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The UnPopular Opinion: The Wolfman

03.07.2012

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

I love monsters.  I love love love them.  They take on and run rampant with everything that we don't wish to admit is a part of ourselves, and in doing so their story becomes a safe way in which we can confront those qualities that we secretly fear, love, abhor, or relish in.  The very best monsters drip with tragedy (and often blood too), their outcast state illuminating the true monstrosity of the "normal" people around them, and in the process go through a complicated journey and character arc on their path to an inevitable fate of destruction.  THE WOLFMAN, an attempted reboot by Universal of its own "Wolf Man" property, released in February of 2010 after a great deal of behind-the-scenes hullabaloo and utterly failed in this regard according to a great many folks.  But for me? While THE WOLFMAN is perhaps not the movie I wanted and looked forward to for so many moons, I think THE WOLFMAN was still both a blast to watch and a damn solid movie to boot.

Wolfman pic 1

"I am what they say I am... I'm a monster."

As I mentioned above, there was a great deal of scuffling going on in the months and weeks leading up to the production's start date, with long-attached director Mark Romanek (NEVER LET ME GO) leaving a mere three weeks before production began.  After preparing for ten months Romanek eventually decided that he and the producers couldn't agree as to the tone of and meaning behind Lawrence Talbot's story, and so he moved on to other things and the studio scrambled to find a replacement.  Their search eventually yielded Joe Johnston (CAPTAIN AMERICA), who I do believe did a hell of a lot of good work with so little time to prepare.  Which brings us to the first fact as to why I enjoy this movie as greatly as I do:

I'm impressed by what Johnston managed to bring together with so little time to be adequately involved, and specifically in reference to how beautiful so much of the movie is.  Yes, it suffers from a muted color palette that dulls the opening act's visual storytelling, but I'll be damned if Johnston doesn't then make up for it with beautiful and striking imagery/shots (both in terms of literally how they look and their greater thematic resonance).  Just a few examples include 1) the meat hook that hangs open over Ben’s body in the beginning (foreshadowing his father's madness and cruelty), 2) how after the man in the pub tells of the Werewolf attack 25 years before we cut to a shot of rich stormy clouds moving swiftly towards Talbot Hall, 3) the men surrounding Lawrence after he has been bitten, with the moonlight shining through the standing stones, and 4) the really great visceral touch during Lawrence’s transformation of showing us his reflection in the water as he roars and blood drips out of his mouth and into the water.

What makes movies different from so many other storytelling mediums is the power their visual side bears, and I'd say that the power of its visuals are the first way in which THE WOLFMAN succeeds.

Wolfman pic 5

“There’s no sin in killing a beast.”
“Is there not? What of killing a man? Where does one begin and the other end?”

Then there's the fact that so many sequences are both well done and, in my experience, true to life.  It is this reality amidst a gory monster movie that I actually find increases my enjoyment of the story and makes me elevate THE WOLFMAN above a great many of recent monster movies.

For example, the way the events go as Lawrence is remembering how he discovered his mother’s suicide/body - the roaring of the animals, the blossoming of the blood on the ground, the ghost version of himself walking ahead and then rejoining with his real body? These are all things that are very illustrative of the way our mind works when it combines memory and fantasy. We expand and enhance the truth to meet what we wish to believe happened.  Similarly, the segment where the film shows Lawrence’s treatment in the asylum is extraordinarily harrowing, both in filmic terms and in the terms of what that kind of abuse does to the body/mind.  There's also the attack on the gypsy camp after Hopkins has given the wolf free reign and the madness/suffering/confusion such callous cruelty brings, and Lawrence's rampage across London, and the very effective and visceral nature of the wolf transformations themselves (there's a reason Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won an Oscar).  Great sequence after great sequence, albeit lacking a certain thematically connective tissue (more on this later).

Interestingly, THE WOLFMAN elects to have not one but three antagonists for Lawrence - himself, his father, and Detective Aberline.  I'd say that while I don't think this is too much stuffed in at once, Lawrence's conflict with himself is arguably the most important and yet the weakest in the film. The presence of Hopkins' character gives Lawrence (the man) a very nice physical and emotional presence to work against, as it is his evil and abandon which has brought so much suffering to the Talbot line (not to mention his complete failure at being a father - even as his son nearly dies, all he can do is criticize Lawrence), while Aberline's constantly calculating gives Lawrence (the wolf) a good foe as well.

Wolfman pic 3

"Never look back, Lawrence. Never look back. The past is a wilderness of horrors."

