Monday, February 15, 2010

Angry like the Wolf

The Wolf Man starring Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins, directed by Joe Johnston (2009): I've never found the Hollywood version of the werewolf to be all that compelling a monster, seeming as it does more suited to an action movie than a horror movie. Especially since movie werewolves seem to have the strength and agility of ten wolves, bringing to mind the Incredible Hulk rather than a reasonably imagined supernatural entity.

In this remake of the 1940's Universal horror movie that introduced doomed lycanthrope Laurence Talbot to the world, the makeup effects are often swell (Rick Baker, prosthetic and makeup man extraordinaire, does the heavy lifting here -- he designed the wolf man in An American Werewolf in London, among dozens of other worthy, old-school effects projects on his resume). The production design is terrific, as is the use of real-world exteriors and CGI period recreations of various locations in London.

Unfortunately, one can see the stitches where the studio jigged and rejigged a movie that was supposed to be released over a year ago. To cite one example among many, the Gypsy connection to the werewolf, central to both the original movie and to the first part of this one, suddenly goes nowhere. Or, more accurately, the origin of the werewolf suddenly shifts from Hollywood-gypsy to somebody-may-have-heard-of-Rudyard-Kipling. The significance of a medallion discovered in the early stages of the film thus becomes...well, insignificant.

This is the sort of dead end that happens when scripts are combined and scenes are reshot. For no discernible story reason, an inspector sent to investigate the killings (played by Hugo 'Elrond' Weaving) turns out to be Inspector Abberline, the inspector who really was in charge of the Jack the Ripper investigation, as about one sentence in the movies explains. Why use a real historical character? It adds nothing to the narrative and, if you know the real Abberline's post-Ripper history, makes the last ten minutes of the movie completely goofy.

Del Toro and Emily Blunt do their best with the material, never descending to camp. Anthony Hopkins hams it up. The werewolves move so quickly that they seem more like weightless superheroes than convincing manimals. The rhyme about werewolves that original Wolf Man screenwriter Curt Siodmak wrote back in the 1940's ("Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night...") introduces the movie. But the werewolves, in their Incredible-Hulk-like shredded clothes, fail to move.

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