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The Wolfman
Bloody and violent, but could have been better.
The Wolfman
Benicio Del Toro Stars in the Horror Remake of "The Wolfman."
OPENING WEEKEND: $23,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $70,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 1st, 2009: Upon his return to his ancestral homeland, an American man (Del Toro) is bitten, and subsequently cursed by, a werewolf.

What to Expect: The last two decades or so, horror monsters have meant one thing: vampires. The "Mummy" films aside, and those hardly count, bloodsucking has been where it's at ever since Anne Rice made it sexy again with her novel "Interview with the Vampire." Then there was "Forever Knight." And "Buffy." And "Angel." And oh yeah, that little "Twilight" thing, you might have heard something about that recently. Now the HBO series "True Blood" is coming back in June and the next Twiliverse film, "New Moon," is shooting as I write this.

Article continues below

Other classic horror monsters have gotten their dues from time to time. We've had a couple of Frankenstein and Frankenstein-esque creatures cavorting about, and the aforementioned Mummy films. But the Wolfman? He gets no love. The last great wolfman film was John Landis' "An American Werewolf in London." We won't talk about Teen Wolf. EVER AGAIN.

But this might change. Hugh Jackman made being wolf-like cool and sexy again, and multiplied that by two with Liev Schreiber this summer. "New Moon," it must be said, prominently features werewolves, and there are mutterings about Ridley Scott doing a werewolf picture. Why the sudden interest in hairy beasts? Well, I've heard a theory that it has something to do with the economy, that vampires are slick and seductive characters who suck the life out of you, whereas wolfmen are flannel-wearing working joes and that's more appealing. I think this is 100% bullsh*t, because film pundits have been trying to tie trends in filmgoing and box office to current events since there have been film pundits and it never makes any sense...or at least it does until something contradicts it and must be spun to fit in with the theory. Trends in filmgoing have more to do with whether or not the movies in question suck or not than anything going on with world events. Regardless of the reasons, werewolves are on the upswing, and now Universal is giving us an honest-to-God remake of the classic 1941 "Wolfman" film, which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains, and the horror geeks are very excited.

But not quite as excited as when the film was first announced. At first blush, the studio seemed determined to get the correct people on this project. The script was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who is a movie-geek god for having written "Se7en" and unofficially rewritten "Fight Club." The director was Mark Romanek, an exciting up-and-comer who had only directed one feature, the creepy-as-hell "One Hour Photo," but who was also responsible for a number of very interesting music videos including Madonna's uber-surreal "Bedtime Stories," as well as that super nifty Coldplay iTunes commercial. But the best part? The Wolfman would be played by Benicio del Toro, who is a self-avowed lifelong Lon Chaney, Jr. fanboy and collector of memorabilia from the 1941 film. The genesis of the film's development was actually when del Toro's agent saw a poster of the original film in del Toro's house. And look at him. He hardly needs makeup. Not to mention that he's a quirky, exciting actor with a history of memorable performances in interesting films like "21 Grams," "Traffic" and of course "The Usual Suspects."

Of the three exciting things above, only one, del Toro, remains.

Two weeks before shooting was to begin, Romanek abruptly left the production, citing that old chestnut of "creative differences," which almost always means money disputes. In fact it's been widely reported that it was a budgetary dispute. However, AMCTV blogger Todd Brown has a different interpretation, and I find myself (mostly) agreeing with him. More on that in a minute. Universal swore the film would go ahead as planned with Romanek's crew and arrangements already in place, not the least of which was legendary makeup effects master Rick Baker creating the Wolfman's look. So in stepped Joe Johnston, who has a reputation for being a really nice guy but is also what one might call a for-hire director. Not someone you hire when you want singular artistic visions. He directed "Hidalgo" and "Jumanji" and one of my favorite teen-years films, "The Rocketeer." He was also an art director on the original Star Wars trilogy and...interesting tidbit ahead...was the original creator of the character Boba Fett. So it's not like the guy doesn't have skills or experience, but...well, before writing this preview I had never heard of him.

So there's the first thing. The second thing is that right after Johnston came on board (with as little fanfare as humanly possible from Universal), screenwriter David Self was brought in and did a credited rewrite. Now, here's where blogger Todd Brown gets his evidence for his theory about the Romanek departure. He thinks it was about Walker's script. The script was delivered right up against the writer's strike, so there may not have been time to polish it, and given that Self was brought in after Romanek left might indicate that script issues played a part in his depature. Also, Brown points out that Self is a pretty high profile writer to be doing script polishes. In fact, he's thought of as one of the best writers in Hollywood, whose writing credits include "Thirteen Days" and "Road to Perdition."

