Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wolf's Bane

Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
2010 | USA | R | 102 mins

Aaaahhhhwoooooo! Everyone enjoys a good werewolf picture from time to time and we've been given many classics to that specific sub-genre in the monster movie cannon. From the original The Wolf Man from '41 to John Landis' transformation of the genre with An American Werewolf in London to even memorable one-liners from cult hits like The Monster Squad with "Wolfman's got nards!" We all love seeing that inner beast unleashed and mauling people's faces off and I'm sure we've all imagined looking up at a full moon and ourselves becoming some kind of teen wolf or other such variation. But it's been quite a while and many lunar cycles since we've actually had a good werewolf picture. I think the last good werewolf movie to hit the screens was the Canadian coming of age horror mash-up Ginger Snaps, and that was a good 10 years ago. And apparently, at least according to www.werewolf-movies.com, there have been some 81 werewolf movies released between Ginger Snaps and The Wolfman, and of those I can only think or 3 or 4 worth checking out. So now let's find out if Joe Johnston's first R-rated feature can reset that cycle, or will we have to wait another 10+ years before there's a full moon worth howling over.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his family estate in Blackmoor, England after hearing his brother Ben (Simon Merrells) has vanished. Upon arrival Ben's mauled body had been found in a ditch and the townsfolk believe it to be the work a dancing bear at a nearby gypsy camp. Lawrence is here to find the truth and ease his brother's lover Gwen's (Emily Blunt) loss, but along the way must battle his inner demons detailing his past with the death of his mother, his stay at a mental asylum, and his stone cold father Sir John Talbot (Sir Anthony Hopkins). But gypsy dancing bears are the least of the worry when superstition becomes fact and Lawrence is bitten by a werewolf. The townsfolk and Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) imprison Lawrence and take him back to London to prove the superstitions wrong and confirm insanity for all the recent murders, but with a full moon fast approaching there will be a werewolf in London!

Unfortunately this werewolf's teeth are dull and any attempts made to sink them in have been miscalculated. The main problem with this loose remake is pacing. The Wolfman sufferes horribly from creating any sense of dread or tension or suspense; scenes either run too long or too short for the audience to engage in either the characters or situations unfolding on screen. It just feels sloppily edited, which if you recognize the names attached in the editorial department is blasphamey! With Walter Murch and Dennis Virkler as the main editors and Mark Goldblatt serving as assistant editor you wouldn't believe they actually cut the film. How those behind the invisible cuts of The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day could chop The Wolfman up mystifies me. And then there are a few examples of terrible CGI involving a bear and an elk, but I won't even get into those... The film's problems don't just stem from post-production, but begin back in pre-production when the film was green lit.

The Wolfman officially began prep all the way back in 2006 and Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) and David Self's (The Haunting remake) script went through many rewrites. Even after countless tweaks they never ended up fleshing out an actual story, instead it seems more focused on the action which should be secondary to the story in these types of pictures since you're dealing with 'inner demons' so to speak. And when production was originally slated to start shooting they shuffled directors. Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) was first attached but dropped out over budget issues and ended up being replaced with Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) whom had never made an R-rated picture in his entire resume up until this point. And lastly to add to the production problems there were countless re-shoots. The film was supposed to hit theatres February of 2009 but because of the many changes its release was pushed back twice, first to November 2009 and then finally to February 2010. Just like the legend of lyncanthropy, The Wolfman appears cursed from the beginning.

With names like Benicio Del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins attached you'd at least hope that the acting can transport you, but here neither of them, nor the rest of the cast, can contribute to the audience engaging with their characters. Benicio is also not unfamiliar with playing a wolf-creature since he was Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee but here he is in fact lost under the make-up. If the film does have any redeeming qualities it is the wolfman make-up itself, which looks great, and the soundtrack (which almost got scraped as well during the re-cutting phase and replaced!) and the sheer fact that they did go R-rated with the violence. There's a ton of carnage and mauling on display and those particular scenes were a lot of fun, but towards the end the action gets a little ridiculous, especially the showdown between father and son where they fight pata a pata so to speak. I for one, and I'm not the only one, saw that twist within the first five minutes of the film.

Ultimately The Wolfman is not engaging. At times I found it actually quite boring and waiting for the moon to set and do wish they had fleshed out a decent story. Due to inept pacing the film lacks the bite it could have had and instead it hands you a silver bullet within the first few minutes. With all the problems that cursed its production unfortunatley there's no cure for this werewolf flick that ends up being pretty forgettable. Looks like we'll have to wait many more lunar cycles for a rebirth of the beast from within, so in the meantime rewatch the original version instead or just stick with the classics. Or if you want to watch an actually so-bad-it's-good werewolf flick, track down a copy of The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf. If only The Wolfman took a hint from that flick and had Sybil Danning added into the story and over their end credits would it maybe have been at least hilariously enjoyable.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist

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