The Wolfman

Courtesy of Universal Studios

The Wolfman is the first installment of what has been dubbed as the year of the werewolf as 2009 was the celebration of the vampire . The awesome force that is Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins & Hugo Weaving grace our screens with the additional easy on the eyes Emily Blunt as the damsel in distress box checked.   It is a re-envisioning of George Waggner s 1941 noir classic of the same name, with the troublesome yet satisfactory Joe Johnston behind the camera ( the man responsible for Jurassic Park III but ultimately from a rich heritage with the Lucas- Spielberg posse).

Johnston s take has been riddled in production problems of all natures ranging from poor C.G.I, re-shoots, re-scripting, with ultimately both the filmmakers and the production company pushing back the release date from early 2009 to early 2010 to enhance the film in every conceivable way, but unfortunately although there is copious amounts of impressive work throughout, ultimately the film is hollow and the extra work has only exasperated the problem rather than solved it, if not, made it worse as it becomes more evident the effects of the editing room in the flow of the finished product.

However, the films purpose as fundamentally a horror is to scare, and yes I was scared, not as much as perhaps a valid horror film should, but certainly enough to justify. Horror is a genre of few masterpieces and many b-movies, when it is executed rightly it can be as masterful as any other, but with the slightest flaws, unlike most other genres it cannot rely on any other additional credentials. The story is simple enough; Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a young begotten son who is forced to return home in light of his brother s mysterious disappearance. The mighty Hopkins plays Sir John Talbot, Lawrence s uniquely challenging father, who proves sustainably intriguing throughout, especially in the various exchanges with his returning prodigal son . Hugo Weaving is also later welcomed as Francis Aberline, chief inspector of the mysterious beast and disappearing case that has haunted the little village of Blackmoor, completing the staunching rich cast, which uplifts this film from a bargain bin Paul Ross wonder to a semi-respectable and satisfactory horror flick.

The film is heavily indebted both to the original and especially to John Landis 1981 An American Werewolf in London; also I couldn t help thinking of the beginning to Michael Jackson s eminent Thriller video, but certainly it manages to represent a welcome retreat from the likes of Michael J.Fox s Teen Wolf. The transformation scenes in particular crystallize its debt to Wagner & Landis, and attempt to bring it into the 21st century with additional C.G.I, which unfortunately doesn t quite cut the biscuit, but at the same time is still quite awe-inspiring if not as revolutionary as its predecessors. The film is especially bloody, which of course if not meditated can be a huge negative, but it works in favour for Johnston, in that his ability to exercise just enough savage violence to make it exciting rather than silly, keeps the audience on their toes.

Benicio is especially apt for the role as he is somewhat wolf like and dominating with his uniquely odd appearance, which has played in his favour in previous films such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hopkins is almost as crazed as Hannibal Lector in his deliverance and tangents, and Weaving plays like an unmasked V for Vendetta/Agent Smith in his stringent presence. All of this combined with an eerie 18th century look at both the folklore of the werewolf and ethereal yet unnerving nature of both the Yorkshire moors and the especially disturbing look inside a Victorian mental institution; create ingredients of a pretty enjoyable movie experience.

If you can over look some poor script writing, some dodgy C.G.I, a pinch of ill-edited shoddiness, a drop of Hollywood predictability and some of the inevitable conventions being demonstrated, you will see that there is a masterpiece here, it just was given such a make-over with some bad decisions that instead we have a good film rather than a brilliant one. It will scare you and excite you, but it won t challenge you or compel you in search of another meaning or viewing.

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