I'm not sure I agree with this part of Brown's logic. Successful screenwriters are exactly who you'd turn to if you wanted to polish up a rough script. You'd want someone with proven skills, not some bottom-feeder who's never had a film crack 50% on Metacritic. And Self got full screen credit for his rewrite, it's not like he was doing this on the down-low. But I agree that the timing of Self's work to coincide with Johnston's hiring casts suspicions on the "budgetary disagreement" reason for Romanek leaving. Brown also pointed out that the budget in question was in the 100 million dollar range, and if Romanek couldn't make a film for that, he's in trouble.

Regardless, Johnston's hiring wasn't exactly cause for rejoicing among fans of Wolfie, but most of them were just so relieved that Universal hadn't hired rumored replacement Brett Ratner that they were counting their blessings.

Last July's Comic Con featured a Wolfman panel including Baker, Johnston, del Toro and Emily Blunt as well as a two minute trailer that looked very finished and surprisingly gory. So it came as a surprise when it was announced last winter that Wolfman would be moved from its April release date to November. At first everyone thought it was a strategic move...a Wolfman film sure feels like more of a fall movie than a spring one...but this was called into question when reports came out of new scenes being shot for the film with a second unit directed by stuntman Vic Armstrong. Not only are new scenes...new action scenes, no less...being shot this late is a pretty troubling sign, if Johnston wasn't involved in the reshoots that's even worse news. Johnston has just been tapped to direct Marvel's upcoming "Captain America" film, but that is barely in pre-production, so it's hard to imagine that he didn't have time to oversee the reshoots. Adding action scenes is just a cry for help, too. It usually means the studio isn't confident in the mass appeal of the film and wants to pump up the volume a little. Then again, the reshot action scenes featuring Deadpool at the beginning of "Wolverine" were one of the best parts of the film.

Anyway. With all these backstage details it's easy to forget that oh yeah, there's a movie in here someplace! The film is a fairly faithful remake of the 1941 film with some added characters, notably a monster hunter played by Hugo Weaving, who has not physically appeared on US screens since "V for Vendetta." Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, an actor who goes to Victorian London after the death of his brother and reunites with his estranged father. While investigating his brother's death he meets the brother's fiancee, played by Emily Blunt, and learns about a curse, and full moons and silver bullets, and gets bitten or some such. I have to say that seeing the Comic-Con footage, the film I was most strongly reminded of was Kenneth Branagh's 1994 "Frankenstein" with Robert de Niro. It had the same moodiness, the same period feeling. And I fear it must be said, del Toro looked really out of place in that setting. He is a fantastic actor, but the reality is that he is Puerto Rican. He can certainly carry off a non-Latino character, but the capes and top hats really don't suit him, nor does he look remotely like he could be Anthony Hopkins' son. I worry about Hopkins, too. His film career has really gone a bit pear-shaped, as they say in merry old England. He's made some questionable film choices and has developed the unfortunate and self-indulgent habit of really hamming it up, and I fear he'll do the same here. I depend on Weaving for a grounded, believable performance but his role is likely too small for it to make a difference, and Emily Blunt will probably be strapped into whatever love-interest, damsel-in-distress role the screenplay has relegated her to. I have zero confidence in Andrew Kevin Walker's ability to create a convincing female character with anything to do but scream and look pretty and I have no reason to suspect that David Self will have made any improvements on that score.

All in all this could be a very successful fall release, depending on how audiences react to the likely level of gore here and del Toro's performance. I'm very dubious about Johnston's probably overuse of CGI as well. Rick Baker was not happy that he wasn't in on the CGI rendering of the transformation sequences in which del Toro changes from human into the werewolf form that Baker himself created. CGI has never done as well with organic effects like this and it's too easy to imagine it being a trainwreck, especially after seeing some of the utter crap effects that have been allowed on screen this season (*cough* Wolverine *cough*).

Come to think of it, I'm losing confidence by the minute. I seem to have talked myself out of thinking this movie will be any good. It still could be good, mind you, but there are just too many things that could ruin it utterly to imagine none of them happening.

In Conclusion: An exciting concept with exciting filmmakers hits developmental speed bumps. It's the oldest story in Hollywood after boy-meets-girl. The film's greatest asset, Benicio del Toro, is still on board...but he could turn out to be its greatest detriment if audiences can't buy him in the role. Script rewrites and late reshoots don't inspire confidence either. I have hopes. Some hopes. Limited hopes.

Similar Titles: The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, Hidalgo
February 12th, 2010 (wide)
June 1st, 2010 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Joe Johnston

Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik

Total: 79 vote(s).

Horror, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for bloody horror, violence and gore.

125 min





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