Admittedly, while many individual shots may be striking and beautiful, the camera work is not particularly exciting with the framing of things being especially lackluster. And perhaps it is foolish of me to look for logic in a movie about a werewolf, but I'd argue that if you're going to have a monster there need to be rules that dictate how that monster acts so that the world of the story around it can be solid, relatable, and real.  This monster, if you can't tell what I'm going to say already, doesn't seem to have many rules.  Sometimes it's sentient, sometimes it kills with abandon, sometimes it does both - I don't believe that saying "that's just the nature of a beast" is nearly enough of an excuse. 

Though I do believe this takes us into the movie's biggest problem, namely the script by Andrew Kevin Walker (SE7EN, SLEEPY HOLLOW) as it was revised by David Self (ROAD TO PERDITION).  In fact, I think it's the movie's only real problem, though that of course makes it a big one.  The script is weak, as weak as a newborn baby lying in the path of a hungry werewolf.  Many characters lack dimensionality, themes are revealed and then discarded, lazy and uninspired narrative tricks are used, and it can't decide just what sort of story it even wants to really be.  Like several of the past movies in this column, THE WOLFMAN suffers from a lack of cohesion between producer input, what the text actually says, and the director's own intention.  The actors, Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt especially, do what they can with the material, and everyone involved uniformly turns in what I would say are the best performances possible with such a weak script and confused vision for the story.

But then there's Anthony Hopkins’ performance, which I did find rather lifeless even for a character meant to be distant.  That being said, there is one exception, and that is when he says “terrible things, Lawrence. You’ve done terrible things.” He delivers that line as those he's tasting the most delicious dish imaginable. You can tell at that moment that he is no different from the wolf anymore, even in human form.

Wolfman pic 4

"Terrible things, Lawrence.  You've done terrible things."

If there are criticisms of melodrama to this piece, as I have heard every so often, I'd like to point out that Shakespeare and the Bible are both mentioned explicitly and often. Therefore I think it's safe to say that the themes, characters, and interactions in THE WOLFMAN are painted with broader strokes than most stories.  Which, again, while this version of the movie wasn't quite what I originally wanted, I now find to be completely fine.  A modern monster movie that is good fun to watch while still having a fair amount of meat on its bones? I'd say that's a rather lucky thing to have indeed.

And finally, deserving of his own small paragraph due to the high level of investment and wonder he brings to the table: Hugo Weaving as Detective Aberline.  “Rules, Mrs. Kirk. They’re all that keep us from a dog-eat-dog world, you know. Pint of bitter please.”  Such.  A good.  Line.

Ultimately, I'd say that if the movie suffers from any problem that problem is safety and a certain lack of faith on the part of the producers.  Everything it does is great and solid and filled with sparks of life - the tragedy of Lawrence's position, the monstrous people around him, the debate within of how to cope with the beastly burden he bears, the werewolf's intense violence, the Victorian Gothic atmosphere - it is all already entertaining and gruesome and laden with exciting possibility.  All that it needed was a bit more. 

Well, that and a sequel with Hugo Weaving as the new Wolf Man.

Wolfman small poster 2

Wolfman small poster 1

*Note: I also watched the Extended Cut, which adds 17 minutes to the first act of the film. While some things don't jive with the subsequent re-edits necessary to make the version seen in theaters, there is both a gradual build and several instances of very charged character interaction that do indeed make the film better.  This is what happens when you don't have the patience to let the anticipation for a monster build and be based on an investment in the characters, producers!

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: JoBlo.com

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10:29PM on 03/07/2012

I Disagree With 99% Of This

I must disagree. The story makes no sense, and it feels like there's 4 films clawing their way out- the gothic/ atmospheric one, the gory monster-on-the-loose, the melodramatic family on the brink, and the romance. Del Toro is lifeless and awful in the role. Blunt & he have no chemistry, and everything is rushed through. Hopkins, while slumming, seemed to be having fun though. The make-up effects were good, but the CGI was rubbery. The plot holes drove me crazy! I will say that given the very
I must disagree. The story makes no sense, and it feels like there's 4 films clawing their way out- the gothic/ atmospheric one, the gory monster-on-the-loose, the melodramatic family on the brink, and the romance. Del Toro is lifeless and awful in the role. Blunt & he have no chemistry, and everything is rushed through. Hopkins, while slumming, seemed to be having fun though. The make-up effects were good, but the CGI was rubbery. The plot holes drove me crazy! I will say that given the very small turn around time Johnson had, he did well enough.
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+3
8:59PM on 03/07/2012

