Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't Bother: The Wolfman

| by Allan Stackhouse |

Before you read this, please note that I watched the Unrated Version of the film as opposed to the Theater Version. What can I say, more blood and more guts is a selling point for me.

Upon seeing the trailer on TV, I remember being awestruck by the cast of Joe Johnston: Sir Anthony Hopkins, the Canadian marvel Christopher Plummer, and the versatile Benicio del Toro. Unfortunately, I was almost immediately let down by the film. Christopher Plummer appears in one scene (for which he is apparently not credited). Despite the name draw, none of the actors' performances provide enough to compensate for such a blatant lack of story.

Benicio plays Lawrence Talbot, a successful theater actor, who returns to his father's house upon the death of his brother. He is traumatized from his mother's suicide. At the start of the film, we can tell that something is amiss with his father, John Talbot. There are some nice bits of visual storytelling that reveal his character: his eyes staying bright while retreating into darkness. In the ambush scene in the first act, people are being decapitated left and right with no sight or sound of their attacker. Lawrence is attacked, bit by the werewolf and making him a werewolf.

I am utterly disappointed by the washed out pallet. Why are the default choices to make something old washing it out? After Effects. I have been to a handful of foreign countries and I'm . Washed out pallets do not work for these supernatural films. They don't work for films as fluffy as Eclipse and they don't work in what was supposed to have been a horror epic.

Hugo Weaving's initial appearance is commanding. I thought the movie was setting up Inspector Abberline as another protagonist, which would have proved an interesting narrative tool. He, himself, is displayed as flawed, not totally welcome by the townspeople for his by-the-book pursuit of the wolf. Yet again, his presence is wasted on a character whom I could care less about. It's quite unfortunate that these wasted characters become a recurring theme for the film: fantastic actor but very little character to act out. The only mildly impressive performance is Sir Anthony Hopkins as John Talbot. In the cell that holds Lawrence, he reveals that he killed Lawrence's mother. Unfortunately, this impressive bit of memorization is the epitome of exposition in the film. This movie simply tells us how to feel at every opportunity it gets.

I had absolutely no emotional attachment to any of these characters. I didn't care about anyone's survival. Not even the damsel in distress, Gwen Confliffe, played by Emily Blunt, another actress for whom I couldn't care less. Granted, she, like the other characters, had very little character to work with but she brings nothing to the table other than her face.

The movie, set in old England, was full of pompous old men. There's something so hilarious about watching pompous old men getting slaughtered that entirely works for this film. Lawrence, upon his first transformation, falls into the trap set by the townspeople but lays waste to their naievite. Twice in the film, they ended up killing another man. This didn't get to the point where it was hokey but it certainly made me chuckle a bit.

The double scare. If you're going to use them, use them sparingly. At first, I found the double scares to be a little lackluster but I found them funny after the second one. They only appeared at the dreams within dreams sequence and it would have been nice for the director to include these in the natural scape of the film but the fact that they put a smile on my face is a major plus.

I did not find the transformation scenes particularly good. The transformations relied entirely on CGI and it wasn't impressive in the least. If you're going to start out with great transformation scenes in 1981's An American Werewolf in London and a near-seamless blend of skin bursting special effects and body crunching visual effects in the Underworld series, you should be able to take it to next level. Especially after the bar was set almost twenty years ago. In Lawrence's first transformation, he writhes off screen and we can barely tell what is going on. The whole fear of the unknown thing does not work here because it's never presented as such. You cannot rely on a tool if you don't know how to use it.

Exposition, exposition, exposition. It's incomprehensible to me that a subject as interesting and scary as lycanthropy is shaved down to irritating dialogue about it. I don't mean to so harshly destroy Joe Johnston but this is the guy that Hollywood goes to when they can't get Spielberg. Spielberg directed both Jurassic Park and the Lost World but passed on Jurassic Park III. Who gets it? Joe Johnston of course. He's also done The Pagemaster and Hidalgo. He did direct October Sky, which I haven't seen, so maybe that's a good sign. His style reaks of the smell of someone filling in for someone else and the unfortunate thing is that it shows. Joe has done wonderful things in the world of art direction - The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi - but how he ever landed Captain America, I probably don't even want to know. I don't think he's fit to direct action especially after watching The Wolfman.

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