Monday, February 15, 2010

The Wolfman: A mess of blood [or just a mess]

The Werewolf motif is one staple of the horror genre that Hollywood has not used to the point of near-exhaustion like Vampires or Zombies. So when a mainstream Werewolf movie is created, one tends to receive it with a greater anticipation.

Rather than create an entirely new take on the myth as say, Neil Marshall did with Dog Soldiers; director Joe Johnston set about recreating George Waggner's 1941 classic movie The Wolf Man. One has to be just as careful when retreading old ground when doing a remake of a classic as beloved as The Wolf Man because you could fall into one of two traps: One you could stay too much with the source material, and present something that reflects nothing more than a modernised tweaked version of the original. Or, you could try so hard to infuse so many new elements to differentiate it from the classic that you loose almost complete sight of what you're actually trying to accomplish. Sadly this movie does fall deep into the latter trap. It's a barely comprehensible, terribly executed mess, riddled with inconsistencies and plot holes.

When a movie goes through such a tumultuous production history as this; one expects it to be somewhat substandard but when something that reaches the level of crap that The Wolfman represents, one wonders what in the name of Lucas they were thinking in the first place. The movie was announced in 2006 and promised an updated remake using CGI and modern visual effects to craft a tale for modern audiences. After loosing Mark Romanek as director, Joe Johnston stepped in for the $85m movie. Sometimes an eyebrow is raised when any movie's intended release date is pushed back and it may disturb those of you that don't know - this movie's initial release date during production was November 12, 2008. It was pushed back to February 12, 2009 and later April 3, 2009. But even after this, Universal tied itself way down to November 9, 2009 to accommodate entire sequences being re-filmed in May 2009, but yet again that date was finally moved to February 12, 2010 some 15 months later than originally planned.

Benicio Del Toro, a "physically dirty-looking" Puerto Rican whom was first noticed as the youngest actor to play a Bond-villain in Licence To Kill has come a long way since his breakout performance in The Usual Suspects with parts in Traffic, 21 Grams, Snatch and Sin City. I genuinely feel sorry for him as it was widely publicised that he was not only a fan of the original The Wolf Man movie but a collector of it's memorabilia. Now he will have to hang his head in shame for bringing such discredit to the werewolf genre.

It's bizarre that with such as cast as Del Toro, Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins and the monotone Hugo Weaving that his can be so bad but the movie is so badly done that even if these actors gave their best performances ever, it'd still be nowhere near enough to save this. The actors have no emotional engagement with their characters and this results in their performances coming off as flat. The romantic sub-plot is just as unconvincing as the main "twist", a twist that unhitches the plot from the rest of the movie and we're forced to watch as it spirals off the edge of a cliff screaming into the abyss. The dialog is so truly awful that I'm very fearful now for Captain America as David Self is in the process of writing that movie too.

Johnston makes a vain attempts to stick to the groundings of the genre, deep a Victorian Gothic-horror setting but his treatment of it is amateurish as evident by more copious amounts of fog than you'd see on an F-grade film-school student's horror project. Furthermore, it's simply laden with far too many "jump-scares" which ridiculously appear 2 seconds after each other - I'm actually convinced these were put there to keep people awake least they had fallen asleep at Hopkins' expositionary speeches. There's also a "nightmare" sequence in the mix that has to be seen to be believed how woefully ridiculous it is.

I was extremely disappointed with the final look of the Wolfman itself. I'm sure Jack Pierce's original Wolf Man design terrified cinema-goers in the 1940's but some 70 years later it's honestly about as terrifying as Eddie Munster. This is a shame considering the movie's make up was handled by Rick Baker who came on board because he cited the original Wolf Man for getting into movies and his similar work on An American Werewolf In London earned him an Oscar after the category was actually created for his work that year! Despite some adequate use of CGI to show the transformations, they were just not as impressive as other modern efforts, hell even Neil Jordan had more innovative ideas in The Company Of Wolves in 1984. There is not as much gore and dismemberment as would be required here, if there had been, no matter how comical, it may have saved the movie somewhat. Sadly it's relegated to only about 3 or 4 parts of the movie including a gory scene in a campsite where we see comical dismemberment straight out of an Uwe Boll movie.

The film's score had a history as unfortunate as the movie. Originally given to legendary Danny Elfman, a veteran of dark-horror and fantasy movies, his work was rejected for in favour of the modern electronic stylings of Underworld and Crank composer Paul Haslinger. Now as much of a fan I am of Haslinger's work, never in a million years would I have chosen him to compose a Victorian-Gothic score for a movie that was seriously going to heed all the help it could get. Thankfully at the 11th hour they had orchestrator Conrad Pope shoehorn Elfman's original score into the now extensively re-cut movie. The score while far from Elfman's greatest works of Batman, Mars Attacks! or Planet Of The Apes, it's evocative of Wojciech Kilar's Dracula and easily the best thing about the movie.

Final Verdict: This movie sits firmly into the category of "Dear God Why?"

Colonel Creedon Rating: *1/2

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