Manwolf Shreds Wolfman

February 26, 2010 2 Comments »

What the hell happened with The Wolfman?  The new film had everything it should have needed to succeed: some big stars (Benicio DelTorro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt), a competent action director (Joe Johnston – Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo), handsome cinematography and production design, a great source story (by Curt Siodmak), and the greatest make-up artist in the world (Rick Baker).  You’d think with all that talent, they couldn’t help but make an entertaining movie.  Yet, The Wolfman drags, it is a dull shadow of the original – which is considered by many (including me) to be one of the best B-movies ever.

It’s not the changes in the story and setting – moving it from the present (where the original was set, in the 1940s) into the past and messing with the Talbot family history.  All that could have worked; it had the elements to work.  It’s not even that the ending seems to have been cribbed from Jack Nicholson’s Wolf (a superior flick).  No, the problem is that for all it’s blood and gore, The Wolfman has no heart.

Under Johnston’s direction, the characters seem to sleepwalk through the script (though the writers probably share some blame for this, too).  The new Lawrence Talbot/Wolfman is supposed to be a great actor, yet Del Torro plays him as a complete wet blanket from the moment we first see him.  Yes, the circumstances of his return to Talbot Hall are dire, but wouldn’t a flamboyant, upbeat artist coming home to the drab ancestral home he forsook have made a better contrast?  Wouldn’t that have given us someone to care about – either to love or hate?  Instead, we have a haunted man coming back to his haunted home and his haunted father and his dead brother’s haunted fiancee.

I don’t like to compare originals to remakes if I can help it, but contrast this “we’re all depressed here” village with Lon Chaney, Jr.’s, entrance in the original film.  He’s been away, he’s a fish out of water in his quaint home town, but he’s good natured, and quickly falls for a local girl (who’s already got a boyfriend).  We immediately like him, and sympathize with his dilemma.  And because we like him, we feel for him when the curse of the Wolf Man overtakes him.

In contrast, the “Larry” Talbot in this film seems doomed from the start, and we have no reason to like him.  His only admirable quality is that he wants to bring his brother’s murderer to justice, but the way he goes about it seems almost nihilistic  Likewise, we see his brother’s fiancee so little that it’s hard to develop feelings for her – though we want to  Only Hopkins and Weaving bring a bit of energy to the story, and that’s really not enough – probably because the story doesn’t give them much to work with.  The characters in this film are stereotypes, when they could have been – should have been – archetypes.

I like monster movies, in fact, I adore them.  I’ll watch almost any cheesy monster flick that comes down the pike, and enjoy it, too.  But it annoys me when a film like this comes around, with all the right elements to be really cool, and blows it so badly.  As a writer, I can’t help but think, “If they’d given this script to me, I could have fixed it in a couple of weeks – maybe less.”  But, alas, Hollywood never takes story seriously enough nowadays; they seem far more interested in special effects and a big name actor to bump up the draw on opening weekend.

In the old days, Hollywood churned out movies like Detroit churns out Fords.  Yet, they knew how to deliver what the audience wanted.  Lon Chaney, Jr., wasn’t as good an actor as any of the people in this film.  Yet, he made us feel for Larry Talbot through the original Wolf Man and a raft of sequels (even Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein – a very funny send-up/homage).  This version had all the advantages today’s Hollywood could lavish on it; sadly, those advantages did not include a soul.  Do yourself a favor, buy The Wolf Man on Amazon and watch that version instead.

— Steve “Manwolf” Sullivan

2 Comments

  1. David E Martin February 27, 2010 at 6:52 am -

    I enjoyed the film but I agree on your points.
    I did file it away as part of the Gothic Steampunk world we saw in VAN HELSING and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, like these are episodes of a massive TV miniseries.
    The film made me go rent the Oliver Reed CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, which this film seems closer to than THE WOLFMAN.

  2. Steve Sullivan February 27, 2010 at 11:27 am -

    Funny you should mention that, it did remind me of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and probably caused me to watch that film last night. CCOTW is a better flick than the new Wolfman – and a pretty terrific Hammer film – though not as good as the original. (But what is?)

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