Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love: The Wolfman

It's a damn shame that director Joe Johnston's The Wolfman, like the fate of its main character, has been misunderstood and beaten down by critics unwilling to see the film for what it really is. In a way, I can't blame them for shaking their cynical little heads and wondering at this mix of the retro, the classic, and the gothic. Movie-goers, studios, and critics alike have been trained by the success of The Dark Knight into thinking that any film fantasy is only worth something if it's gritty and realistic. The Wolfman is not this movie, but rather the antithesis. It is the epitome and perhaps the best example of the beauty, subtle terror, and magic of the old Hollywood monster movies.


Estranged son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro),  returns home to England to investigate the death of his brother Ben at the request of Ben's fiance Gwen (Emily Blunt). When monstrous and mysterious causes are overturned, as is Lawrence's devastating relationship with his emotionally scarred father (Anthony Hopkins), the monsters within each man are unleashed upon the village and the city of London at large.

Nearly every part of this film is pitch perfect, picking up the best pieces from the classic 1941 Lon Chaney film and modernizing it in all the right, effective ways without losing its soul. The atmosphere relies on the long lost art of real film production, all mist, fog, moonlight, and haunted, ancient places that creak in the night. The art production is lush and pops off the screen, the forest as dark and threatening as the inner rooms of the Talbot estate and the minds of its inhabitants. Combined with the scenes of torture in an insane asylum, each setting hits all the right Gothic, Victorian, and Romantic notes that may be nothing new, but are certainly perfected and a treat to watch here.


Del Toro in the role of said Wolfman is nearly a set piece himself (and not in a bad way), his face the only conceivable one in Hollywood that could bring the spirit of Chaney's characteristic brooding, animal charm to the role. While his English is sometimes a bit stinted, as if he was trying a little too hard, it's easily over looked. Blunt is surprisingly engaging in the role of empowered damsel in distress, while Hopkins borders on the boring and usual, but is saved by the progression of the story which gives him a few lines and reasons for his "who cares?" attitude.


The CGI, which reportedly went through many reshoots and redos, is absolutely impressive, the best man to werewolf transition ever on screen (the wolves in New Moon are excellently done, but they aren't changing in the same way, so no! They don't count since they end up as actual wolves). But there in lies the one problem in this otherwise great reincarnation of the old Universal Pictures.

Once our hairy friend has gone through his transformation, the incredible CGI work leaves us with a Wolfman that looks exactly like the 1941 version, mullety hair, clearly false teeth and all. The full on image is schlocky and leaves the film a bit disjointed, as the rest of the atmosphere was built up so perfectly and minus most of the cheese. If they had left him the way he is in the picture below, it would have been totally cool. But I'm not all that bothered either. While it's not perfect, it's understandable in this well executed beautiful homage, the direct rip of the old Wolfman style perhaps even intentional. And let's face it, it's just really really hard to do a real looking werewolf without coping out and just making him a giant wolf (quite frankly, some things are just better left to the imagination at this point, and one of those things is bipedal half wolf dudes).


So if you like watching gorgeous, haunting cinematography, are in love with all the awesome yet admittedly cliches of the Victorian era on screen (guilty as charged), and like a heart felt examination of love and the beast within, get thee to a theater this Valentine's Weekend (or a DVD store next Halloween). And for godssakes have fun! That is, after all, what it's all about.


3 comments:

  1. Everything rides on the Joker's formidability as a villain who can carry that kind of weight. In his last role, Ledger makes us believe.


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  2. Hello,
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  3. Very disappointing for him. I loved the movie.It can't be a coincidence that all of the characters constantly talk about obligation. And Emily Blunt has the most telling line, "This place is impossible to escape." This was no doubt a professional edict for those on the set.

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