Who Let the Werewolf Out?
Universal Studios is fortunate to have a vault of classic horror films available for remaking/rebooting, re-imagining -- you fill in the blank. From the silent classic Phantom of the Opera to the Golden Era of Frankenstein and Dracula down to the late 40s when the Universal monsters became caricatures of themselves and into the 1950s monster revival, Universal had a lock on the horror/monster movie market. Among my favorites? The Wolf Man series starring Lon Chaney, Jr., who played Lawrence Talbot, one of horrorís great antiheroes. A killer Talbot may be, but the audience sympathized with this man whose disastrous life owed nothing to personal flaws or evil intent of his own but rather due to a cruel curse, a legacy of his troubled family. Talbotís humanity is as integral a part of the story as the wolf make-up/transformation scenes.
Sadly, director Joe Johnston (Hidalgo) and screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self overlooked that part of the story in the 2010 remake starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. The Wolfman may be faithful to the original, but some tweaks and changes add nothing to improve the story. The characters and action have been transported from the 1940s to Victorian era England. On hearing of his brotherís death, prodigal son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) Ė now an acclaimed stage actor -- returns home to Blackmoor for the first time since the death of his mother when he was a child. There to greet him are his eccentric, secretive father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), his late brotherís fiancť Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), and faithful family servant Singh (Art Malik).
While trying to solve his brotherís murder, Lawrence is bitten by a mysterious beast thatís been terrorizing Blackmoor. He soon discovers -- to his horror -- that the bite has cursed him to morph into a ravenous wolf when the moon is full.
This Wolfman will probably appeal to audience members whose attention is hard to capture and hold, to viewers who like their horror movies fast and furious and bloody -- the latter for once not an issue for me here. The action moves quickly, and film is full of impressive camera work and visual effects -- particularly the riveting man-to-wolf transformation sequences -- which are the central attractions for any werewolf saga. And the set designers and cinematographer excelled in crafting a suitably creepy atmosphere. The visuals reflect a mood of pessimism, hopelessness, and melancholy. Poor Blackmoor manor seems like a swampy, Victorian country estate on the verge of sinking into oblivion. The manorís decay symbolizes the decay of the Talbot family and perhaps even of the Victorian age as England faces a new century.
However, even with these items marked off on the horror checklist, The Wolfman emerges as an unsatisfying viewing experience. The performances are generally disappointing. For a cursed man fated to kill people, Del Toro seems remarkably unconcerned -- he appears wooden and distant. Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberdine looks like heís mugging for the camera. Even Hopkins, though eerily sinister as the Talbot patriarch, delivers an over-the-top performance, though admittedly one fun to watch. Only Blunt, as the grieving Gwen who falls in love with Talbot, comes across as believable and truly invested in the story.
Another problem concerns the script and the pacing. Johnston rushes through the proceedings as if a werewolf was snapping at his heels. Gwen and Lawrence develop feelings for each other, but nothing on screen convinces me of that fact. And some of the story changes/additions puzzled me. For example, here Lawrence is an actor Ė why I donít know. Thereís a brief segment showing him performing a scene from Hamlet on stage. Are the filmmakers trying to draw a parallel between the two characters? If so, they are wildly off the mark. What Hamlet -- a man whose character defect wreaks havoc all over Denmark -- has to do with Lawrence, a victim of fate, is beyond me.
Still, the biggest problem with The Wolfman involves the filmmakersí disregard for Lawrenceís moral dilemma. All the cinematic bells and whistles are fine, but what of Lawrenceís humanity, guilt, self-recrimination, and wish for a liberating death? Life, and the nasty Sir John, deal him a cruel blow. How does a moral man react when he knows heís fated to murder innocent people not on one occasion, but on every night of a full moon? Lawrence is a doomed character, a tragic antihero, not your traditional monster. The filmmakers give lip service to this tragic turn of events, but donít bother to explore it. Without the element of Lawrenceís humanity, thereís little here to care about.
(Released by Universal Studios and rated ďRĒ for bloody horror violence and gore.)
Review also posted at www.moviebuffs.com.