After reading stories of director Mark Romanek ('One Hour Photo') walking out during the production of 'The Wolfman,' I figured things were looking fairly bleak for this remake featuring the classic Universal monster. Not long after, the studio quickly replaced him with Joe Johnston, whose previous work on family fare features such as 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,' 'Jumanji,' and 'The Rocketeer' made him an odd choice. Then, as was the case with Romanek's involvement, studio interference led to several re-shoots and much re-editing, which also pushed the release schedule from Fall 2008, to 2009, before the film finally emerged in the light of the full moon in early 2010. Things apparently got much bleaker.
After learning of his brother's sudden disappearance, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his childhood home in Blackmoor. At his family's funereal estate, he reunites with his distant father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), who tells him that Ben's body was found earlier, and meets his brother's mourning fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt). After seeing his brother's mutilated body, Lawrence travels to a gypsy camp, and there he encounters a wild beast which bites him on the shoulder. As he recovers from the attack, Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives to investigate the Talbot murder. What he discovers is more than he bargained for, while Lawrence is forced to confront his past and the origins of his mental turmoil.
'The Wolfman' is a dark and brooding take on a horror classic, one that contains a great deal of beauty and potential, but which suffers from a script with too much going on. The filmmakers have admitted to adding more plot elements to the original story, but it doesn't pay off very well. The strained relationship between Lawrence and his father is more of a burden to watch than enjoy, and his romance with Gwen also drags on like typical middle-school drama. Granted, this is similar to George Waggner's 1941 film, but here, the pedestrian and somewhat flat pace makes these relationships rather tiresome. I'm not convinced Johnston really has the chops for this sort of material.
Even more surprising is a cast of excellent actors that fails to bring any life to this dreary and wearisome remake. While Weaving runs around lost in what he's suppose to do as a confident Scotland Yard inspector, Blunt spends more time looking scared and acting the part of the fragile love interest than portraying a woman doomed to care for the wrong type of men. Just uttering the name Anthony Hopkins seems to give any production a semblance of respectability and seriousness, a movie that just might be worth watching, but as the neglectful father of a werewolf, he's uninteresting and forgettable. Sadly, even Del Toro sulks and mopes around the gloomy mansion like Droopy instead of a man struggling with his inner canine.
The other aspects of the production are the real highlight here and maintain most of the film's appeal. It's clear Johnston wanted to do more than a simple update to a favorite Lon Chaney, Jr. character. With legendary make-up artist Rick Baker retaining much of the original look of the creature, 'The Wolfman' doesn't stray too far from its source. But with the dark and sumptuous cinematography of Shelly Johnson, the movie aspires to be a moody and grim revision of a Hollywood classic. It is also much bloodier and more violent than its inspiration, which is another aspect I liked, although this doesn't do much to improve the film's overall enjoyment. These few positives actually keep 'The Wolfman' standing on its own two hind legs.
In the end, however, the script and direction are too much of a mess to really make this latest horror remake very entertaining. Even the editing expertise of Walter Murch and Dennis Virkler can't seem to salvage a good film from the confusion. And the 17 minutes of added footage doesn't offer much help either - it only makes the movie drag on longer. 'The Wolfman' may not be altogether an awful movie, but in terms of the werewolf genre, 'Teen Wolf' offers more bite. This is just another case where studios should leave the classics (and directors) alone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Wolfman' howls onto Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Housed in a two-disc keepcase and attractive slipcover, the Region A, BD-50 disc contains both the Theatrical version and the Unrated Director's Cut of the film. The difference between them is surprisingly significant as the director's alternate vision adds 17 minutes to the narrative. Most of these changes arrive early on, with extended dialogue footage and some deleted scenes which actually benefit the film's storyline, like a cameo conversation with Max Van Sydow. The second disc is a Digital Copy of the movie.
At startup, viewers are greeted by randomly selected but skippable trailers thanks to the studio's BD-Live connectivity. Once at the main menu, we find the standard selection of options, plus Universal's commercial-infested News Ticker playing over the full motion captures.
Joe Johnston's darker vision of the classic Universal monster debuts with a highly stylized video presentation that's often stunning and lovely, only not as consistent as it probably should be for a newer release. 'The Wolfman' is frequently set at night, with many gloomy indoor scenes, and the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1) handles it pretty well for the most part. Black levels are deep and profound with London sequences making the strongest impression. However, there are many instances when the picture suddenly loses some of that luster and shadows tend to obscure much of the background details. In fact, almost all poorly-lit interiors display a great deal of murkiness and crush. But it's possible this is a deliberate effect in the photography as it does add to the dark atmosphere of the narrative. A few very minor scenes are also noticeably dull and oddly out of focus.
On a more positive note and the real highlight of the video, the rest of the presentation comes with spot-on contrast, providing the encode with excellent visibility in the few daylight scenes scattered about. Shelly Johnson's cinematography, which is a blend of dreary overcast with an antiquated finish and a slightly soft focus, is gorgeous in high-def and contains several moments of remarkable reference quality sequences, especially in brightly-lit exteriors. The color palette is heavily subdued in keeping with the intentional look, but it's rendered accurately with good variation in the hues. The image also exhibits terrific definition in various stone and wood architecture, strong distinct lines in foliage, and dazzling, lifelike textures in facial complexions.
Ignoring some of the issues mentioned above, this Blu-ray presentation of 'The Wolfman' offers a striking and beautiful picture quality.
Following closely behind is a very good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which really comes to life towards the end of the movie with a couple of near-reference fight sequences. Dynamics and interior acoustics are expansive and cleanly delivered, displaying wide imaging that reaches far into the back of the room. The voices of characters and light sounds echo and bleed into the surround speakers with convincing movement, subtly enveloping the listener. Even Danny Elflman's gothic score fills the entire soundscape terrifically to keep viewers involved. Separation between the channels is very smooth and attractive, allowing for an evenly spread-out and spacious soundstage. Low-frequency bass is weighty and powerfully responsive, adding a really heavy punch to the action and gunfire.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the lossless mix worth mentioning because they ruin the sound design's enjoyment somewhat. Dialogue reproduction is often very difficult to make out and so low that it's enough of a distraction to raise the volume in the center channel. For a good chunk of the movie's runtime, rear activity is fairly silent except for Elfman's score and practically devoid of ambience during outdoor scenes, making it seem as if all wildlife were missing from Blackmoor. But the moment there is a sudden burst of action, the entire system erupts with loud, high-pitched noise. While the mid-range appears to handle these sudden jumps in frequency, the abrupt shift in the overall volume is exactly that - just a bunch of loud noise with only some clarity. Whether intentional or not, the change is agitating and rather unpleasant at times. If not for these small personal objections, the track is a vigorous, near-reference presentation, sure to please fans immensely.
No matter my opinion concerning the movie, I have to admit Universal Studios Home Entertainment did one heck of a job on the supplemental package. There is only one bonus feature shared between the formats. Almost everything is exclusive to the Blu-ray.
'The Wolfman' offers a darker and bleaker reimagining of the classic movie monster. Given the great cast involved and the familiar title, I had high hopes for Joe Johnston's revisionist take of the classic Universal monster. Unfortunately, I walked away somewhat disappointed and slightly bored. It's not an altogether awful film, thanks mostly to the beautiful cinematography, the production design, and Rick Baker's amazing make-up work, but this remake isn't all that good either. The special Director's Cut release adds 17 minutes to the story, and the disc arrives with an excellent audio/video presentation that fans will love. This Blu-ray edition also comes with a supplemental package that's almost entirely exclusive to the format, making this high-def disc the only way to truly enjoy the movie.