Underrated

Alejandro- I agree with you. I am a fan of this remake, I love the effects and the art direction, and I love that it is a serious attempt with great actors. Sometimes I'm not sure what people expect in their own anticipation, or how much more they can ask for. It is very, very difficult to make a universally beloved film.
Alejandro- I agree with you. I am a fan of this remake, I love the effects and the art direction, and I love that it is a serious attempt with great actors. Sometimes I'm not sure what people expect in their own anticipation, or how much more they can ask for. It is very, very difficult to make a universally beloved film.
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-1
7:59PM on 03/07/2012
It was very entertaining, I liked it a lot. Anyone who was expecting a serious horror movie would definitely have been disappointed, though, which is why I can understand how much some people dislike it.
It was very entertaining, I liked it a lot. Anyone who was expecting a serious horror movie would definitely have been disappointed, though, which is why I can understand how much some people dislike it.
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+5
6:10PM on 03/07/2012
This is one of the movies that is bad only because when you watch it you can see how great it could have been.

Plus, I knew how it was going to end in the first five minutes and that is never a good thing.
This is one of the movies that is bad only because when you watch it you can see how great it could have been.

Plus, I knew how it was going to end in the first five minutes and that is never a good thing.
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4:54PM on 03/07/2012
I personally rate the movie as being 'almost good.' I loved the gothic atmosphere, loved Hugo Weaving, even Hopkins brought some interesting things to the table. And when Joe Johnston 'freed the beast' the product onscreen was awesomely bloody. It fails with the predictable story structure, anticlimactic ending, and overly melodramatic storyline.
I personally rate the movie as being 'almost good.' I loved the gothic atmosphere, loved Hugo Weaving, even Hopkins brought some interesting things to the table. And when Joe Johnston 'freed the beast' the product onscreen was awesomely bloody. It fails with the predictable story structure, anticlimactic ending, and overly melodramatic storyline.
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+1
3:37PM on 03/07/2012
I don't know if it was Emily or Benicio but I dug this movie.
I don't know if it was Emily or Benicio but I dug this movie.
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+2
3:12PM on 03/07/2012
It seems the promise of epic bloodshed always leaves me disappointed. Same thing happened with Jeepers Creepers 2. Bus full of kids to kill? Awesome. Oh wait, he just picked 3 or 4 and let the rest run away. Dude had no balls for some ancient demon bat thing.
It seems the promise of epic bloodshed always leaves me disappointed. Same thing happened with Jeepers Creepers 2. Bus full of kids to kill? Awesome. Oh wait, he just picked 3 or 4 and let the rest run away. Dude had no balls for some ancient demon bat thing.
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+0
3:09PM on 03/07/2012
The movie was decent, but could have been a lot better. One part that really bugged me was when he turns during that assembly. ya know, when he's screaming about how he's going to kill everyone as he's turning? Then he turns and goes after the one guy that tortured him. What the hell? You just said you'd kill everyone then you immediately single one guy out and leave. Dude had no balls for a werewolf.
The movie was decent, but could have been a lot better. One part that really bugged me was when he turns during that assembly. ya know, when he's screaming about how he's going to kill everyone as he's turning? Then he turns and goes after the one guy that tortured him. What the hell? You just said you'd kill everyone then you immediately single one guy out and leave. Dude had no balls for a werewolf.
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2:24PM on 03/07/2012
Yeah, I thought it was pretty good too.
Until the "Wolf-Off".
That part was corny
Yeah, I thought it was pretty good too.
Until the "Wolf-Off".
That part was corny
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+2
11:30AM on 03/07/2012
I agree with snoopmish. I can't agree with all the praise for the movie and definitely don't think its a good movie, but it was still a hell of a fun time. The gore was appreciated and the cast was superb.
I agree with snoopmish. I can't agree with all the praise for the movie and definitely don't think its a good movie, but it was still a hell of a fun time. The gore was appreciated and the cast was superb.
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+3
9:47AM on 03/07/2012
No thanks give me the original 1941 version anyday.
No thanks give me the original 1941 version anyday.
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9:30AM on 03/07/2012
Though I don't agree with how much praise you give the film, I do agree that it is fun. I like the film and enjoy it, probably because of how much I love monster films. Not the best of them but no where near as bad as everyone has said. Yes, I own it too.
Though I don't agree with how much praise you give the film, I do agree that it is fun. I like the film and enjoy it, probably because of how much I love monster films. Not the best of them but no where near as bad as everyone has said. Yes, I own it too.
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9:15AM on 03/07/2012
I really liked this movie. It took the original story and flushed it out and improved upon it in every way, except the one thing I didn't quite love was the SPOILER thing with the father being a SPOILER you know. Benicio Del Toro was wonderful as Lawrence Talbot.
I really liked this movie. It took the original story and flushed it out and improved upon it in every way, except the one thing I didn't quite love was the SPOILER thing with the father being a SPOILER you know. Benicio Del Toro was wonderful as Lawrence Talbot.
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8:54AM on 03/07/2012
I thought it was a terrific movie but the goofy fight at the end kinda ruined it for me. It was completely unnecessary.
I thought it was a terrific movie but the goofy fight at the end kinda ruined it for me. It was completely unnecessary.
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8:52AM on 03/07/2012

