The Wolfman is a remake of the 1941 classic horror film of the same name. Directed by Joe Johnston, the film stars Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving and Geraldine Chaplin.
The original, iconic film was made in 1941, and was written by Curt Siodmak, and produced and directed by George Waggner. It starred Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. ‘The Wolfman’ had a great deal of influence on Hollywood's depictions of the legend of the werewolf ever since. The film was the second Universal Pictures werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful ‘Werewolf of London.’ Needless to say, this re-make had big shoes to fill, as for a lot of horror fans, especially old school horror fans, ‘The Wolfman’ is like ‘Dracula’ to vampire movies; it set a lot of the werewolf mythology and still has a huge beloved fan base.
Previews of the movie looked strong, the original film, though now very dated and unknown to some, is iconic, and I had very high expectations in going to see this movie, especially considering the strong cast.
Set in the 1880s, the film keeps the plotline of the original, with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) reuniting with his father (Anthony Hopkins) following the disappearance of his brother. Lawrence Talbot's childhood ended the night his mother tragically died. After, he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget the place, but when his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. Talbot learns that something has been killing the villagers, and that a Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving) has come to investigate. As he pieces together the puzzle, he hears of an ancient curse from the travelling gypsy’s, that turns the afflicted into werewolves when the moon is full.
Despite the strong cast and a storyline basically mapped out for director, by the original, ‘The Wolfman’ was a huge disappointment. Not only in the fact that the film was actually quite boring, but the dreary tone and colour of the film matched Benicio Del Toro’s lack luster performance. The character of Talbort, like in all werewolf movies, but especially this film, should have carried with him a huge sense of tragedy, being cursed by not only his life, but by becoming a werewolf. Del Toro fails to capitalize on this completely, and the audience not only doesn’t relate to the character, they don’t sympathize or even really care about him. As the lead in such an important genre film, the casting of Del Toro fails dismally. Even after being bitten by the wolf, when the character is meant to be feeling invigorated and his senses higher; Del Toro still saps around the place as he does throughout, as if he cares about nothing and no-one. There is no passion for the vengeance of his brother or his love and attraction for Gwen. In the original, Lon Chaney Jr. defined the character of Talbot by his desperation and resolve to hold on to his humanity, something that helped the 1941 classic stand the test of time to this day.
The effects, which I expected to be outstanding, were terrible, and were a throwback to the makeup design used in the original 1941 movie. The only things that really transformed, with the use of far too much poor CGI, were the werewolf’s feet and hands; leaving Del Toro looking at us with a very unthreatening hairy face, which may have scared in 1941, but just doesn’t cut it in 2010. The effect looked rather comical in comparison to the fantastic transformation scenes audiences have witnessed in ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981) and ‘The Howling’ (1981) – which were both filmed well over twenty years ago; and were superb and menacing in comparison. The transformation scene from human to werewolf should have been amazing given the budget and knowledge the film-makers had of the genre, but the director didn’t even make a spectacle of it. In fact, the only effects that were really well done, were blood and guts, which there was quite a lot of, and was surprising considering its 15 rating here in the U.K. On a positive note, we were witness to the creature’s amazing stealth and ferocity when he attacked and took down large groups, but this was too few and far between.
The occasional full-moon set piece was atmospheric, and two strong action scenes’s, including a horrific attack on a Gypsy camp and an awe inspiring rampage in the streets of old London are outstandingly effective, but that’s really all the audience is given in terms of action. The Gypsy camp is beautiful, and the characters there, which were the most interesting, were all simply thrown away in a short, blink and you’ll miss it, action scene. This setting and these characters could have given the film some much needed colour and magic.
Poor pacing left me feeling bored through a lot of the movie, and the only characters which stood out (in a stellar cast) were two very strong performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. Hopkins, starring as the sadistic father to Talbort was superb and stole the show, relishing in his cruelty and emotional distance. Blunt, who played the love interest, Gwen, was the only other actor to light up the screen with good delivery of her lines and a solid performance in which she showed her strong acting skills, as her passion and love for Talbort did come across well.
The cinematography was strong in places, and at times the scenery and shots were beautiful, creating a fantastic feel for old England. The settings were also atmospheric and fitting to the film, as was the wardrobe, which the character of Gwen got to show off quite beautifully. Danny Elfman’s score was another highlight, although it wasn’t as strong as his other works. In fact, the film was far too much style over substance for the most part. While being atmospheric and polished, it greatly lacked the enthusiasm, strong storyline, and performances of the original, and many other werewolf movies that followed. There was no foreboding, or even fear, as the wolf was about to take over. There was no pity for the lead character – which is essential in a werewolf movie, and so the entire film fell flat.
Many horror fans will look for the best in this film, as their fondness for the character will want to, but they’ll have to look very hard. There were talks that the film was in trouble (from Universal) with many factors; including problems with the director, composer and release dates, and it evidently shows in the final product.
Sadly, a huge disappointment and another re-make which falls flat in comparison to the original, in this case, even one which could have benefitted from a re-make fails dismally.