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THE WOLFMAN
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Reviewed by: Pat Torfe

Directed by: Joe Johnston

Starring:
Benicio del Toro
Anthony Hopkins
Emily Blunt
Hugo Weaving

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
Lawrence Talbot is an acclaimed actor starring in a production of Hamlet. One day, he receives a visit from his brother's wife Gwen, who informs Lawrence that his brother has disappeared. Still estranged from his family after all these years, Lawrence reluctantly returns to the Talbot family estate. Upon arrival, Lawrence's father John tells him that his brother's body has been found, mauled by some sort of wild animal. Lawrence decides to stick around until he finds out what the hell is going on. Turns out there's a werewolf on the prowl, which bites Lawrence during his search. Lawrence survives, but now has a hairy problem of his own.

Is it good movie?
While not my favorite of the classic Universal monsters, The Wolfman still has a pull on me. Whether it's Lon Chaney, Jr.'s performance or Jack Pierce's makeup that still has me hooked after all these years, I don't know. Regardless, I was keen on seeing Universal's updated take on their classic film, even amongst the new film's noted snags in production. What I got was something that delighted and disappointed at the same time.

Benicio del Toro has always been a great actor, and he's on a roll once again (even though he really doesn't look English). Contrasting Lon Chaney's coy take on the Lawrence Talbot character (or Larry, in the original), del Toro presents a character that hides more than just a curse. You can tell the character's a tormented soul who hides behind the characters he plays on stage to mask the pain caused with the estrangement from his family. In other words, I totally bought it! Anthony Hopkins does his usual great stuff as Lawrence's nutty dad, even though it's more or less what he's been doing in these types of roles before. Emily Blunt is okay, but doesn't seem to gel onscreen with del Toro.

The gore is glorious in this one. A hard 'R', indeed. I'm talking intestines strewn all over, gnawed-on heads and hands, decapitations, arms lopped off and more. I did love the part involving a firearm that reminded me of PREDATOR (of all things), which was a giddy black humour thing. Obviously, the film's not all about gore. Effects master Rick Baker dove into the werewolves again and comes out with some awesome creations, as usual. This ain't the yak's hair makeup from the original, kids. The cinematography is stunning, as well. Coupled with the usual great score by Danny Elfman, it's impressive, to say the least.

As good as it sounds, the film has some rather noticeable problems. Not counting the various production stumbles that this puppy has had to endure, the film suffers in terms of character development in spots (especially when compared to the Director's Cut of the film). The Lawrence character doesn't quite give us enough to latch onto in spots as a character you feel for, and depending on how you feel, the film starts off a little slow and isn't as suspenseful as one might hope. Also, despite some great-looking creature effects, there are sequences that are almost entirely CG-driven that take you out of the whole movie. Remember, folks: CG is to compliment the action, not conquer it.

When it's all said and done, I enjoyed THE WOLFMAN, particularly the added character development of the Director's Cut. It's not one that will make everyone's top 10 list of horror films for the year, but it's one that will grow on you, given time. If you were a fan of the original and are looking for an updated take on the story, you can't go wrong with this one. Even if you're not, seeing the fantastic visuals, makeup and gore are well worth the price of admission if you can overlook the flaws.

Video / Audio
Video: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film is damn beautiful. Colours are strong, with the film grain being kept intact without that annoying DNR crap to complement the film. Details take a bit of a hit in the darker sequences, but still remain recognizable.

Audio: Like the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track boasts some great stuff. The sounds of slaughter boom along with Danny Elfman's score, and the quieter moments feature some nice complexities of sound. Impress your friends when you demonstrate your sound system with this in the player.

The Extras
For starters, the DVD contains the Theatrical Cut of the film along with a Director's Cut, the latter adding in sixteen minutes of footage, including a cameo by Max von Sydow (and a certain cane), as well as adding in a much-welcomed better sense of the character relationships in the film. Kudos to Universal for putting this all together with seamless branching, as it's kind of annoying to have two versions of the film on two discs.

As for the rest of the extras, they consist of Deleted and Extended Scenes. The deleted and extended scenes are basically more scenes of character development and a longer wolfman rampage through London. While interesting, they probably would've interrupted the flow had they been included. Still, these are fully polished shots, and they're still worth checking out.

Keep in mind, this is the DVD version of the film. The Blu-Ray version gets the bulk of the extras, including alternate endings, a handful of featurettes on the making-of the film including the stuntwork and the effects by Rick Baker (naturally), and the option to stream the original 1941 film (a piss-off, since why not include a physical copy of the film?). If you absolutely must go high-def (which in this case isn't much more of an upgrade), you can order the Blu-Ray here.

Last Call
While it has its flaws, THE WOLFMAN is great-looking, gory and has some great acting to boot. The tempo of the film along with its lack of real suspense is kind of a downer, but the Director's Cut of the film improves on the lack of character development the Theatrical Cut had. The DVD extras are interesting, but knowing that the Blu-Ray contains much more in terms of content is a kick in the crotch.

ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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