Title: The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine Chaplin, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt
Every once in a while Universal Studios will want to update one of their classics and usually when they do, they make sure that their classics are handled in the proper fashion they deserve. After all, they are classics. This careful remaking of their classics has led to some truly great films in the hands of some great directors like Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stokers Dracula (1992) and Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994). Two great “classy” remakes for two of Universal Studios most iconic monsters. Then came Stephen Sommers The Mummy (1999) which enjoyed huge box office success as well. But what of The Wolfman? Why was it not remade during that wave of remakes that occurred during the 90’s? Truth is most movie studios are afraid of werewolf movies. With the rare exception (like An American Werewolf in London) werewolf movies aren’t that big at the box office. Still, somebody in Universal Studios decided the time was nigh for a remake of The Wolfman, the classic horror film that was released in 1941 with Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular character. So, how did it turn out?
On this one, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) is a renowned theater actor that returns home due to his brothers death at the hands of a wild animal. He wants to further investigate what happened to his brother, because as it stands, it’s not quite clear exactly how he died. So, Lawrence decides to visit the area where his brother’s body was found and starts asking questions. Too bad for him that a werewolf is on the prowl and savagely attacks him that night! Now he is infected with the curse and will soon turn into a werewolf himself! Will he be able to contain the beast within? Will the town’s people allow him to continue living?
So that’s the basic premise of the film. If you saw the original, then you should know how this one goes, but I will tell you this; this remake has some interesting twists and turns that I was not expecting. It’s a remake alright, but like any good remake, it goes in a different direction so as to not show us the same exact film we already saw before and that’s what I loved about this one! It complicates things even further. It’s not just a story about a guy who gets bitten by a werewolf and starts killing people. There’s drama here! There’s conflict that doesn’t just come from the battle between man and his animal side there is more to this film then that. I won’t go into it though because I don’t want to spoil the fun, but this movie is far more complex then its 1941 counterpart. What we have here is quite possibly one of the best werewolf movies ever made! I am not exxagerating when i say this, The Wolfman is at the top of the list as far as werewolf movies go in my book. It covers everything that a good werewolf movie should have, the story of a common man who is suddenly confronted with the prospect of turning into a savage killing machine when the full moon comes out. We see the mans struggle with his inner beast and we see him struggle with the consequences of his actions. It has the right ambiance and atmosphere, it has the perfect tone. As a werewolf movie, it left this horror fan extremely satasfied!
Since this is one of Universal Studio’s most important horror films (along with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy) this film was obviously treated with extra special care. By that I mean that you can see the money on the screen. You can see those 85 million dollars they spent on art direction and special effects. This isn’t one of those movies where the film is said to have cost more then 100 million to make and you don’t see them on the screen. This film had lavish production values and sets. It makes the film that much more believable and that much more enjoyable to watch. The mansion in which Lawrence and his father live in is one spooky joint! Gigantic stairways, huge windows, dark lonely hallways, lots of taxidermy on the walls, animal horns, the place was extremely spooky looking. There are a couple of scenes that take place inside of an insane asylum, great set there as well! I really enjoyed the fact that this film is the quintessential classic horror film with all the elements required to make it classic. The atmosphere for example (much like its 1941 counterpart) is non stop! The fog doesn’t seem to stop rolling, the dead woods, the wolf howls, the full moons, the clouds, the spooky mansion, it’s all here! Then there is the muisc done by non other then the great Danny Elfman! I cant believe they actually had a problem with his score at one point. The guys music on this movie was pitch perfect. And its constant. In that way, this movie reminded me of horror films of old where music seems to dominate the whole film. They really made sure that this film felt like a horror film.
Aside from being influenced by Universal’s own 1941 version of The Wolfman, I picked up influences from various other werewolf movies like for example John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London (1981). There’s this chaotic scene in which the werewolf is set loose on the city streets, which was similar in tone and pace to that same chaotic sequence in An American Werewolf in London in wich the werewolf goes on a killing spree on the streets of London. There was another scene in which Lawrence Talbot walks into a Tavern and all the towns people begin to talk about the werewolf, which was similar to the same scene in An American Werewolf in London when the two American kids walk into the “Slaughtered Lamb” and the locals fill them in on the whole werewolf myth. But then again, that same scene stems from older horror films, like the Hammer films. In a Hammer film, the good guys always walk into a tavern in which everyone is scared of the monster. Similar scenes on this new version of The Wolfman reminded me of that.
