Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving,
Art Malik, Geraldine Chalplin
- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Will Harris
e's the hairy-handed gent who ran amuck in Kent / Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair / Better stay away from him / He'll rip your lungs out, Jim / I'd like to meet his tailor” – Warren Zevon
And, lo, there came yet another motion picture which was pre-judged before its release: “The Wolfman,” a retelling of the classic tale of Lawrence Talbot and how the moon brings out his dark side. Filmed in 2008, Universal bounced the release date of the film from late ’08 to the middle of ’09 before finally settling on early 2010, and buddy, when a movie gets moved around the calendar that much, it ain’t exactly what you’d call a mark of quality.
Although it borrows several elements from the classic 1941 version of the Wolfman story, it veers sufficiently far away from the original that it’s stretching things to call it a remake. It does, however, still begin with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returning to his family’s estate in Blackmoor, England, after many years away. He has come home at the behest of Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), his brother’s fiancée, who’s been worried sick about the mysterious disappearance of her husband-to-be. Arriving with a desire to help find his missing sibling, Lawrence is instead greeted at gunpoint by his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), who reveals that he’s too late: Ben Talbot’s body has since turned up, mauled almost beyond recognition.
Lawrence sets upon a mission to find the responsible party, be it man or animal, and after finding a medallion amongst his brother’s belongings, he finds his way to a gypsy camp on the outskirts of Blackmoor, where an old woman named Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) warns him of impending danger. Talk about prescience: moments later, the camp is attacked by a werewolf. Much gypsy blood is shed. More importantly, though, Lawrence is bitten, and although he is nursed back to health, he gets a bit furry under the collar the next time the moon is full. Even before that, however, Inspector Aberline of Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving) begins to suspect that Lawrence may have had some connection to the big pile of slaughtered gypsies.
Hopkins and Weaving both turn in performances which are, if not groundbreaking, at least entertaining. Inspector Aberline’s quietly seething speech to a poor Blackmoor barmaid must’ve been a blast for Weaving to deliver, and Hopkins, well, you know, the guy’s such a good actor that it’s often hard to tell when he’s phoning it in, but there are certainly a couple of moments where he at least seems to be enjoying himself. Insofar as the acting is concerned, however, the problem with “The Wolfman” lies not with either of these gentlemen but, rather, sits squarely on the shoulders of the man playing the title character. As Lawrence Talbot, the usually-dependable Benicio Del Toro turns in a performance which is at best underwhelming but more often verging on laughable. One gets the very distinct sensation that his casting in the role was just one more example of the filmmakers trying to make things look as good as possible – make no mistake: he does look perfect – but every time Del Toro delivers a line, you will find yourself further committed to the theory that no one ever got around to asking him to audition. Whoops.
It’s evident that there was a desire on the studio’s part to pay tribute to the definitive version of the film while still upping the gore content enough to keep modern audiences happy, but the 2010 “Wolfman” looks so good that it almost feels like a betrayal when we see spurting blood and heads, severed arms, and random organs and sweetmeats lying about the English countryside. To the film’s credit, however, at least the Wolfman’s appearance eschews recent interpretations of lycanthropy. Instead, the great Rick Baker – the man responsible for David Naughton’s look in “An American Werewolf in London” – takes his cue from the Lon Chaney look of the character, imbuing the film with a considerable amount of classic-horror street cred in the process. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have worked in a bit more of the old “it’s what you don’t see” mindset of the scary movies from that era as well.
When “The Wolfman” works, as it does brilliantly during the creature’s rampage through the streets and across the rooftops of the city, you’ll be on the edge of your seat; as noted, director Joe Johnston has done an exemplary job of creating a good-looking film, and Danny Elfman’s score is highly evocative of old-school Hollywood horror, so it sets just the right tone. But even setting aside Del Toro’s subpar performance (which is hard to do), the film still has other flaws, including some heavy-handed flashback sequences to Lawrence’s childhood and a highly unsatisfying final battle sequence.
Its impressive visuals may still make “The Wolfman” worth seeing on the big screen, but if you want to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth, you might want to consider making it a matinee.
Unrated Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review:
Movies like “The Wolfman” are tailor made for special features, so it’s nice to see that Universal doesn’t disappoint with the Blu-ray release. Along with two versions of the film – the original theatrical cut and an unrated director’s cut with over 15 minutes of additional footage – the two-disc effort also boasts a pop-up trivia track filled with werewolf mythology and fun facts about other werewolf movies, as well as deleted scenes and two alternate endings. Rounding out the set are four production featurettes that offer an in-depth look at the film’s creature effects, visual effects and stunts.