefited from some more effort. Perhaps some of their more affecting acting moments were shaved off in the extensive editing process that I previously mentioned. Either way, Benicio was still good, but Hopkins could have been better. While I haven’t seen many of Emily Blunt’s previous movies (I have seen Young Victoria though), I can definitely attest that she is one of the stronger actresses working in Hollywood these days. With the exception of the half-cooked relationship she has with Lawrence, Gwen provides some much needed estrogen in the otherwise male dominated story and Blunt’s emotional performance is just as tortured and sympathetic as Del Toro’s, maybe even more so. And finally we have the always-reliable Hugo Weaving as Aberline, playing the character with his typical stately demeanor and determination.

I want to pick this movie apart scene by scene to show just how wrong it is when studios try to take control of a movie or when the filmmakers don’t plan everything out beforehand, but I cannot bring myself to do that. For even with its blatantly obvious rushed editing, plot holes, and incomplete character development, I still had plenty of fun watching the mayhem. What also made the movie more compelling was it’s classical tone. Sure the production uses many grand sets, explosive blood gushes, and modern computer effects, but underneath that polish is a loving homage to the horror movies of old where the horror was built using mood and storytelling rather than cheap thrills and cardboard characters. Too bad that’s not all too evident in this version of the movie. I’m crossing my fingers for the DVD extended cut.


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