Some films can never get past production issues. Whether it's re-shoots, rewrites, troubles with editing, visuals, and special effects or even swapping around composers, it shows a lot when a film suffers through such ugly post-production issues. Even when the film doesn’t completely land with a thud, it can sometimes manage to land on both feet and howl for victory as is the case with The Wolfman remake.
Joe Johnston may be a protégé of Steven Spielberg (and even handled the third Jurassic Park film) but he also seems to have quite the love for old school classics. With a great grasp for homage, he manages to bring The Wolfman to a higher class of remake. Bringing back Rick Baker, the man responsible for many practical effects-heavy werewolf films such as The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, was also a great idea to help keep things old school.
The two screenwriters were also heavily influenced by the original 1941 classic The Wolf Man starring Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. as the original Wolf Man himself. While David Self has the Sam Mendes-directed Road to Perdition under his belt, it seems safe to assume that most of the screenplay may have been taken over by co-writer Andrew Kevin Walker. The whole film plays as a sort of mash-up/companion piece to his earlier efforts — Se7en, 8MM, and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow — while also leaning towards the tone behind his TV work on HBO’s Tales From the Crypt (i.e. heavy on the gallows humor).
The same storyline is followed (giving credit where due to Curt Siodmak) and even some of the original’s lines of dialogue have been brought back (“You’ve done terrible things, Lawrence”). Lawrence Talbot has returned home from America to Blackmoor, England in 1891 after his brother, Ben (Simon Merrells), has gone missing. Ben is then found massacred by either a wild beast roaming the moors or a crazed lunatic lying in wait to attack upon another full moon.
Upon returning he is reunited with his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), and makes the acquaintance of his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). Gwen and Lawrence want to know the truth behind what happened to Ben and Lawrence sets out to find a local band of gypsies deep in the woods. After the gypsy camp is attacked and destroyed, Lawrence chases a young boy into the forest to save him from whatever beast is attacking the camp.
Tables are turned, however, when Lawrence is attacked himself and upon resting up begins to receive heightened powers of sense. Soon enough, another full moon is upon Blackmoor and John locks himself up in an underground lair, leaving Lawrence to discover his inner beast and wreak havoc upon the town. Lawrence is captured and sent to an asylum while Scotland Yard sends in Agent Smith himself, Hugo Weaving, to kill the beast after Lawrence escapes from his all-you-can-eat buffet of doctors and scientists upon yet another full moon.
The film walks a fine line between homage and remake while fighting to bring something new, and it's quite a battle to watch onscreen. Director Johnston pays his respects with insider references to both the original and the previously mentioned An American Werewolf in London.
Blood flows as freely as you can expect from an R-rated movie about a man turning into a wolf, but Teen Wolf this is not. When a character makes a joke about sprouting wings and flying through a window if Lawrence really turns into a werewolf, his fate has already been sealed.
The cast seems to be enjoying themselves considerably as well. Weaving gets lots of quirky dry jokes to make to the local yokels and Blunt gets to turn on the charm and bring some kind of heart to the proceedings even if it Lawrence is busy ripping out everyone else’s in the dead of night.
The only thing that adds up to a tiny hiccup is the casting of Benicio Del Toro in the lead. Although some may find his mumbling and grumbling line delivery too underplayed, for me it just brought even more fun to the proceedings as it seemed like he was already a wolf at heart. The biggest asset to all this is Anthony Hopkins, who turns in a hilarious performance reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter.
If the mood strikes and you’re looking for a howling good time you could definitely do far worse (cough*Valentine’s Day*cough). But if you just want to sit back and watch lots of people lose their heads in various degrees then beware the moors and stick to the road that leads you to wherever The Wolfman may be playing near you.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures