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“The Wolfman”- {Blu-ray}-(Wayne)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Universal
Genre:
Horror
Release Date:
6/01/10
Special Features:

Blu-ray Live streamed version of 1941 film “The Wolf Man” starring Lon Chaney, Jr., , U-Control PIP video/commentary/interviews, alternate endings, deleted/extended scenes, “Return of the Wolfman, “The Beast Maker”, “Transformation Secrets”, “The Wolfman Unleashed”, Digital version of the movie for itunes, computer

Review:

Universal decided to have a bit of the hair of the dog that bit them…from 70 years ago. “The Wolf Man” was a major hit for Universal at a time during the 40’s when the studio needed them. Based on a screen story and screenplay by Curt Sidomak, “The Wolf Man” had all the elements of a Greek tragedy built into a shaggy dog story and the studio has retained the most important elements for its remake which if not flawless is always entertaining with just the right balance of gore, tragic drama and camp. ***

Long estranged from his wealthy father actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicia Del Toro)returns for his brother’s funeral at the invitation of his brother’s fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) who grew suspicious of his death. While out hunting a beast that had been killing people and livestock Talbot’s brother was torn apart. Lawrence returns to find his father (Anthony Hopkins who plays a variation on the eccentric family patriarchs he has played recently) seems on the verge of losing his mind and the deaths attract the attention of a sharp Scotland Yard detective Averline(Hugo Weaving excellent as always). When Lawrence is himself is attacked by the beast as he tries to save a group of gypsies. Infected by the creature Lawrence himself turns into a werewolf roaming the countryside and attacking others. Captured by Detective Averline and returned to a London asylum (in one of the best sequences in the film) because he is believed to be insane, Averline finds that even the prison of the asylum can’t keep Lawrence from escaping. ***

Joe Johnston’s remake piles on the moody atmosphere but due to 11th hour reshoots and re-edits is wildly inconsistent; the film isn’t sure if it was to be a gore fest or a moody horror character study focusing on insanity, repression and alienation. The theatrical release went through a massive re-edit to move the action up to the second act of the film and while that might have been some audience members from getting antsy it also undermined the film giving it a choppy, lurching structure. The Blu-ray release allows Johnston to restore the footage cut from the original theatrical version and those 16 minutes of additional footage adds quite a bit of character development and back story which enhances the film. The film has a more organic structure and flows better even if the action involving Lawrence’s transformation into the Wolf Man for the first time is delayed and pushed into the third act of the film. Surprisingly, moving much of the action to the third and fourth acts provides added benefits and the first two acts are anything but dull allowing us a glimpse into the dysfunctional family that Lawrence left behind when he moved to America. ***

The introduction of Detective Aveline proves to be a valuable plot device as a character but isn’t developed as well as he should be allowing the story to move to much more populated London and also to add colorful commentary throughout the film. It also allows director Johnston to tackle a stunning set piece involving the creatures escape from the asylum and the pursuit through the streets of turn-of-the-century London. For a mainstream winter tent pole movie “The Wolf Man” mixes the gothic atmosphere with a surprising amount of blood and gore. “The Wolf Man” fits right in with the gory horror flicks that have been released within the past decade but still manages to retain a sense of style and occasional touches of wit. ***

The main flaw of the film is, unfortunately, also what should have been one of the main strengths; Del Toro’s restrained, repressed performance as Lawrence works early on but one gets the sense that as his life begins to spiral out of control that Del Toro should have begun to chew some of the scenery a bit more and Hopkins as delightfully campy as his performance occasionally is should have been restrained a bit more. The secret weapon (aside from Weaving) of the film is Emily Blunt’s emotionally centered performance. Unfortunately there’s zero chemistry between her and Del Toro which makes the perfunctory romance between them almost an afterthought and unbelievable; I had a hard time figuring out beyond Lawrence’s tortured, stunted emotional life what Gwen might see in Lawrence. In the uncut version we get a glimmer but the lack of chemistry between the two stars sabotages much of this effort to establish a romantic link that will be important to the conclusion of the film. ***

The good news about the uncut version (which is included here along with the theatrical cut via seamless branching) is that the pacing, the atmospheric photography and even the performances shine because the focus isn’t on getting to the first transformation scene for Lawrence but on establishing a sense of foreboding and mystery. It’s a pity that Universal chose to go with the recommendations of preview audiences in their re-edit of the film since the preview audience members were universally wrong; the original edit worked perfectly even if it wasn’t exactly what was advertised in the previews (what is?). The uncut version is a vastly superior and good film besting the original theatrical cut in almost all areas.

Special Features:

“The Beat Maker” focuses on make -up artist Rick Baker who designed the elaborate make up and contributed to the transformation scenes. “Transformation Secrets” focuses on the use of CGI and make up to create the sequences in the film. The transformation scenes and make up done by Rick Baker are spectacular. If the film leans a bit too much on CGI for the transformation scenes, they are used sparingly enough in close up to not wear out their welcome. ***

“Return of the Wolfman” focuses on the story itself and the performances as well as the relationship between Lawrence and his father and how that plays into the story. ***

“The Wolfman Unleashed” gives us behind-the-scenes footage and discussion the stunts used throughout the film in particular the challenge of the running sequences as the creature moves from running on two legs to legs and arms. ***

We also get a Blu-ray live streamed version of “The Wolfman” which looks quite nice. It doesn’t have the crisp presentation of a Blu-ray nor does it look quite as good as a DVD but it’s an improvement over most streamed video and I didn’t have any problems with the picture or audio freezing up as I watched this. It’s pulled directly from Universal’s website. I would have preferred a Blu-ray or DVD version of the movie instead but Universal is planning on eventually reissuing the original “The Wolf Man” on Blu-ray so it is understandable that they wouldn’t want to include it here. ---

Final Words:

“The Wolfman” is as flawed as its characters but it is a moody, gory mess of a movie that is enjoyable. The uncut version is stronger than the herky-jerky edit that appeared in theaters although fans impatient for the killing to begin will have to wait until the beginning of the third act for most of the mayhem.

 

 
 
 
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