Saturday, February 20, 2010

No Clever Title...This Movie Was a Mess - The Wolfman (2010)

Sometimes trailers can be misleading. In the case of The Wolfman, I thought it looked to be a tad reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Dracula. It seemed like the film was going for a dream-like atmosphere that Francis Ford Coppola mastered 18 years ago (I feel old now), and I was intrigued. It's something that Tim Burton manages to do with just about every film he makes. Things don't look quite real, but they don't look fake either. It's a fine line to walk, and only a handful of directors can pull it off. But that's all irrelevant, because The Wolfman is not as good as its trailer makes it out to be. The cast is great and the material is ripe for a tragic tale of violence, love and remorse, but the final product is horribly, horribly flawed.

Now, as I understand it, the film went though a lot of development hell. Directors were changed and the editing was perhaps done with little time left, and it shows. I don't know any details, but if any of that is true, I can only wonder what I would have watched had the film been handled better. As it stands, it's a cobbled-together mess of good ideas and characters that makes me want to rip my hair out and eat it. I don't know why I would eat it, but that's what The Wolfman has reduced me to. For starters, the first half hour of the film contained the worst pacing and editing I've seen in years. Shit just starts happening without a moment to catch your breath or think about what's actually going on. It jumps from scene to scene at break-neck speed and doesn't let the viewer soak up anything being shown on the screen. They might as well have just started the thing with Benicio turning into a werewolf. Speaking of Benicio Del Toro, his character is shoddily introduced with an Emily Blunt voice-over of a letter she's writing to him. His brother (her fiance or husband, I forget) was missing and she was writing to ask for Benicio to come help aid in the search. That's all well and good, but 30 seconds of exposition later and there he is, standing inside his father's house. Ok, who is he? I don't know; there was a shot of him on stage doing Hamlet, so he's an actor. But the film never bothers to flesh his character out. In fact, the film doesn't flesh anyone out at all, and that's the most frustrating thing for me. If I'm supposed to care about what happens to these people, I need to have some kind of justification for investing my emotions. The Wolfman utterly fails in providing me with any reason to care, and that just makes the whole thing pointless.

pictured: Sir Not Appearing in this Film.

Also, a bizarre disappointment was Del Toro's performance. I know for a fact it's not due to his ability as an actor, so someone else needs to be kidney punched for making him do it. Every line he uttered was wooden and almost like he was reading it straight from the script. Everything else about him was fine, such as his facial expressions, posture, etc. But his line delivery was jarring and unnatural. Even more bizarre, however, was Anthony Hopkins' bi-polar accent. One minute he's speaking like he does in every other movie, and the next he has a full-on Irish accent. Then it's back to normal again. I can't for the life of me understand what the hell was going on with that. But the best performance of the film was pretty much wasted in Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberline. He has a couple of stand-out scenes, then the film mostly forgets about him until he needs to shoot stuff at the end. There are numerous occasions - definitely with Abberline - where it seems like character development, scene transitions and plot points were cut from the film. Overall, it felt like about an hour of footage was dropped, and that hour was sorely needed.

In this scene, the gypsy lady was going to explain how to cure cancer, but the movie was getting close to its 102 minute runtime, so the camera just turned off.

This wouldn't be a Wolfman review without talking about the transformations and special effects, so here I go. Meh on both fronts. The werewolf transformations weren't awe-inspiring in the least. American Werewolf in London did the whole face-appendage-elongation thing 29 years ago, and did it way better. So my solution would be to not just stick with close-ups of hands and feet growing and changing, then quick face shots with the mouth open. I've seen that shit before, and I'm not impressed. Perhaps if it was done practically I might give it a pass, but it wasn't, so I won't. But the effects in general were hit-and-miss, with a lot of misses. There was an absolutely horrid-looking cgi bear in one scene that made my brain freeze and reboot. And I have a request for any special effects people who might be reading this: before we get any more shots of bi-pedal human-animal hybrids running on all fours, please make sure it doesn't look like shit. Thanks. As far as the blood and gore is concerned, well, werewolves sure do side slashes and head loppings a lot.

Pretty decent half-monster face, but it's been done better.

I feel I have to point out another pet peeve of mine. This applies to monster movies and straight-up horror films in general: STOP WITH THE JUMP-SCARES. Yea, I get it. 5 seconds of silence and camera-panning, then BAM! Scary thing with a shitty violin screech accompanying it! Instead of trying to surprise me with the same tactic 10 times, how about building actual tension and dread? It's a novel idea, I know.

In all honesty, the actual werewolf design was a bit hokey and it detracted from how bad-ass it should have looked. The filmmakers decided to lean heavily on the original design, which sort of looks like a really fucking hairy Guile (minus the blond hair color and tank top/wife beater). It's just, And the numerous close-ups while running on all fours didn't help. At all.

In conclusion, I want to punch whoever is responsible for this disaster. A really cool monster movie/period piece is hidden underneath what turned out to be a rushed, poorly put together mess of a film. This thing could have been like an English-language Brotherhood of the Wolf, but instead we got stuck with a Lycanthropic Van Helsing. Oh, joy.

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