The Wolfman

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"I don't suppose we have any silver bullets? "

Feb 16th, 2010

I love a good Lycanthrope movie but they are in short supply. The Werewolf despite being one of the most famous horror creations has taken a backseat to the Vampire and has yet to really shine on the silver screen. Despite a few gems (American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps) the past year has seen the undead dominate with flicks like Twilight (yes I know there are wolves in this but they're more were-puppies) and shows such as True Blood but this Valentine's Day we see the return of the beast (in a movie on his own, no vamps) in The Wolfman remake.

Ok first off, another remake, but before letting that sigh out this is one time when I can actually back its production. The original came out in 1941 and while still a classic it's extremely dated and I feel more than enough time has passed for another stab at the tale (for poor remake decisions just look at the Spiderman franchise which is already rebooting, now that's ridiculous). With this I was able to walk into the cinema without expecting the worst – at least that's what I wanted to do.

The film was supposed to be released on November 6th 2009, then it was pushed back month after month suggesting that something was wrong. Rumours circulated the net about troubles on set, reshoots and editing problems which boiled down to differences between the director and the studio. Apparently two different versions of the film were test screened: one, character driven, the other, action orientated. As the film began I wondered what version I was about to see (reviews have been extremely mixed) and as the first 5mins played out I knew I was going to be disappointed.

The story is very similar to the original with Benicio del Toro playing Lawrence Talbot (Larry in the original) returning to his old home to reconcile with his father (Anthony Hopkins) after his brother Ben is mauled by a strange beast (the dead brother being a new invention here). Investigating Ben's death Lawrence is infected by the beast, becomes a threat to the village, is investigated by the police, has a strange relationship with his brother's woman, reveals his own terrible past and uncovers the mystery of the manor (where's Mystery Inc. when you need them?). What in Gods name happened here?

The tale of the werewolf is a simple one; person gets bitten, has to deal with the transformation and more often than not things end tragically. It's simple enough but this adaptation wants to focus more on multiple story threads that just don't matter or at least aren't developed enough to make us care about them. Here they are:

1) The Love Interest Emily Blunt plays Ben Talbot's lover who is distraught (hard to believe this as she never seems that bothered) over his death. Over time she comes to care deeply for Lawrence and does whatever she can to help him, is she the fabled lover who can set him free from his curse? This really makes no sense, her character is never given the time to develop and only spends a few minutes in the company of Lawrence. The first time they introduce themselves, and suddenly a scene later they appear to love each other (sure it's never stated, but implied) I felt like I had missed something. Useless story that's shoehorned in.

2) Mysterious Past Lawrence Talbot lived most of his life in America (was this to explain his accent) due to an incident when he was younger. Later it's revealed he spent time in an insane asylum, this also has no point, only serving to implicate him in the village deaths and shift the action to London 45mins in.

3) The Arsehole Detective Agent Smith interrogates Neo, sorry Hugo Weaving plays a Scotland Yard detective who questions Lawrence Talbot and is suspicious due to his dark background. This is a pointless addition to the cast and serves no other purpose than to set up a sequel. Detective Pratt (no that's not really his characters name) suspects that Talbot has committed the murders in the village. Why did this cross his mind? The beast was seen by multiple witnesses, the day prior there was a savage attack on the gypsies, also Talbot only recently arrived in the village, the deaths had already happened, duh! It must be noted they establish the detective by suggesting that he worked the Jack the Ripper case. Was this meant to be humorous? Any film set in this time period seems to mention the Ripper and it's starting to get boring.

4) Too Many Villains Why are there bad guys in a werewolf movie? The Wolfman is the bad guy – it's like Jekyll and Hyde. On top of the arsehole detective we get a lynch mob in the village, the orderlies at a London insane asylum and a mystery of who is the werewolf that bit Lawrence. This is all useless crap to make the Wolfman appear a tragic hero. The Wolfman is a mass murder, end of story.

The film poorly handles the Wolfman lore and fails to inform the audience of the rules. From the outset characters are carrying silver bullets, I wanted to know why they knew these would work. The movie assumes we know what a werewolf is, which more than likely is true but it takes away from the fun of the characters discovering how to defeat the creature.

The transformation is too fast; from the moment Talbot is bitten it takes but 10 minutes for him to turn for the first time. The month flies by with Talbot's injury healing, his hearing increases and the full moon rises. Most wolf flicks take their time and there are moments where it seems this was meant to be a slow burn but it was hacked up during the editing process. It's a shame as the transformation is great, not too much CGI but the impact is lessened as his character isn't given the time to fully realise his situation.

With all this you'd think the film is a complete flop but that's not so. The picture is stunning to look at and delivers a gothic tone not dissimilar to old Hammer Horror flicks. The acting is top notch no matter how much excrement spills from their lips. Anthony Hopkins stands head and shoulders above everyone embracing everything with slight tongue in cheek (It reminded me of his performance of Van Helsing in Dracula).

One surprise was the amount of gore on show; the scenes involving the Wolfman are frantic and excessive in the mutilation of villagers. The scene involving the gypsies and Lawrence's face off with the beast was exciting and actually displayed a brutality that I have never seen from a werewolf previously. When the Wolfman is unleashed on the streets of London I was actually disappointed, it plays out all too similar to An American Werewolf in London and he even runs in front of a bus, maybe they forgot what film they were remaking?

It's time to enter spoiler territory so if you'd rather not have the ending ruined skip this paragraph and the trailer for the film SPOILERS BEGIN. The fact that there was a mystery set up which they try to keep a secret by not addressing it is who is the werewolf that attacked Lawrence? The Trailer for the film actually gives this away but even if you haven't seen this you'll figure it out as there are only three main characters and one of them is Lawrence. So it's revealed that Antony Hopkins is the Wolfman who murdered his own son and apparently his wife and a bunch of other people because he wanted to. This is a weak twist purely so that Lawrence can fight his father while both are wolfmen (this is what was missing from Teen Wolf). Even so Hopkins is great as the deranged father and I never thought I'd see him play such a villain again after Red Dragon.SPOILERS END

This is a horrible viewing experience as you can tell the true story is fighting to get out. What makes things worse is that the DVD release has been announced with an extra 20mins of footage. Director Joe Johnson mentioned that most of this material was cut from the moments before the first transformation as the studio wanted to see the Wolfman faster. I look forward to seeing a fuller film on DVD but have a nagging feeling that the film's other flaws will still overpower a longer viewing experience. 4/10

Best Kill
Claws through the mouth

Gene Simmons of Kiss fame recorded the creature's howl
Danny Elfman created the score for The Wolfman but it was pulled as it didn't fit the film's tone but eventually they used it anyway (they admitted it was crap but used it after all – genius!)
Rick Baker did the werewolf effects (he did the transformation in An American Werewolf in London)

Director: Joe Johnson
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self, Curt Siodmak (Original screenplay)
Released: 2010
Rating: 15
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin

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