Wolfman (2010)
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Wolfman (2010)

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There are many stories and themes that deserve to be revisited at least every generation or so. Usually they come from classic literature, mythology or are so ingrained in the human experience that their themes transcend most cultures and societies. Remakes have always been a natural part movie making but it seems that recently remakes and the typically dreaded re-imagining’ has largely replaced originality. Having been a staunch fan of movies for half a century I have seen most of the original versions of films that are just being redone now. In most occasions the remake is a pale echo of the original. One of the latest re-imaginings is a take on one of my favorites from back when I was a kid; ‘The Wolman’. I grew up with the classic 1941 version starring Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and in the title role Lon Chaney Jr. these were actors that help create the Universal Pictures golden age of horror flicks that we lovingly referred to as monster movies. The original film started an extremely successful franchise that interacted with other monster greats as ‘Dracula’ and the ‘Frankenstein Monster’. The new version features a strong, versatile cast and modern special effects but it is devoid the heart and even charm of the original. The new film comes across as far more sizzle than steak; a technical marvel that lacks the humanity required making it as a classic horror film. The topic of shape changing or the expression of the animalistic aspect of a human being appears in most cultures and does qualify as one of the conditions previously mention to justify a remake but one element that is missing is allowing this generation to put their own twist on the story. By attempting to stay closer to the original than usually done it precluded any opportunity to bring the story into our film culture condemning this version to being a mediocre rehashing. This may sound strange since many find it reassuring to see something familiar but if you want to see this variation of the story do yourself a favor and watch the 1941 edition.

What is somewhat puzzling is the script has a lot of potential and was created by a couple of authors with a proven track record. Andrew Kevin Walker was a writer ‘Sleepy Hollow’, ‘Se7en’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow’ while David Self authored ‘Thirteen Days’ and ‘Road to Perdition’. Most of their prior works were notable and well received. Part of where this screenplay went off course is the decision to make it a period piece set towards the end of the nineteenth century. This placed it square in comparison with a vast number of traditional Gothic horror flicks. Perhaps a more modern era vantage point could have provided a novel enough twist to make the film more interesting. Yes the potential for great scenery is better but at the sacrifice of novel character development. Most know the story by now. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is the prodigal son who is just returning home from America to his father’s luxurious estate. Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) is more than a bit traditional not completely at ease with Lawrence’s choice of professions; acting. The family home has fallen into a dishevel state with Sir John’s other son Ben (Simon Merrells) and his fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) were residing there until Ben met with an untimely demise apparently by a wild animal. This is one factor that does induce Lawrence to return back home. Lawrence vows to Gwen that he will discover what really happened and goes out to a Gypsy camp just outside the town. While there the camp is attacked by unnaturally viscous and strong wolf-like creature killing many and wounding Lawrence. He discovers that he has been bitten by a werewolf due to an ancient curse. When the full moon rises Lawrence turns into a wolf man. Following him is a police inspector Francis Aberline (Hugo Weaving) who is certain that foul play is afoot. Substantiating his suspicious is the fact that Lawrence’s nocturnal activities are rapidly becoming more intense and deadly.

The film may not make it with a novel plot but there are some aspects of the movie that gives the audience what they came to see. The special effects give the viewers the most viscerally effective transformation imaginable. It is the biggest jump in specially effects man-to-wolf transformation since the bone crunching change depicted in ‘American Werewolf in London’. In Blu-ray those scenes are absolutely incredible. There is a previously unimaginably incredible level of detail with a resultant greater realism. Unfortunately, a super clear picture with a vague, unfocused tale to tell is little more than a series of pretty pictures. Director Joe Johnston is beginning to find as solid voice stylistically. His previous films were strong enough with examples such as ‘Jumanji’, ‘October Sky’ and ‘Jurassic Park III’ and working up towards his next big franchise the much anticipated ‘Captain America’ and ‘Avengers’. This film is fairly straight forward leaning more towards fantasy and action than horror. If the horror component was better highlighted the film could have reflected some of the themes that made the original so great. Talbot is one of film’s greatest tragic monsters. He was transformed into a killer through no fault of his own. He has to contend with a dual natural of the civilized man and the primitive perfect killing machine; the wolf. This is akin to a literary classic ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde’. This level of emotional depth fails to gain a foot hold here.

Posted 05/15/2010

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