Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

In 1941 Universal Pictures brought us one of the first (Werewolf of London) feature length film on werewolves, The Wolfman. George Waggoner directed the classic and is in part responsible for the love of the creature so often used in popular culture.

Nearly 70 years after the original Universal gives us the remake of its landmark film. And early on in the pre-production stages it looked promising, even a fanboys wet dream. We saw news sites reporting that director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and makeup wizard Rick Baker (Just look up his list of works and be blown away) who is most noted for his lead work done on the Landis directed An American Werewolf in London on top of the Academy Award winning cast lead by Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. It was going to be this centuries first perfect werewolf movie, something we got (arguably) a handful of times in the 20th century. Then the reality of the movie started coming down.

By the time the movie came out the movie was delayed almost a full year, John Landis was a distant memory and Rick Baker was removed from the role of head makeup and fx artist. Joe Johnston, who is responsible for the direction of such films as Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, The Rocketeer, and Jurassic Park III (ugh) took over the role of director and Rick Baker wasn't given control like he should have been. Anyone that has seen Rick Baker's work on An American Werewolf In London has seen the single greatest special effects/makeup work ever put to film. I'm not talking best werewolf makeup, or best horror movie effects, I'm saying the single best makeup and effects ever put to celluloid. The transformation scene in that is as good as it will ever get. I dare you to say something else is better. On to the movie itself.

Joe Johnston's THE WOLFMAN starts out with a bit of a homage to the original (something that has appeared in every Universal Wolfman film) the "wolfman poem" as I've come to know it as- Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright. After the little nod at history, we get the basic story. Laurence Talbot (Del Toro) comes home to find his brother dead and his father (Hopkins) and brother's mourning lover Gwen (Emily Blunt) at his childhood estate awaiting his arrival. His brother's body is being held in a meat locker type building until his funeral, it is ripped to shreds, something a man certainly could not have done. Not twenty minutes into the movie and we start to see the modern influence on the film. Not a bad thing to this point.

As the film progresses and the story deepens there is more positive, some new and some hearkening back to its source material, the gypsies are present, though in a less important role than they should have been. Its as if they were put it because they needed to be to stay faithful. I understand the choice to put them in, but I would have preferred they not be there if this was the only way they were going to be involved. Its as if they were nothing more than peddlers and beggars to a point, instead of the group that new of the curse and how to cure it. It seemed everybody in the area knew of how to kill a werewolf, even if it were only a myth.

To keep things rolling, Laurence and Gwen begin to get close, he rekindles a small bit of a relationship with his father that we learn was lost when he was sent to a mental hospital shortly after the apparent suicide of his mother and he is dealing with having been stricken with the curse after an early encounter with a beast. The film then spirals down from there As Laurence tries to fight off the curse and remain normal but has no luck, just like those that preceded him, and must give way to the beast.

The Wolfman thrives in that it was certainly entertaining. As an original work, or even a first film adaptation of a piece of literature it wouldn't receive a fraction of the criticism it does. The action is good, the effects never pull you out of the moment and the story is solid. Where it fails is that it isn't an original work, we were teased with perfect options for the cast and crew and our expectations became nothing short of high.

The direction isn't bad, I don't want to give Joe Johnston a bad rap, his films have been a part of my life since childhood and he isn't bad at what he does. It just so happens that he isn't great at what he does either. We get some very nice scenes, followed by incredibly corny scenes. The cinematography is the same way, showing an incredibly gloomy and eery England/Wales followed by a flat shot inside of a mental hospital. The acting doesn't even have that luxury. The performances are, in a word, lazy. When you see the names Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and even Hugo Weaving you expect good acting, if not great. What we get is flat, uninspired and frankly plain out going through the motions from these names. Luckily for the film when you have a cast of this caliber even underwhelming performances such as these get the job done. The special effects also get the job done. Instead of letting Rick Baker go with his arsenal of beautiful practice effects, the studio elected to go for the cheaper CGI. Now the CGI, outside of a few instances of sub par work, looks fine. CGI certainly has its place in film but not when practical work can be done, especially with little hassle.

Getting the job done should not have been the goal for Universal with this one. They could have easily opened up the door to a new wave of fans for their classic work and classic film in general. What better way to get someone interested in your older films than to remake it properly? Unfortunately after seeing the decision making process from the studio it seems that getting the job done was the main goal behind the project. Take out an accomplished director, a special effects artist who has made the single greatest werewolf transformation scene in history loses his ability to do just that again and in turn take an award winning cast and make them lazy due to your insecurity in your film and financing (lets face it, it all comes down to $$$) and what do you get? A film that isn't bad, but not good, let alone as good as it should be. And I'd rather watch a truly awful movie than be let down as much as I am with this one. At least I held off on spending those dollars that Universal so arrogantly saved on the production.

It isn't the worst score you'll see me hand out, but know that I don't get this disappointed in movies very easily. I need to watch Waggoner direct Lon Chaney Jr asap to get this taste out of my mouth. The score I'm handing it is focusing on the positives the movie has as a piece of entertainment. I have so much more to say on the story, the creature design, etc... but I feel that I've written enough to convey my opinion. Just understand this really could have been a masterpiece of modern horror and Universal robbed us of that.

I had a slew of posters to choose from, many had good artwork, especially for modern day horror. I feel that the one I picked expresses how good the movie could have been, and why it fell so short all at once.


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