Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: The Wolfman

The Wolfman

There’s a maxim in Hollywood that adverse pre-publicity and reports of on-set trouble usually equals a poor end-product. It’s probably fitting to mention now that The Wolfman went through two directors, countless reshoots and had its release date pushed back over a year. It would be fair to say pre-release hype wasn’t boding well. So now that the oft-delayed remake of the classic Universal horror has finally reared its lupine chops the pre-release anti-hype has been proved, for the most part, right.

In a pretty dead-on piece of casting Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot and his lunar counterpart. Returning to his ancestral home and father (Sir Anthony Hopkins) after his brother is slain by a beast of unknown origin, it’s not long before Benicio has been bitten by the same beast and begins to develop a penchant for moonlit saunters and the tang of blood. His brother’s grieving fiancée (Emily Blunt) is there solely to provide the film with a female face, and nothing else. The whole thing is suitably gothic and, to its credit, evokes the staginess of the 1941 original. Retaining the Victorian period setting is an admirable choice. It would have been easy to contemporise it because, unlike Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman itself is lacking the same iconic status - it’s the concept of lycanthropy which has endured, rather than a particular character.

First, the good: the film looks pretty great. It seems legitimately location-based, rather than on a soundstage and the every set is swathed in atmospheric fog. The opening act is particularly impressive. The set-up isn’t drawn out and it moves along at pretty breakneck speed. An attack on a Gypsy encampment is extremely well-handled; it’s fast, frenzied and brutal. The creature is seen in glimpses and every shock jolt is powerfully thudding, leaving your teeth rattling and your eyes gaping. There’s a real sense of weight and pure brute force to the attacks which leaps off the screen. Similarly the decision to (mainly) use Rick Baker’s practical make-up effects for the monster pays dividends in giving the creature substance. Some of the transformation scenes are almost, but not quite, up there with those in An American Werewolf In London. There’s the same popping, crunching, buckling impact and real sense that there’s a physiological change going on, not just excessive sprouting of hair. As a creature, the Wolfman is defiantly old-school.

However, almost every positive aspect is cancelled-out by one of the film’s many problems. Primarily, it’s hugely underdeveloped. It feels like a patch-up job. The characters are lacking in real motivation and suitable pathos. Despite Lawrence being a good man with a horrific curse, it all seems so matter-of-fact and lacking in patience. Passé time-lapse interstitials seek to rob the film of any real emotional weight or character development by skipping over an entire lunar cycle to get to the next metamorphosis as quickly as possible with monotonous efficiency. Any supposed twist is signposted well in advance and as clear to see as a full moon on a cloudless night. Hugo Weaving, as Inspector Abberline (a pitiful attempt to tie the film in with Jack the Ripper lore), never quite masters the accent and appears sporadically to flesh out a thin script. Anthony Hopkins appears to be going ‘method’ if the mumbling performance he puts in is anything to go by – it seems at times as if he’s plain forgotten his lines (which were presumably subject to change at pretty short notice on this set). Most criminally, the previously mentioned practical effects are undone at every opportunity by bad CGI. You can always see the join between what’s ‘real’ and what’s not and it’s jarring.

There are definitely a few positives to be taken from it. It’s not a terrible film but, with any knowledge of the project’s history, it’s easy to spot where the film has been as savagely mauled as one of the victims of the eponymous beast. It’s as disjointed as a severed arm and ultimately never engages, captures the imagination or carries you along on the visceral wave of adrenaline it should.


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