‘The Wolfman’ Cometh

“The Wolfman” has had a troublesome production history. As a remake of the 1941 Universal monster classic, this incarnation had countless obstacles, from re-shoots and re-edits and a temporary switch of composers for the film’s score. Moreover, its release date was postponed four times. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these are very bad signs.

However, my interest was still sparked with the emergence of trailers and TV spots for “The Wolfman.” It looked cool and actually seemed promising.

Unfortunately, the film is a severe disappointment. Although director Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park 3”) makes the film look great, he doesn’t make it a film that’s great to watch.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is called back to his family estate at the request of his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe  (Emily Blunt), who reports that her love has gone missing. However, upon Lawrence’s arrival, his estranged father, John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), informs him that his brother’s body has been found – but his corpse has been mutilated beyond recognition.

Lawrence concludes that a powerful and bloodthirsty creature has been killing the local villagers. Upon further investigation, he is attacked and wounded by the creature, but survives and heals quickly…and unnaturally. It isn’t long before he discovers that when the moon is full, he will transform, unleashing a dark and primal side  from within.

Those who are squeamish at the sight of blood and gore ought to avoid this movie. The werewolf’s rampages often result in series of decapitations, dismemberment and disembowelment. Such matters are inevitable; the werewolf’s teeth and claws act as giant fishhooks and machetes.

“The Wolfman” suffers from the same fate as most films nowadays, which is the lack of a good stable narrative. The eventual romance between Lawrence and Gwen is forced and rushed, and the film offers nothing fresh to the werewolf mythology. The worst part is that the story has no flow because the scenes are all cobbled together.

Additionally, the dialogue is lame, occasionally prompt groans and eye-rolling. One particular scene shows Lawrence having a conversation with a family servant. Lawrence says, “I didn’t know you hunted monsters,” to which the servant replies, “Sometimes monsters hunt you.” I wonder if the writers were exchanging Russian reversals (“In Soviet Russia” jokes) when writing this scene. Damn you, Yakov Smirnoff!

If all this wasn’t bad enough, Johnston annoyed me by continually showing the image of the moon rising into the sky or unveiling itself from the clouds. I understand that the moon is an essential symbol in any werewolf film, but does the film have to exhibit it every five minutes?

Del Toro’s performance is laughably dull and monotone. Even though he may have been shooting for aloof and troubled, it merely seems to signify a lack of connection with his character. Since he exhibits little emotion, it’s difficult to have any empathy for Lawrence.

As Gwen, Blunt does her part well despite her awkward chemistry with Del Toro. Well, she can also act a bit over-the-top in her most emotional moments.

Hopkins proves that he is continually capable of delivering quality work, despite his character having very little development. Though his voice tends to change from scene to scene, he’s a delight to watch, especially when he has a sinister smirk on his face.

Hugo Weaving plays Francis Aberline, a Scotland Yard inspector who comes to investigate the killings around the Talbot estate. Weaving’s interpretation of Aberline reminded me too much of his role as Agent Smith in “The Matrix” trilogy, so his performance isn’t that noteworthy.

At the very least, the production was excellent. Legendary makeup effects artist, Rick Baker, who created the werewolf effects in “An American Werewolf in London,” deserves praise for his work in “The Wolfman.” The amount of detail in Lawrence’s werewolf design is nothing short of incredible – even though the other werewolf (the one that attacks Lawrence) looks inexcusably campy.

The cinematography and production design is magnificent, effectively reflecting the mood in each setting. The darkness and fog in the woods creates a gloomy and ominous atmosphere; even the daylight scenes have a dreary look to emphasize the sorrow and tragedy in the film.

Danny Elfman’s dark and moody score helps to underline the fear and excitement. While it’s definitely not his best work to date, his characteristic string arrangements remain impressive.

While the film’s technical achievements are superb, they are overshadowed by its lack of narrative, missing character development, and choppy flow. Ultimately, “The Wolfman” is just another disappointing film that, despite looking cool, only needed a solid story in order to be good. Such is the tragedy of Hollywood.