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Blu-ray Review: The Wolfman (2010)

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Remakes of classics are almost always polarizing projects. There are purists who adore the original and don't want to see an update, and then there are those who long to see what Hollywood can do with modern technology and today's actors. A great example of one such endeavor is Universal's explosive Mummy overhaul, which brought the lumbering Egyptian corpse back to life about a decade ago. Some loved it, some hated it, but one can't deny the film's popularity. Will The Wolfman fare the same?

Directed by Joe Johnston, the film stars Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. It's not a direct remake of, but includes many parallels to, The Wolf Man from 1941. The trappings are different here, yet names and parts of the plot will ring a bell with those familiar with the original.

The Wolfman tells the tale of a Shakespearean actor, Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro), who returns home to Blackmoor after news of his brother's death. Leaving the hustle and bustle of London behind, Talbot reconnects with his estranged father, Sir John (Hopkins), and spends time with his brother's fiancé, Gwen (Blunt). Lawrence soon uncovers the gruesome details surrounding his brother's death. It seems to have been an animal, but townsfolk argue whether it was a madman or werewolf. Naturally the superstitious lot blames the gypsies, and Lawrence decides to pay them a visit. At this point he has a fateful encounter with the beast and becomes a wolf-man himself. The rest of the film follows Lawrence as he struggles with the demon inside him, and comes to realize he's a chip off the old block.

On paper The Wolfman looks like it could be very good. The plot is solid enough as far as setting is concerned, and the actors are definitely of higher caliber, if not a little under utilized. Sadly the pieces of this puzzle just never really connect.

As the leading man Del Toro stands out for his portrayal of Lawrence, however he plays the character as a little too aloof for his own good. Through development in the film Lawrence is revealed to have gone into acting to hide his own personality. He's dead inside and disturbed, on account of witnessing his mother lying in a pool of her own blood. He has spent time in a mental institution, and all around him there's a dark, foreboding aura. The film, and Del Toro, never fully capitalized on this, and thus the character doesn't resonate with viewers. It's hard to care about the man, even when he's going through hell. The rest of the cast does reasonably well, though Hopkins plays Sir John a little too tongue-in-cheek and mysterious.

Another component that doesn't do The Wolfman any favors is the pacing. We don't even get to see the werewolf come out until halfway through the film, and by that point it's almost too little, too late. Even as the film moves into its second act there are times where the pacing grinds to a halt as characters receive some development and pieces are set in motion for the next bit of action, which is rather abundant. This is a violent film and when the beast is out you just know limbs and heads will be severed, and intestines strewn about. The first act takes too long to set everything up, and the second squanders that development on blood and guts.

If the pieces were put together just a little differently, and the pacing issues were addressed, then The Wolfman would be awesome. Unfortunately as it stands in its completed form it's a collection of parts that make up a greater whole, but it just feels disjointed somehow. Excitement and boredom come in waves here and ultimately the film is best suited for a rental.

While The Wolfman may drag at points one thing is for certain; it's no slouch in terms of presentation. This Blu-ray comes with a full 1080p resolution with an AVC MPEG-4 codec, and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. In so many ways the picture quality here is truly stunning. Considering the film takes part largely in dark lit areas, both interior and exterior, there's no loss in detail. Black levels are appropriately deep and rich, with just a hint of murkiness in a couple instances to add to the atmosphere. Other detail impresses with fine lines and wrinkles on faces, grain in wood, and textures of foliage all making their mark. A few scenes suffer from softness and grain, but these moments are fleeting. Overall this is a film presentation that will draw you in and sink its teeth into you.

In terms of audio The Wolfman hit all the right notes as well. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers some outstanding quality and sharpness. Dialogue is crisp and clean, Danny Elfman's score is hauntingly beautiful, and every sound effect rings through with brilliant clarity. The soundstage comes to life with a wonderful sense of immersion with channels that are use intelligently. Bass is another winner here and everything from the beast's howl to the thumping of his feet on the dirt will cause your system to spring to life.

Supplemental content on this Blu-ray release is pleasing as well. For starters there's a standard definition digital copy of the film for use on your PC and portable devices. Other lighter fare includes a Universal news ticker, "My Scenes", and access to the Universal online community through BD-Live. Two alternate endings are included here, and they are interesting enough to watch, but ultimately don't improve upon the experience.

For production bonus material there is "The Wolfman Unleashed", which looks at the choreography of some action sequences as well as the stunts that went into making them. "Transformation Secrets" features some details about the effects that went into creating some of the stellar transformations in the film, and "The Beast Maker" offers up Rick Baker talking at length about bringing the Wolfman to life. "Return of The Wolfman" is this release's fluffiest piece with a light look at werewolfs in general and how they tried to capture that with this film.

Two U-Control features are present on this Blu-ray disc as well. "Legacy, Legend, and Lore" offers up pop-up style trivia and information at random points during the film. It's totally worth watching the film again with this track on. By the same token there's "Take Control", which replaces a commentary track, and breaks up the movie at random points to talk about various production details. And finally, for a limited time (the packaging states 12/01/10) the original The Wolf Man (1941) is available for streaming. This can be viewed via BD-Live, on the Pocket Blu App, or on your computer. Those interested in the classic will definitely want to check this out, and newcomers will want to as well just to make comparisons.

While The Wolfman isn't a wholly impressive movie, the Blu-ray release truly stands out. The quality of the video and audio are home theater display worthy, and the bonus features are certainly meaty. It's just a shame that the movie itself has pacing issues and other minor flaws that keep it from living up to expectations. Overall it's not a bad film, but it's one that will serve most as a rental. The quality of the Blu-ray do upgrade this release to a purchase, however, especially if you want to check out the original Wolf Man.

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