The Werewolf transformations do not dissapoint!
And what about the werewolf transformations? The transformations were something that I’m sure a lot of horror fans are worried about. They are always a key sequence in any good werewolf film and should always blow the audience away. A lot of us keep thinking of how awful the marriage of CGI and werewolf transformations can be (scenes of Wes Craven’s Cursed (2005) come to mind) so with this new movie there was always that question of “will they get it right?” Well, I’m happy to inform you guys that yes, they did get it right. They successfully used the blend of CGI animation and actual make up effects work to convincingly bring the wolfman to life. Make up effects legend Rick Baker was the man involved in doing the make up effects work. As some of you may know, he handled the legendary werewolf transformations in An American Werewolf in London. Before this remake, there was no film that ever topped that transformation sequence. It’s always held the top spot as one of the best transformation sequences ever on any film. Well, I just saw The Wolfman, and I think that transformation sequence might just have found a contender! The transformation sequence are fantastic! The detail on these transformations is astounding, you can see the bones stretching, the skin stretching, the teeth emerging from the gums; astounding stuff! Beautiful marriage of computer effects and make up work. The film does not disappoint on this aspect, in fact, to be honest, this movie didn’t disappoint on any aspect as far as I’m concerned.
Joe Johnston is not one of those directors which has a distinctive style. His films are not instantly recognizable. Usually, Johnston’s films are fun, lighthearted and fall into the PG or PG-13 category; examples of this are Johnston’s Honey! I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Rocketeer (1991). To me Johnston is the go to guy for making a Hollywood film that plays by the rules, plays it safe. No artsy fartsy risky business here. He is the kind of director who will direct a film, tell the story, and follow the rules set by the studio. He is not what I would call a trouble maker of a director. This guy plays ball with the studio execs and makes the movie they want to see. And for The Wolfman, which is a film Universal Studios obviously cares much about, Joe Johnston was a good choice. At first I didn’t think it was a good choice at all, I thought someone edgier would have been more appropriate. But this movie proved me wrong! Plus, when we consider that Brett Ratner could have ended up directing this film, well, we should just start counting our blessing shouldnt we? Johnston’s visual effects background was perfect for this kind of fx heavy film. That, plus this wolfman movie has its werewolf balls firmly in place! Or nards as “Horace” from the Monster Squad would say.
This movie does not disappoint when it comes to graphic depictions of gore and violence! Thankfully, this film is a hard “R” which means it doesn’t pussy out on the gore. And it’s true, the film does not hold out on us in this aspect. When the wolfman appears, heads do role! And so do arms and limbs and anything else you can imagine. The wolfman on this movie is very violent, very much the murderous killing machine he is supposed to be. Thanks to the advancement on visual effects, we are able to follow the wolfman as he jumps from rooftop to rooftop, we follow him on his bloody killing spree. And it does get incredibly bloody! So be ready for that! Johnston does show some style in a choice nightmare sequence that I loved, be on the look out for that. So Johnston as a director handled his chores well, giving us a film that gives us the classic Universal horror film we and the studio were expecting but with just enough of an edge to keep things interesting.
As a final note, the cast was superb. As is expected of an important Universal production like this one, the cast is filled with 'class A' oscar nominated actors. Benicio del Toro has always been solid for me (21 Grams anyone?) and on this one he exceeds. He isn’t your typical good looking Hollywood model. His got this roughness to him, which of course was perfect for this role. Anthony Hopkins excels. He is the actor that studios go to when they want to give their films a bit of class, and this film is definitely a classy horror film. His character is one of the most interesting ones in the film playing the role of the guy who knows all about “the curse”. Kind of like the Van Helsing character in the Dracula movies, but with a twist. Hugo Weaving plays a smart and direct cop; his performance was one of the most enjoyable ones in the film as well. And finally, Emily Blunt has her moment to shine somewhere around the films last frames. Everyone did a commendable job, no complaints here.
In conclusion, this film does not disappoint in the least! In fact, the film excelled my expectations! The pacing is perfect, there is not a dull moment in sight, something exciting is happening all the time. The film has that classy horror film vibe to it, it’s got excellent make up effects, performances, and Joe Johnston did a great job directing it. It is a film that I’m sure will not disappoint horror fans in any sense of the word. It treats the classic film with respect, while taking things on a completely different route! Without a doubt in my mind, an excellent remake, and one of the best werewolf films I have seen.
Rating: 5 out of 5