The Wolfman

>> Saturday, February 27, 2010

So I didn't expect a whole helluva lot from The Wolfman, a remake of the 1941 George Waggner film, given the mediocre-to-lousy reviews it's been getting, but I have to confess that I really didn't expect such a complete and utter failure. I'd even go so far as to say that Wolfman is a candidate for worst-ever-werewolf-film, except I haven't seen the assorted sequels to The Howling--it's possible the one with the marsupial werewolves is worse, I can't say.

I don't really want to belabor the point too much. It's just not a good movie, and I have no idea whether that's the fault of director Joe Johnston or studio meddling that resulted in numerous and infamous reshoots that delayed the film's release. Certainly, Wolfman suffers from a fairly amusing visual schizophrenia, with slow scenes that seem to be intended to create psychological tension and atmosphere alternating with an over-reliance on CGI and sped-up effects to convey to slower audience members that time has passed (in one particularly ridiculous scene, Benicio Del Toro or his stand-in crosses a bridge in silhouette while the moon zips past him like a passing freight train--I suppose his character must be walking very slowly). One frankly suspects it's not really Mr. Johnston's fault at all, that somebody at the studio wanted a punchier, faster, more exciting film with cheap jolts and a big finish while Mr. Johnston tried to make a slower, moodier picture (this seems especially likely considering that at least one reshoot apparently was to add a climactic fight scene to the film that, rather than coming across as exciting or intense, made me giggle).

There's also a possibility the fault lies somewhere in Andrew Kevin Walker's and David Self's screenplay, sort of based on the original screenplay by Curt Siodmak, though yet again there are hints that they wrote a different movie from the one that the studio ultimately released. Hard to say--if the climax was a late reshoot, then one of the primary and least-coherent plot threads in the movie may have been a late addition and the reason it's utterly absurd perhaps the result of sticking in three, maybe four scenes that seem sort of just glommed into the movie in an attempt to add a dramatic conflict that raises all sorts of plot questions. Then again, some of the additions to and alterations from Mr. Siodmak's original screenplay just don't add anything much or even offer a silly distraction; in particular, while Hugo Weaving is typically marvelous as Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, the insertion of the historical investigator of the Jack The Ripper killings into a rural village many miles outside his jurisdiction is just silly; I don't even mean wrong or unrealistic, though it is--I can overlook a great deal of movie fantasy police work simply as part of suspension of disbelief--I mean silly, in that one just sits there wondering what this historic person is doing in this movie; it would've made as much sense to then have poor Larry Talbot chased by Sherlock Holmes, instead, or (if we're going for real historic persons, to have him treated by Sigmund Freud or throw in a guest cameo by a twelve-year-old Albert Einstein, on vacation in England and readily available to explain how the moon's gravitational MacGuffining drives a lycanthrope to transform unless he eats these prototypical rolled-corn "flakes" that Harvey Kellogg is hoping to patent in a few years (hey, who says you can't have product placement in a movie set in the 19th Century!)).

Speaking of which, the cast really is mostly fine, even Anthony Hopkins, whose performances these days frequently would seem more at home on rye with melted swiss and mustard. Benicio Del Toro brings an interesting mix, actually, of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s pathos and Oliver Reed's swagger--does that make him the best man-Wolf-man ever? I dunno, but he's good. Emily Blunt is agreeable and certainly easy on the eyes, and I already mentioned that Hugo Weaving is great even if his character really has no business showing up. And, while Christina Contes' role as Solana Talbot is minuscule, credit to the filmmakers for having her at all, since her presence avoids the awful miscasting of the 1941 version, in which the idea that the tall, brooding Mr. Chaney, Jr. and tiny, fey Claude Rains are even in the same family tree (much less son-and-father) is actually one of the hardest things to swallow in the whole movie as far as I'm concerned (the exotic beauty Ms. Contes, on the other hand, bridges any gap between Sir Anthony and Del Toro; clearly the boy took after his mother).

A movie like The Wolfman lives and dies by its special effects (indeed, the original The Wolf-Man is more notable for its makeup design and early transformation effects than much of anything else). Sadly, the effects in The Wolfman are largely abysmal beyond some predictably nice makeup work by Rick Baker, who could probably have done this movie in his sleep by now. Aside from that, however, we have quite a lot of unconvincing CGI--I've seen better in videogames I've played, and not even recent ones. Most laughable is probably a patently-unbelievable bear, which unconvincingly stands there until it rears up on its hind legs, growls, and goes back to all fours; unless there is some kind of moratorium on using bears in movies, I can't imagine why they needed a (very badly rendered) digital bear, and if there is a moratorium on bears why they couldn't rewrite the movie to use a lion, or tiger, or dog, or perhaps even a midget on a leash (seriously, that's how bad the bear is). I joked on Twitter that they maybe should've used Nicholas Cage in a bear suit: it certainly would have been just as convincing, and perhaps he could have decked the wolfman... or a gypsy... or maybe even have just run around hitting everybody, that certainly would have been a better movie and worth the matinée ticket.

On a completely different subject: I will be answering questions, probably starting tomorrow. Keep on asking in the "Ask me..." thread, if you'd like!


mattw Monday, March 1, 2010 at 2:25:00 PM EST  

I was all psyched to see this movie when I started to see adds for it. I loves me some werewolf action. Then I read one or two of the bad reviews and I thought I'd hold off, but I'd still kind of like to see it in the theatre. This has clinched it, though.

We only get to see one or two movies in the theatre now, with having to arrange for babysitters and everything. No way I'm going to miss one of my few movie going opportunities for something this craptacular.

Last night, though, I did just watch An American Werewolf in London for the first time. What? I wasn't even conceived yet when the movie came out. Anywho, I thought it was good, but I was a little disappointed that you don't get too much werewolf until an hour into the movie, especially when the movie is only an hour forty long.

Eric Monday, March 1, 2010 at 3:32:00 PM EST  

Ah! But when that hour finally rolls around, you get what is still possibly the best werewolf transformation ever filmed, courtesy of the same Rick Baker who's sorta underutilized in The Wolfman. Damn good movie, AWiL is.

vince Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 9:28:00 AM EST  

Like Matt, I was looking forward to see this movie. But most of the reviews, like yours, have been negative. So I'm going to pass on this.

It's really too bad, because this had the potential to be a good movie.

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