The Wolfman

Barf in my mouth

 

When I was a kid, I never went to the old fishin’ hole with my Dad.  I didn’t shoot cans with a BB gun.  I never ate peppermint ice cream in the park as the first fireworks shot into the air on the Fourth of July.  I didn’t collect baseball cards.  That wasn’t my childhood.  I wasn’t that sort of kid.  I went to the beach and built sand castles which I then stomped with my giant clawed foot after rising from my slumber beneath the waves.  I grave-robbed the toy box for bodies to take back to my lab in the garage; there I would create three-armed two-headed monstrosities with small green army men and a soldering iron.  I terrorized the villagers in my backyard without fear.  They had no silver bullets!  Instead of scenes from Norman Rockwell, my childhood was filled with visions of gods and monsters!

A world of gods and monster or not, I still share in the near universal tendency to look back with nostalgia.  We get possessive about those things with which we have an intimate connection.  For a lot of people that kind of possessive nostalgia is reserved for a favorite musical group, a local sports team, or the cub/girl scouts and the like.  For me, that possessive nostalgia was reserved for the great movie  monsters.  Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man didn’t belong to Universal.  They belonged to me.    Now, after so many years, Universal has remade The Wolf Man.   My Wolfman!

 

The plot is somewhat familiar being loosely adapted from Curt Siodmak’s original screenplay.  Set in England in 1891, the story opens with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) reading a letter from his brother’s fiancee, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt); who after introducing herself, informs him that his brother, Ben, is missing.  Gwen asks Lawrence to return to the Talbot ancestral home in order to help solve the mystery.  Lawrence,  estranged from his father over the death of his mother, arrives to a rather uncertain reception from his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). The chill is not only due to the history between the two but also, as Sir John tells Lawrence, Ben is dead.

The word at the pub is that Ben, whose body was found in a ditch,  had been attacked by either a dancing bear kept by passing gypsies or a raving lunatic wandering the moors.  The opinion of the local populace it rather divided on the issue.    Lawrence goes to the local ice house where Ben’s body is kept until the funeral.  The proprietor gives Lawrence a leather bag containing all Ben’s personal effects, which includes a medallion of gypsy origin.  The homecoming is an unhappy one for all concerned, made unhappier still by Ben’s grisly death (Or was it a Grizzly death?  Huh?  Huh?  Cue cricket sounds).

After the funeral, Lawrence decides to hop on a horse and have a word with the gypsies about his brother and the medallion.  He’s directed to Maleva, the wise old gypsy woman (Geraldine Chaplin).  After getting a bit of exposition from Maleva, a group of locals show up at the camp ready to lynch the dancing bear.  Happily for the bear, but less so for everyone else, the gypsy camp is attacked by a beast that makes short work of the lynch mob, the local constable and several gypsy men.  Blood and gore fly free!

Lawrence gets a gun and goes to follow the beast.  Wandering into a henge shrouded in fog, the beast gets the drop on him, knocking Lawrence to the ground and chewing on him like a pork chop.  The posse, in pursuit, shoots at the beast, driving it away from the critically wounded Lawrence.  Back at the gypsy camp, Maleva and a gypsy girl bind the nasty gaping wounds on Lawrence’s shoulder and neck.  Here we get some more exposition on the curse and that Lawrence is totally hosed.  The gypsies know what is coming next, and know that there is not much they can do about it.  Killing Lawrence now would be murder.  He has to be killed as the beast he is to become.   This is beginning of the tragedy of Lawrence Talbot.

Let me be totally up front about my feelings here.  Going into The Wolfman, I wanted to either love it like my own child or hate it with all of my heart.  It turned out much the way I had feared most; inspiring not much of a response either way.  Re-making The Wolf Man is to start with one strike against you before seeing the first pitch.  A large vocal part of your intended audience will be comparing it to something that is incomparable–  the joy of our own Wolf Man memories.  It may be unfair to the makers of The Wolfman, to compare it to the original and all that entails, but they are big boys and girls, and life is unfair.    To paraphrase Superchicken, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

The Wolfman (2010) is still not half as great as The Wolf Man (1941).

Looking at The Wolfman as it’s own creature, however, it looks quite a bit better.  In some ways the remake is a very different beast from the original, and I am not talking about the window dressing of special effects or the fact that it’s in color.  The Wolfman deals with a very different theme from the original Siodmak screenplay.   In The Wolf Man (1941), the theme is doom.  Larry Talbot’s fate is sealed.   He pleads for help with urgency, hoping that something can be done to stop the horror, even at the cost of his own life.  The theme of The Wolfman (2010) is more about transmission of sin and choosing to either embrace the evil out of selfishness or to reject it at great cost.  It’s an interesting spin, but it lacks the tragic pathos of the original.

Now, we move onto the more prurient issues.  The Wolfman effects are awesome.  Taking their cue from Jack Pierce’s make-up from the original shows a great deal of respect for the monster.  It pays off majestically.  Rick Baker and crew did a bang up job.  They did something interesting here with the transformation scenes; instead of doing one really long detailed scene for the first transformation, they split it up.  In the first transformation we see an emphasis on the legs (a nod to the original film) with the rest being suggested by shadow and quick cuts.  In the next transformation we are treated to an unimpeded view of the face and hands cracking and stretching into form.  It’s good, though I still think that Eddie Quist’s (Robert Picardo) transformation in The Howling (Effects by Rick Baker) is the greatest I’ve ever seen.  My biggest beef with the effects are the scenes when The Wolfman is running on all fours.  It looks stupid.  It looks fake.  *Vomits*

The scenery, atmosphere and over all cinematography are excellent.  Many of the sets and CGI scenery harken back to the sets of the classic film.  The forest, in particular,  is very gothic and eerie with fantastically strange lighting.  The gore is restrained for a contemporary movie.  The Wolfman is no more bloody than other werewolf movies, and a good deal less graphic. I’ve heard people complain that the wolfman in this film is a cruel and indiscriminate killer.  Well, duh.  Wolf man.  Get it?  It’s the horrible embodiment of the worst qualities of both animals.  It’s not the Incredible Hulk with fur and fangs. This is in keeping with the classic Universal horror tradition.

I had a hard time warming up to the characters in this film.  The Wolfman is less focused than the original on Lawrence, which requires the character to be played in a more smoldering way, giving del Toro less with which to work. Benicio del Toro is good as the wolfman and does what he can with Lawrence.  Anthony Hopkins dives into Sir John with obvious relish, chewing the scenry like mad.  Emily Blunt, conversely, seems lost as Gwen Conliffe.  Gwen is more of a plot device than a character in her own right.  First she is in love with Ben; then after only just  meeting Lawrence, we are to believe that they are now head over heels?  Maybe, if there was some kind of chemistry between the two, but there isn’t.   Hugo Weaving is Hugo Weaving.  He does all he can with what he is given.  Maleva, so prominent in the original film, is given only a token appearance.  This makes Captain Midnight cry.

Visually, The Wolfman is pretty top shelf, especially the transformation scenes.  As storytelling it falls a bit flat.  The dialogue is pedestrian and doesn’t ring.   The Wolfman tries hard to be an epic film,  yet lacks   the guiding vision to get there.   More is not always better.    In short, The Wolfman needed less CGI, better writing and better direction.  It’s not a bad movie.  It’s just not a great movie.  In the future, when they remake The Wolfman again (and they will),  nobody is going to remember this film in the same way they remember the original.

Starring:
Benicio del Toro
Anthony Hopkins
Emily Blunt
Hugo Weaving

Screenplay:
Andrew Kevin Walker
David Self

Director:
Joe Johnston

Three out of five Vincents

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.