14 February 2010

The Wolf Man (2010)

The Wolfman is a "good but not great" remake. To be fair, when you consider all the production problems this had, it's actually impressive it turned as well as it did.

The film has all the essential ingredients for a good werewolf/ monster movie. Rick Baker was a no-brainer for designing the werewolf make-up. They came up with a new Oscar for his work in An American Werewolf in London, so needless to say, the wolf doesn't disappoint in this movie. There is some CGI in the transformation scenes but it's integrated fairly smoothly with the practical effects. The film also has some great chaos and gore, which was a relief. This could have easily been a PG-13 affair and might have put the nail in the coffin of an already troubled production. Werewolf films (the good ones, anyway) also have a tragic element running through them. Even with the camp and humor contained in An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, David Naughton and Dee Wallace-Stone''s fates in those respective films is sad and it gives them they a weight that elevates them well-above the crappy knock-offs, sequels and Z-grade trash that populate this sub-genre.

In the original Wolf Man, it's Larry Talbot's father who ends up killing him. A father being forced to kill his son is heavy stuff these days and I can only imagine what a gut-punch it was to audiences in 1941.

There is a tragic element in this film but it's not as powerful as the original. Anthony Hopkins is creepy and unbalanced in his role as John Talbot and while the change to his character is integral to the plot, I didn't think it anywhere near as emotional. There's certainly a tragic element here, Benicio Del Toro's Larry Talbot is a sympathetic character who does not deserve his fate but the ending is much more effective in the original.

It's also a visually striking film. I'm not having the love affair with Blu Ray that I did with DVD in its heyday but this is one I will want to check out again in HD. Some of the visuals, like the wolf drinking water with London Bridge visible in the background, are gorgeous.

The film is not without it's shortcomings, though. Joe Johnston did a commendable job with the time he was given but the fact this was a rushed, troubled production does show in a few aspects (mostly plot).

The relationship between Del Toro and Emily Blunt is never developed as well as it should be. It's another area where the tragic aspect of the film is diluted slightly. She does fine with what time on screen she does have but ultimately, she doesn't have the presence her character is meant to have.

As good as the carnage is, the scene with the wolf's rampage through London feels very truncated. There's talk of seventeen-odd minutes of deleted footage and whether or not that helps fill in the gaps remains to be seen but again, it's things like this where you see the figurative seams of a film that went through a lot of shit on its bumpy road to completion.

I mentioned earlier that the CGI in the transformation scene blended well with the practical effects. This is not the case for the entire movie. There are two scenes with a CGI bear and a deer that pretty dodgy. I don't know if they ran out of time or what but the CGI bear especially looks odd when it first appears.

Finally, Hugo Weaving's Aberline is a total bad-ass. The movie sets up a sequel and if it features him extensively, I will be more than happy.

Overall, the film is enjoyable enough. It's not great and I'm sure Universal's expectations for it were ridiculously high at first but I have no doubt they'll turn a profit and even though it's garnered a lot of negative reviews, the crowd I saw it with seemed to really dig it. Traditional monster movies are designed to be crowd pleasers, so any gasps and screams you hear in an audience are a sign that the film has ultimately succeeded. Check it out.

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