June 30, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

"Upon his return to his ancestral homeland, an American man is bitten, and subsequently cursed by, a werewolf."

Before I begin, I just have to mention that this review is based on the "Unrated Director's Cut" rather than the theatrical release which sucked.

Now, although werewolf films usually suck almost as much as your average vampire and with this being a remake as well, I really thought I was going to hate "The Wolfman" even more than I already despise the over recurring poem in the original. I didn't. It really is much better than the original in many ways and "The Director's Cut" adds a lot more gore.

I do realise that gory special effects aren't everything in a horror movie but, when you are dealing with werewolves in particular, there really isn't much else you can use to sell the idea of their animal ferocity to the audience. We've all seen the heightened senses part done to death and transformations made to look more and more painful. What we all wanted, and what we all now have, are some savage kills wrapped up in neat little werewolf myth.

The theatrical release was so toned down in this regard that I pretty much wrote "The Wolfman" off as just another shitty child-safe remake. I wanted bloodshed, madness and some hairy bestiality like in Charles Band's "Phantoms" (Meridian) only with a big budget. Although I didn't quite get that with this "Director's Cut", Emily Blunt (even with her annoying accent) was pretty damned sexy and the slayings even sexier.

It's still the same story, more or less, as the 1941 original with the same names for the characters and all that good stuff. Well, it is an official Universal remake so you can't expect anything else. Everything is set in Victorian times of course with some rather strange additions to the character list such as Abberline (Hugo Weaving) from the "Jack the Ripper" story. You could probably splice big chunks of the latest Sherlock Holmes movie in there if you were a film editor and I don't think anyone would notice either. There are a few anachronisms but not enough to throw you out of the story entirely. Just a bit of work on the language and accents used may have helped but none of it is as bad as Keanu Reeves in "Bram Stoker's Dracula".

One of the biggest flaws was the casting. In spite of being miserable, Benicio Del Toro just didn't seem to have the brooding ability of Lon Chaney and I think we've all seen enough of Anthony Hopkins churning out the same role too. Both can be fantastic actors when they want to be but I found them to be a very mismatched pair in terms of their relationship to each other and I didn't think they really gave anything but routine performances. But what would I know? I'm not an actor, I just watch a lot of films. They didn't really entertain me as much as they normally do.

A massive change to the original story was the "Teen Wolf" twist which I won't spoil for you but you will be able to predict for yourself soon into the film. I don't know why they went that way instead of keeping the original werewolf as a gypsy but I'm sure it's something to do with political correctness gone mad. Perhaps there have been too many cursed gypsies over the years and they decided not to play to the stereotype. Cutting them down to only minor roles wasn't the greatest decision in my opinion although it did get rid of having to hear "the poem" half a dozen times.

"Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." Yeah, I just did it for you to make up for it. Aaargh!

Actually the wolfbane does actually play a real part this time which I was glad of. That really did add something a bit different to the story in a good way though obviously not for the characters affected by it.

I think I need to say something about the special effects. Rick Baker was involved so the practical stuff was as good as "An American Werewolf in London" to some extent. It just wasn't groundbreaking anymore and most of the additional CGI was quite good on its own. Just don't look at the bear too closely! I really don't care how the effects are done as long as they look good. All the make-up and wardrobe people seemed to do a pretty good job too.

Danny Elfman's music in the film sounded a lot like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" to me which was kind of interesting especially as Anthony Hopkins was in that one too. I don't know it actually added a link to that remake or detracted a bit from this one. Either way it's a done deal.

The Victorian setting is something that I'm still trying to get my head around. On the one hand, it looks quite good but, on the other, the actors don't really get into it. I just found them all to be very modern. Again I need to mention the recent Robert Downey "Sherlock Holmes" movie as it suffers from the same thing. Maybe it's the pacing or lack of atmosphere. Both can be tarred with the same brush and both are just sort of "there". You just can't get into the "world" of these films because it is just dressing and doesn't have any substance to it. Period pieces need to have a lot more to them than just costumes and locations. "Superficial" is the word I'm struggling for. You can also add "shallow", "vacuous", or just plain "empty" to the list. Even the low-budget Hammer films from the 50s did Victorian England so much better.

Anyway, I actually enjoyed "The Wolfman" overall. It's not perfect but it wasn't a bad remake. It's sort of pointless and won't be remembered except by people who prefer Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" movies to the originals. I just wish that it had been the most incredible werewolf movie ever made but it sadly wasn't.

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