DIR: Joe Johnston • WRI: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self • PRO: Sean Daniel, Benicio Del Toro, Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn • DOP: Shelly Johnson • ED: Walter Murch, Dennis Virkler, Mark Goldblatt • DES: Rick Heinrichs • CAST: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
The chequered history of the making of The Wolfman has gone through a similar transformation as the full-mooned, hirsute beast himself. The film’s original director Mark Romanek headed for the moors just before shooting began and was never seen again. Scripts were slashed and rewritten, and Jumanji’s Joe Johnston appeared and took over the picture. Reshoots followed and the release date was rescheduled and last-minute re-edits took place. All of this shows on the screen as The Wolfman comes across as a pieced-together film of disjointed scenes with glaring tonal shifts that makes for unsatisfactory viewing – all sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.
The film stays close to George Waggner’s 1941 The Wolf Man, inspired by Curt Siodmak’s innovative writing and Lon Chaney Jnr.’s lead performance, but never comes near its suspense or charm.
Benicio Del Toro is surprisingly poor in the lead role of Lawrence, an American who returns to England to his father’s grand estate in 19th century Blackmoor, after his brother has been mysteriously clawed to death by a mysterious beast. There’s mystery afoot (or rather apaw). Lawrence promises his brother’s widow (Emily Blunt) that he’ll do everything in his power to get to the bottom of his death. Unfortunately this entails getting mangled by the mysterious beast; and so begins Lawrence’s moonlit walks on the wild side. Cue angry mob of villagers and ensuing carnage. All of this is presided over by Lawrence’ s father (Anthony Hopkins) – astronomer of the stars and wearer of luxurious bathrobes.
Del Toro abandons his usual mannerisms and plays it all as if his corset is too tight. His stiff delivery does the film no favours and the turgid dialogue doesn’t help matters. There’s no sense of the tragic hero in his performance. He never demonstrates the torment that comes with the knowledge of what is about to transpire. His anguish is more that of a kitten trying to catch running water, rather than that of a man riddled with werewolfitis. Anthony Hopkins does nothing more than make faces at the camera and reads through his lines with all the relish of a fast-food burger. Emily Blunt doesn’t do herself any favours and seems to traipse through the whole mess auditioning for the next Jane Austen adaptation.
The transformation scenes are uninvolving and serve no purpose other than to make you pine for the special effects of John Landis’ 1981 classic, An American Werewolf in London. The sequences are actually designed by the same make up effects wizard Rick Baker; but in this case rather than the fruits of physical labour being brought to the screen, it is all a bit of a CG unimpressive mess of cracking bones and sprouting hairs – like that guy you used to sit beside in school.
The film resorts to loud sudden scares in an effort to fulfil its horror billing and lacks any subtlety or dramatic tension. When the wolfman is on the rampage, disembodied limbs fly about the screen and the camera stumbles around the place as if the director himself had been caught in the crossfire of slashing claws. The cross cut editing tries too hard to impress.
It’s all a bit too serious. The film labours under its pretentious airs and graces and takes itself far too seriously. Granted, the film has a high production value and certainly looks great. The moors that you should always ‘stay away from’, but never do, are a sumptuous feast and lit skilfully to heighten its eerie elegance. But it’s all let down by the sense of disappointment at what could have been so much better.
If this film has any positive effects, its that it will encourage people to revisit Lon Chaney Jr. camping it up as the hapless victim of lycanthropy in the 1941 classic The Wolf Man.
As for this 2010 version – more turkey than wolf. Howl? I nearly slashed the seats with my false fingernails.
The Wolfman is released 12th Feb 2010