Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

The Wolfman
My rating:

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all from TMBF, who has just come back from CNY holidays, most of which he spent getting nicely stuffed with both food and angpows. I hadn't exactly intended to take a break from blogging, but familial obligations kept me too busy to either go to the movies or get online. Which has me a little anxious, since there's a whole heap of movies out for the holiday season that I intend to review, so now I've got my work cut out for me. (Ten new movies out this week, but not a single new release the week before. Local cinema distributors are just made of facepalm.) Anyway, I had time for one quick movie before I went balik kampung, and this is the one I picked; it's the one I'd been hearing the most hype about.

Guess that also makes it the most disappointing.

It is 1890, and American stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) has returned to his ancestral home in the English moors on the occasion of his brother's death - torn apart by a savage beast. His estranged father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) greets him cordially, as does his father's manservant Singh (Art Malik) - but it is his brother's fiancee Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) that arouses deeper feelings in him. Later, he is attacked by the same animal - and although he survives, he too now transforms into a bloodthirsty werewolf during the full moon. Even as he struggles to preserve his humanity, Scotland Yard inspector Francis Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives to investigate the brutal killings for which he is responsible.

So it appears this movie is a direct remake of the 1941 film of the same name, one of Universal's classic monster movie stable that includes Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. (All of which have also been remade.) I'm old, but I ain't that old enough to have watched the original; but I wonder if the choice to be faithful to the source material is part of this film's biggest problem. The storyline is stale and flat; I kept waiting for it to throw something fresh and unexpected at me, but by the time the ending rolled around all I felt was a sense of "that's it??" In fact, it reminds me of nothing more than Ang Lee's Hulk, which isn't a flattering comparison.

A formulaic story can still be enjoyable if the film is well-made (case in point, Avatar). But its tale of the angsty man-beast never really resonates, and a lot of it is due to the lead actors. Benicio Del Toro gives a curiously dull performance here. The man has an Oscar to his name, but he's just wooden as Lawrence Talbot; in fact, for some reason his dialogue is kept to a minimum, and there are long scenes in which he simply doesn't speak. (Could it be because the Puerto Rican actor wasn't comfortable with an American accent? His delivery is occasionally stilted and monotonous.) Emily Blunt is also wasted in little more than a "flower vase" role, and she and Del Toro don't generate much heat. Only Anthony Hopkins' calmly deranged Sir John is fun to watch, but that's an act he can play in his sleep.

What keeps the proceedings entertaining is some effective scares by director Joe Johnston. He doesn't skimp on either the gore or the jump-scares, so there's some fun to be had in both departments. Make no mistake, this is a bona fide horror movie, and these aren't the toothless teen romance variety of werewolves. And it's all very nice and gothic; Talbot Hall's crumbling exterior is suitably menacing, and its interior boasts some gorgeous production design. The cinematography is also quite lovely, whether it's the perpetually gloomy town of Blackmoor or its spooky moors and forests at nighttime. England circa 1890 never looked so good, and Danny Elfman's bombastic score offers a feast for the ears too.

But there's no telling how much of it is really Johnston's doing. This movie underwent quite a troubled production, and it shows; I noticed at least two instances of slightly dodgy editing, and I'd be willing to bet that Del Toro originally had more dialogue too. Those links report that the film's most extensive reshoots were to revise the look of the wolfman - and I thought he looked fine, honestly. I've read quite a few reviews that say he looks cheesy and fake, and I didn't think so, although he doesn't exactly beat Avatar's Na'vi for realistic CGI creatures. The transitions between old-fashioned makeup (by SFX legend Rick Baker) and computer animation are seamless; and yes, he does look better running on all fours.

Seems like it's all for naught though. It's a pretty sad fate for The Wolfman - irreparably meddled with, then dumped into cinemas on Valentine's Day week when few people are in the mood for a dark horror-thriller. (And no, what passes for a romance between Lawrence and Gwen does not cut it.) Moreso here in Malaysia, where it's also the Lunar New Year period. So, tough luck Johnston and Del Toro, it coulda been cool but ended up meh. Now let's check out some CNY-appropriate fare.

NEXT REVIEW: 14 Blades
Expectations: no LoveHKFilm review as yet, so I'm pretty much going in blind