by Mel Valentin
A switch in directors from Mark Romanek to Joe Johnston only three weeks before the start of principal production, three release date changes precipitated by reshoots and new visual effects, a new editor (Walter Murch) to reedit the film, and a double switch in composers (from Danny Elfman to another composer and back again to Elfman), all but doomed "The Wolfman," the big-screen remake of the 1941 Universal classic. Call it, like the tragic central character, “cursed,” but all the tinkering and re-tinkering has done nothing to elevate "The Wolfman" above the grim, murky, muddled, inert, unsatisfying result Universal executives (probably) recognized when postponed the release date several times.The remake sets the story fifty years to Victorian England (1891 to be exact), swapping out the originator of the title role, Lon Chaney, Jr. with Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro. In the remake, Lawrence Talbot (a sadly miscast Del Toro), a well-known, well-respected Shakespearean actor estranged from his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), an estrangement due, we later discover, to a traumatic event in Lawrence’s childhood that led to his institutionalization and impacted his decision to become an actor for the stage (where, presumably, he could subsume his emotional and mental issues into his acting), reluctantly returns to the ancestral estate when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), urgently summons him back with the news that his brother, Ben (Simon Merrells), has disappeared without a trace.
"An unsurprisingly disappointing remake of a horror classic."
Lawrence arrives at the estate too late to save his brother. Searchers found Ben’s mangled, mauled body in a ravine, the apparent victim of a wild, ferocious animal. Lawrence ignores Sir John's warning to remain indoors during the next full moon and decides to visit a nearby gypsy encampment, hoping to uncover information about his brother's death. Armed villagers, blaming a dancing bear kept by gypsies for Ben's murder, as well as the murder of two other men under similar circumstances, arrive almost simultaneously. Before the villagers can act, however, a werewolf savagely attacks the encampment, indiscriminately slaughtering gypsies and villagers alike, and seriously wounding Lawrence.
The gypsies return an injured Lawrence back to the Talbot estate. Gwen, in London during the attack, returns to the Talbot estate help Lawrence recover. A near-miraculous recovery, however, leads the villagers, including the parish priest, Reverend Fisk (Roger Frost), to suspect Lawrence of lycanthropy. Only the senior Talbot’s timely intervention saves Lawrence, but once the full moon arrives, the villagers are proven right and Lawrence-as-the-Wolfman goes on a killing spree. A Scotland Yard detective, Francis Aberline (Hugo Weaving), arrives from London to investigate the murders. Aberline, loosely based on the Scotland Yard detective that investigated the Jack the Ripper murders, is a classic example of a rational man faced with the irrational. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural, only the natural world, but his encounter with a transformed Lawrence radically changes his worldview.
Andrew Kevin Walker (Sleepy Hollow, 8MM, Se7en) and David Self (Road to Perdition, Thirteen Days, The Haunting) screenplay follows the general contours of Curt Siodmak’s original script, but makes several alterations with narrative and thematic consequences: magnifying the romantic subplot to add pathos and, presumably, increase demographic appeal; elevating Aberline’s screentime to third lead; a switch in the werewolf/Wolfman; thanks to the reshoots and more production time, additional screen time for the Wolfman in the second half; and adds a climactic (if clichéd) fight between two wolf-men (the better to make Lawrence more a more heroic, less tragic figure). The Wolfman also gives audiences a sequel-ready ending, but that’s being overly optimistic on Universal’s part.With Johnston (next summer's "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Jurassic Part III," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," "The Rocketeer") coming in only three weeks before principal photography, he obviously didn’t have time to revise the screenplay, but instead focused on post-production (and reshoots) to fill in gaps and, presumably, add suspense and tension where it was otherwise missing. At least that was the goal. What Johnston ultimately delivered with the help of editor Walter Murch, production designer Rick Heinrichs, cinematographer Shelly Johnson, makeup artist Rick Baker (who based the Wolfman’s design on Jack Pierce’s makeup for the original film) and composer Danny Elfman is a dark (as in underlit dark), dramatically inert romantic tragedy/horror film that sadly will please genre fans or casual moviegoers.
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originally posted: 02/13/10 05:51:54