Saturday, September 4, 2010

Woof. New Wolfman Movie is a Dog

The Wolfman (2010)

Even a filmmaker who is pure of heart
and calls his agent by night
may release a stinker
when the script is not right

This latest remake/reimagining/re-what-have-you, this time of the 1941 Universal Monsters classic The Wolf Man, is a long, bloated tired affair. It has terrific production design and photography - many scenes almost appear black and white - but I cared not one bit (or is that bite?) for the story and characters.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) is an traveling stage actor estranged from his family, father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins, proving he will never get another Oscar nomination) and brother Ben (Simon Merrells). After Ben goes missing one foggy moonlit night, his fiancé Gwen (the luminous Emily Blunt) contacts Lawrence asking for his help. So Lawrence packs his tights and skull (he was playing Hamlet) and travels back to the old manse, with all its creepy vines, cobwebs and thousands of candles (Sir John must own a wax works factory).

Soon after he starts poking around the local Gypsy camp, Lawrence encounters the monster and is quickly bitten. Now he is—cursed! Hoooowwwwlllllll!

I wasn’t kidding that this is a very slow, deliberate movie. I wouldn’t have minded if that slowness was to build up toward the shocking moments, but that’s not the case. They pretty much show the werewolf in the first few minutes of the movie (way to build suspense). And then Wolfie keeps popping up in Larry’s dreams, so the director and his editor can splice in a split second image of the wolfman. After the third time this happened I gave up. There’s no real shocks or scares in the movie, so what’s the point of it all? The atmosphere is great, thanks to production designer Rick Heinrichs and some splendidly gothic English location work, and cinematographer Shelly Johnson, but if there is no story, I'd rather be looking at still pictures of all these amazing backdrops. One quibble is the constant ground level spotlights illuminating dark forests and such - where the frak is this light supposedly coming from? It's not from the full moon, and campfires don't cast beams like this. It simply draws attention to itself as an artificial means to create atmosphere; it's just silly.

The characters often stand around looking depressed, save for Hopkins and his occasional mad glint. The most interesting character is Singh (Art Malik), Sir John’s Sikh Indian servant. He comes across as a man who has seen a lot, perhaps too much, and is holding back on telling Lawrence something vitally important. The characters don't connect in this movie; they're all individuals living a solitary existence. Lawrence and Gwen eventually fall for each other, but the movie doesn’t convey their romance very well, which is a shame because the end of the movie kind of rests on that fact.

Joe Johnston, a veteran of George Lucas’ ILM visual effects company and director of such fun fare as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer and October Sky is an odd choice to direct a gothic monster movie, especially one with as much blood and decapitations as this one (I watched the unrated DVD). In a monster movie, the kills needs to be inventive, but that’s not the case here. I think any of the Friday the 13th movies had more creative whackings in them. I expect more from Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote Se7en, but perhaps co-writer David Self rewrote all the interesting murders leaving behind this dull stuff.

There is also a long chase across the London rooftops and it’s much ado about nothing, which is a pity coming from a director, who I believe, had a hand in storyboarding the legendary truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Computer Generated visual effects, especially involving the Wolfman, looked like CGI, which is a shame because when you hire a make up artist of Rick Baker’s caliber but you then go a route that has literally been trampled with pixels why hire Baker at all? He merely won an Oscar for one of the most memorable onscreen transformation sequences ever - and it was for An American Werewolf in London! Oh, irony. Who cares about another CGI morphing transformation sequence? When the CGI Wolfman figure starts running and leaping about it looks like an silly animated cartoon, which takes us out of the movie.

Watch the original Wolf Man or any of its sequels for a far better time.

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