I respect your opinion. But God dammit, did I hate this movie.

I LOVE The Wolf Man and I love werewolves. They're the bread to my monster-movie butter.

What I hated most about this movie were all the positive points you made. Tonally, it was just a disaster. The melodrama was like bad high school theatre. And the pacing, the editing, the plot structure — it was as if the filmmakers wanted something like Coppola's Dracula, but shorter and Sommer's Van Helsing, but slower.

I couldn't dislike this movie any more than I do—and I'm not sure if it's just
I LOVE The Wolf Man and I love werewolves. They're the bread to my monster-movie butter.

What I hated most about this movie were all the positive points you made. Tonally, it was just a disaster. The melodrama was like bad high school theatre. And the pacing, the editing, the plot structure — it was as if the filmmakers wanted something like Coppola's Dracula, but shorter and Sommer's Van Helsing, but slower.

I couldn't dislike this movie any more than I do—and I'm not sure if it's just because of the brutal rape it did to my expectations or how miscast this whole film was in general, let alone the actors.
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9:16AM on 03/07/2012
I really liked the tone and atmosphere. Horro r movies, and monster movies need to be creepy and atmospheric. I had sympathy for the main character, and the Wolfman was suitably scary.
I really liked the tone and atmosphere. Horro r movies, and monster movies need to be creepy and atmospheric. I had sympathy for the main character, and the Wolfman was suitably scary.
8:44AM on 03/07/2012
I posted this some time ago alongside an earlier Wolfman article and it got at least 10 thumbs down, I reiterate:

Wolfman: 9/10.
I posted this some time ago alongside an earlier Wolfman article and it got at least 10 thumbs down, I reiterate:

Wolfman: 9/10.
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8:43AM on 03/07/2012
Yeah enjoyed this one too, espicially the extended cut felt alot more solid and less schizo than the threatrical. It had some good atmosphere, effects and characters biggest disappointment though was how distant Del Toro was, thought he'd be great in the role but only really comes alive when he's in the make-up.
Yeah enjoyed this one too, espicially the extended cut felt alot more solid and less schizo than the threatrical. It had some good atmosphere, effects and characters biggest disappointment though was how distant Del Toro was, thought he'd be great in the role but only really comes alive when he's in the make-up.
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12:39PM on 03/07/2012
Right on. The film could've been made better by an actor who made more interesting choices.
Right on. The film could've been made better by an actor who made more interesting choices.
8:06AM on 03/07/2012

Spot on

I totally agree. I really enjoyed this flick. It definitely had its problems, but overall I felt it was a really enjoyable and scary monster movie. I will say that *SPOILER* the wolf-on-wolf action at the end left a bitter taste in my mouth. I don't know what I expected, maybe I wanted something more fantastical, but it just didn't feel right to me.
I totally agree. I really enjoyed this flick. It definitely had its problems, but overall I felt it was a really enjoyable and scary monster movie. I will say that *SPOILER* the wolf-on-wolf action at the end left a bitter taste in my mouth. I don't know what I expected, maybe I wanted something more fantastical, but it just didn't feel right to me.
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10:51AM on 03/07/2012
I totally agree - it reminded me of The Incredible Hulk's ending fight, and while I actually really dig that movie and felt that it worked fine there, such a mano-a-mano showdown seemed utterly out of place in THE WOLFMAN.
I totally agree - it reminded me of The Incredible Hulk's ending fight, and while I actually really dig that movie and felt that it worked fine there, such a mano-a-mano showdown seemed utterly out of place in THE WOLFMAN.
8:02AM on 03/07/2012

Good read

Agree with most of the article, this is definitely one of those films destined for poor reception, this one feels akin to "HULK" in 2003 (which I also enjoyed)
Agree with most of the article, this is definitely one of those films destined for poor reception, this one feels akin to "HULK" in 2003 (which I also enjoyed)
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