2010 with less than a month and a half under its belt is gearing up to be a very good movie year, with films like AVATAR and BOOK OF ELI and even SHERLOCK HOLMES being early standouts. Having just returned from my latest flick THE WOLFMAN, I can happily report that the trend of good flicks continues.
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, THE WOLFMAN has had a troubled production history. Losing its initial director, numerous delays and reshoots, seldom is such shenanigans a good portent for a film.
However the preview I found FANTASTIC. Along with the earlier WATCHMEN and OBSESSED, it was a preview that had me very excited about seeing the film. WATCHMEN while impressive, was not without some real flaws in pacing and denouement, so it failed to live up to the greatness of its preview, OBSESSED managed to be every bit as good as its preview, and THE WOLF MAN I’m happy to say… also did not disappoint.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. To put not too fine a point on it, I thought it was pretty darn great.
I’m a huge fan of the original Universal Monster movies in general, and the Wolfman in particular holds a pretty iconic place with me. But I think that is more for what the film was in terms of theme, than how the film was in practice.
It’s more notable for its historic place of being one of the early takes on the wolf man legend, brought to screen. However, I don’t think it is a great film in the way THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE INVISIBLE MAN are great films. Those films are as enjoyable today, as they were when they were made 80 years ago… and that is the hallmark of a masterpiece.
The same can not be said for other Universal films, such as the WOLFMAN. While a good film, the original creaks a bit, and shows and feels its age, and is kind of… long in the tooth if you forgive the pun. It is not as dated, or (forgive the sacrilege) boring as Browning’s Dracula, but it is far from the greatness of James Whales’ best films.
So while no clamorer for remakes, I think if you were to choose a Universal property to remake, the WOLF MAN was a fantastic decision. A property, suitably iconic to make promoting it easy, yet a film that didn’t quite hit it out the park, and leaves room for improvement or reinterpretation. So your new film doesn’t suffer in comparison, as every attempt at remaking a masterpiece ultimately does (examples being KING KONG, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, INVISIBLE MAN, PSYCHO).
So this 2010 version of THE WOLF MAN manages to do what few remakes are capable of, it surpasses the original. From a power house cast, to an inventive script (Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Seven returning to screen-writing after a hiatus of almost a decade), to beautiful cinematography and capable direction, to some astounding special effects, to a real romantic heart to the film.
And yet Benecio Del Toro manages to channel some of the hound dog look, and pathos that Lon Chaney Jr brought to the role, while having a much greater range as an actor than Chaney Jr.
Chaney Jr wasn’t his father, his skills were limited at best, but the tortured haunted character of Lionel Talbot seemed to play to those skills, and perhaps more to the point, played to who Chaney Jr actually was. To the shadowed nature of his life.
Benecio Del Toro, makes the role of Lyle Talbot his own, while keeping much of the nature of Chaney’s performance. And Sir Anthony Hopkins, delivers yet another, in a career filled of brilliant performances. There’s not many actors living or dead who can improve on any role worn by the great Claude Rains. But the script allows Hopkin’s character to be fresh and new, and ultimately create a very different, and more iconic take on the role of Talbot’s father.
With the film fresh in my mind, it is just so much to like about it, and applaud about it. The cast, the script, the special effects, the action, and combining all that, the core of the film, the transformation scenes… finally a CGI transformation scene (liberally assisted by Rick Baker’s makeup and Prosthetic wizardry) that I feel stands up to the seminal scenes, from THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (without argument the two greatest werewolf movies of all time).
This new THE WOLFMAN is not quite up there with those films, but isn’t too far off. It hits largely right notes. That said it is not perfect. There is a definite sense of the film, pacing wise, being slightly awkward; always very close to going off the track, possibly a sense of the troubled production just kept at bay.
I think the editors on this deserve to take some bows (particularly the uncredited editor of Mark Goldblatt) because you can sense the cuts that just manage to keep the film on the right side of the tracks. But there are moments when you feel the wheels lift precariously.
But the freight train that is THE WOLF MAN holds, and arrives at an enjoyable conclusion. All in all a recommended film, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing in the theater more than once, and one I’ll definitely purchase when available. Rating: B+.
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