Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

I've got to say, I was really looking forward to this one. With Twilight girlifying vampires and the internet ruining zombies for everybody, werewolves have yet to be fucked over by popular culture (Teen Wolf Too aside). The trailer made it look great, a modern twist on the classic Universal movie with a gothic atmosphere and an awesome cast, but I became more wary as details of the troubled production began to leak out. The director Mark Romenek left due to "creative differences", the movie went through a substantial re-write. Joe Johnston, a director with a history of solid but unmemorable blockbusters such as Hidalgo, Jurassic Park III and Jumanji, was brought in to clean up the mess. Danny Elfman was kicked off the project and replaced with Paul Haslinger, then brought back in again to work in his original score (I don't know why since Elfman has been coasting on his reputation for years now). The release date was pushed back again and again.

With all these behind-the-scenes shenanigans, it's not surprising that the film turns out to be a bit of a dog's breakfast. The constant re-working is evident right from the beginning, as it burns through about twenty minutes worth of backstory in a couple of minutes. Our protagonist, American ex-patriot and famous stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), doesn't get much of an introduction at all, his prescence is explained only through a short montage and some voiceover narration. Talbot has been called back to his home estate in Blackmoor after his brother turns up the latest victim in a spate of grisly killings. He is re-united with his weirdo estranged father John (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother's widow, whose name I have already forgotten (Emily Blunt). While investigating his brother's death at a gypsy camp he is attacked by a werewolf and cursed himself.

Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) is sent in from Scotland Yard to investigate the killings, and while Talbot is busy tearing bloody chunks out the villagers it seems the producers were hard at work tearing chunks out of the script. They must have been scared about audiences getting bored, because the movie lurches from one action sequence to the next with barely any time to get to know the characters or establish an atmosphere. Talbot's slow tranformation into a beast, the focus of the original film, is glossed over with a montage and a couple of cheap jump scares (I knew they were desperate when they pulled the elusive double jump scare). None of the performances are interesting or believable and Talbot and The Woman fall in love seemingly out of convenience. There is also a pretty stupid twist about halfway through that doesn't do anything except allow the producers to check the "wolf-on-wolf fight scene" box on their checklist.

The movie isn't completely devoid of merit, the cinematography is fantastic for starters, and sometimes a much better movie shines through. My favourite scene was when Talbot is accused of the murders and shipped off to an insane asylum in London. Once again my love of spooky, old-timey asylums is indulged as Dr. Hoenneger (Anthony Sher) tries to cure his "delusions" by repeatedly dunking him in icewater. Then he tries to prove Talbot's psychosis is unfounded by strapping him to a chair in a packed observation room on the night of the full moon. You can imagine how well that goes, and soon Talbot is going on an American Werewolf in London style rampage through Victorian London. Apparently they couldn't decide whether he would move on four legs or two until very late in the production, so in the end he does a little bit of both.

Del Toro was an interesting choice for the main character as he is practically a werewolf already. Give him some fangs and put a dab of shoe polish on the end of his nose and you're pretty much there. Rick Baker did the makeup effects, and although he could probably do these kind of effects in his sleep by now he does a great job. They went with CG effects for the transformation scenes, which is a little disappointing (American Werewolf in London is still the best transformation scene of all time) and although I heard a few complaints about dodgy computer effects I must have low standards because I think they were great. It looked really painful, with lots of cracking bones. Also, the movie is a lot more gory than I was expecting. There are disembowellings, decapations, limb amputations and spraying blood galore. More Hammer than Universal, really.

Maybe I'm being a bit too hard on this film. I appreciated the gothic production design and the fact that they played things straight and didn't pull some goofy bullshit like The Mummy. There's good old-fashioned cinematography where they actually point the camera at the thing you want to see without shaking it around or cutting away. The gore was good too. I suppose after just watching Shutter Island (which I'm liking more and more every time I think about it) I was hoping for something a little more slow-burn and atmospheric. Still, it could have been a lot worse (eg Van Helsing). Hell, I've heard that this version was too slow for some people, so I should probably count my blessings. I'll probably watch it again on DVD, since I'm hoping a director's cut will alleviate some of the problems.

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