For the month of August, my “Sunday’s with…” theme is transformation! What better way to start this month than with a classic tale, redone for a modern audience. This is my Sunday with… “The Wolfman” 2010.
Release Date: February 12, 2010
Run Time: 119 minutes-extended cut
Starring: Benicio Del Toro
Director: Joe Johnston
Robs Score: 6/10
“It is said there is no sin in killing a beast, only in killing a man. But where does one begin and the other end?” – Gwen Conliffe
The Wolfman begins with a frantic chase scene between a man and an unknown pursuer through the Blackmoor woods. The man is eventually caught and attacked by what appears to be a wolf. The man in question was Ben Talbot, and his fiancée Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) travels to England to inform his brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) that his brother was missing. Lawrence had left the family estate years ago and had gone on to become a successful Shakespearean stage actor. Lawrence explains of the strained relationship with his father and of his obligations to his company. The next day Lawrence boards a train towards home after having a fevered dream of his brother when they were children. Lawrence has finally returned home and has a luke-warm reunion with his father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). It is here that it is revealed that Ben was found ripped apart. After viewing his brothers body Lawrence decides to drink his sorrows away at the local pub. Talk of the murder is prominent and many wild theories are being thrown around. Everything from werewolves to the gypsy’s in which Ben would act as a liaison for. The talk eventually turned towards the Talbot’s deceased mother and it is here the Lawrence flips out. Through a flashback scene we are informed that Lawrence found his father standing over his mother after she committed suicide. Unable to cope with what he saw, Sir John sent his son to an asylum, thus explaining their strained relationship. The next night Lawrence visits the gypsy camp to seek answers about his brother. During his conversation with a woman named Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin), the townspeople invade the camp demanding the gypsy’s turn over a dancing bear which was blamed for Ben’s murder. The townspeople aren’t the only ones who invaded the camp as an unseen assailant starts attacking and savagely murdering everyone. Lawrence see’s this beast chase a young boy away from the camp and he goes after it. A short tension filled game of hide and seek ends with Lawrence being attacked and bitten in the neck by the wolf creature, however he is saved as the gypsy’s shoot the wolf and chase it off. Maleva and the rest of the gypsy’s attempt to stitch up Lawrence however they consider letting him die because he was “touched by the beast”. Lawrence is returned to his home estate and Gwen takes care of him until he is fully healed. Talk of his unnatural healing spreads and the townspeople show up at the estate to take Lawrence. They are scared off and return to the pub where we meet Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) who was assigned with solving the Ben Talbot murder. The talks and accusations in the town continue, however the horror is just beginning because that evening, the moon is full. The Wolfman is a remake of the 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr.
The Wolfman has always been an allegory for the dark and monstrous part that hides within all of us. The success or failure of the werewolf film is mostly dependent upon how the main character reacts to the realization that they are losing control over themselves. This is a fear all of us have and can relate too. We all like to believe that we are great people, but deep down inside we all have that “animal.” Humans are hardwired to survive and under all of the politeness and everyday courtesies that society dictates, we are all out to survive. The wolf man mythos is a play on this, albeit a very violent and extreme depiction. In my opinion the strongest and most horrifying of scenes is always when the wolf man wakes up the next day, caked in blood with no recollection of why. This aspect speaks volumes to me. Blacking out is a very real thing for many people, and the consequences of what we do while in that state is a scary thought. We for the most part don’t want to hurt anyone, especially those we care and love, but that is the horror of the wolf man – no one is safe. The mental questioning the character goes thru is also chilling. Am I crazy, or do I really turn into a wolf and kill people? Either way it’s a tough realization to come to! The Wolfman plays on these fears, and in its most successful incarnations we see a character who is absolutely horrified by themselves and the horrors that they are capable of.
Whenever we bring up a remake we are inevitably going to compare it to the original, and this is often an unfair comparison. Filmmakers have to straddle the line between being true to the original and also putting a modern spin on the material that does not feel like they regurgitated the original. Sometimes the remake is done very successfully, adding layers to the original that only enhances the myth of these characters. Unfortunately the remake here falls short of the original, and does not really add to the classic story. The general outline of the wolf man is the same here; however I truly feel the story falls short because of the characters. Lon Chaney Jr’s Lawrence is one of the saddest, most sympathetic characters I have ever encountered. His eyes portrayed such sorrow and inner turmoil. He honestly feared the moon and what it would do to him. This newer version shows Lawrence as a success, he is not the timid man we all love. Whereas Chaney feared his inevitable actions it almost seemed that Del Toro’s embraced it (the final fight scene, and even the observation scene). I still enjoyed the originality of the Del Toro character however it is hard to not compare them. Del Toro is a lifelong fan of the original film so it was done as an act of love; however I feel that he really failed to capture the absolute fear and sadness that made the original character so memorable.
The real success of the film lies in the visuals. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, namely Chatsworth House that was used as the Talbot estate. Rick Baker and his team were brought on to create the wolf man and they did an amazingly impressive job. Baker states that he tried to keep the general design as close to the Jack Pierce original as he could, and you can definitely see that especially when given close ups of the face. The transformation scenes were also very successful as we see the over extension of limbs and all that body modification goodness. Rick Baker was rewarded for his work with an academy award win for his makeup and special effects on the film. I am not a gore hound however the decision to make this film as bloody and gory as possible was a great one. Logically a werewolf attack in a crowded area would be frenzied and violent and all over the place. The over the top violence displayed here was a testament to that “realness” and it actually attributed to a lot of the fun of this movie.
The Wolfman sported an ensemble cast led by Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt. Emily Blunt, aside from being beautiful, was very good as the grieving widow battling the heart ache of her fiancé’s death, along with her new feelings towards the man’s brother. She was an excellent follow-up to the incomparable Evelyn Ankers. And then we come to Anthony Hopkins! In his later roles Hopkins has been known to go over the top when compared to the cold calculated Hannibal Lecter that earned him such praise. This new approach doesn’t always connect, however it was so good here. You could tell that he had fun with this role as he played menacing and trickery perfectly. One of the best dynamics of the film was also the obviously tense relationship between Lawrence and Sir. John. I also cannot stress enough how big of a fan of Hugo Weaving I am. The man is the modern day Tim Curry, a chameleon that can adapt and successfully portray any character, and he does not disappoint here.
The Wolfman opened to negative reviews and under performed at the box office, failing to make back its original budget. Despite the negativity there is a lot of good stuff here, and an amazing display in the art of makeup and effects. If you are a purist of the original classic, this version may not be for you, however it is a solid modern take and worthy of a view.