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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Wolfman

May 31st, 2010

The Wolfman - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

When it comes to the world of movie monsters, werewolves are second only to vampires when it comes to longevity. Remaking The Wolfman seems like a brilliant move, as the 1941 film contained one of the most iconic performances in monster movie history. However, with audiences raised on Underworld and Twilight, will a film that harkens back to Lon Chaney Jr. be able to connect?

Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean actor of some regard. At the beginning of the movie he is recalled to his home village by his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe, because his brother has disappeared. He's been avoiding his home due to the horrible memories he has of the place. His mother killed herself when he was a child and his father, John Talbot, locked him in a mental institute as a result. Their relationship is still very cool and when he arrives home his father tells him he is too late, as the body of his brother, Ben, was found.

Instead of leaving, and as a gesture of good will to Gwen, he decides to investigate how his brother died. The wounds are too severe to be done by a man, but there are no natural predators in England large enough to kill a man so savagely. During this initial investigation, he it learns that the villagers believe that the gypsies are to blame. (They have a dancing bear, which might have the strength to kill a man like that. Also, gypsies are convenient targets of hatred and have been so for centuries.) When Lawrence learns that Ben had business dealings with the gypsies, he decides it's too much of a coincidence. However, while confronting the gypsies, the villagers show up to kill the bear themselves. The local constable tries to reason with the villagers, but he's interrupted when the beast attacks. Many of the locals are killed off and Lawrence is brutally attacked. Fortunately, one of the gypsies, Maleva is able to save him, over the objections of her daughter, who says he's a beast that should be killed.

After these deaths, Inspector Francis Aberline shows up from London to investigate in a more official manner. The locals just want him to go after the Talbots, because the family is clearly cursed, but while he's interested in Lawrence's eyewitness testimony, and the speed of his recovery, he's unable to arrest him for anything and must simply wait for more victims. Fortunately, it's not a long wait.

At least it's not a long wait for him. For us it seems like forever.

I think the biggest problem with this movie is the pacing. Don't get me wrong, I prefer horror films that build a sense of dread and mood over jump scares and blood killings. However, I don't think there are many people reading this that don't know the mythology behind werewolves, which means almost no one will truly be wondering what the beast is. I felt there was a similar problem when Gwen was researching lycanthropy. While it may have made sense for the character to research this, I don't think these scenes added much to the movie. I certainly didn't learn anything I didn't already know about the mythology. They just felt like padding. There is some opportunity for suspense as to the identity of the werewolf that killed Ben Talbot in the beginning of the movie, but that too is telegraphed way in advance. (We learn early on that Lawrence saw his mother kill herself, at least that's what we are told at the time. However, it's clear right away that either she killed herself because she learned her husband was the werewolf, or that her husband had killed her. It was clear the movie was going to go one of two ways, it depended on how subtle the filmmakers wanted to be.

So the only big twist of the movie is hardly surprising. Can the movie thrive as a horror film? Sadly, not really. Sure, there are plenty of bloody kills and the transformation sequence is well done, but attempts at horror are little more than action scenes with an overuse of gore.

There are some aspects that work. For instance, the period setting is well used and I'm thankful that the filmmakers didn't decide to modernize the movie. Some of the acting is strong, especially Hugo Weaving as Inspector Francis Aberline. But Benicio Del Toro seems almost disinterested in the events of the film. (Perhaps the troubled shoot had an effect.)

I only have the Blu-ray, but apparently the only extra on the DVD are some deleted scenes. If you are only interested in a rental, I guess this is good enough.

Over on the Blu-ray, we find a loaded disc starting with the Unrated Director's cut. A lot of times, these add almost nothing to the movie and the Unrated label is mere marketing hype. Here, the director's cut is 18 minutes longer, which is a sizeable addition. Sadly, the film has pacing problems, so this doesn't help. You can watch the theatrical cut with a U-Control track. This Picture-in-Picture track offers pop-up trivia, comparisons to the original, and short behind-the-scenes clips. There are a couple alternate endings, and a handful of deleted scenes. Up next are a quartet of making of featurettes starting with an overview on the mythology, a look at the make-up, a more specific look at the transformation scene, and finally a look at the stunts.

The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled and it contains trailers for several recent and upcoming Universal releases including Get Him to the Greek, Robin Hood, etc. Oh yeah, and it had the entire 1941 classic you was stream. ... I'll repeat myself, you can watch the entire 1941 classic streamed onto your Blu-ray player. It's only in Standard Definition, but it looks great.

As for this film's technical presentation... The film was shot to be incredibly dark with many scene lit by nothing more than candle light, sometimes to the detriment of the video. It's hard to fault the video transfer for some of the problems caused by this, but nonetheless, this isn't the sharpest day-and-date release I've reviewed recently. The audio is stronger with solid bass levels, good use of surround speakers, etc.

The Blu-ray is pricey compared to the DVD costing 50% more. However, the high definition presentation, the amount of exclusive extras, the number of extras that push the technology, as well as the digital copy, all add up and this is solid value for the money, if you are interested in buying.

The Verdict

The Wolfman suffered from a troubled production and you can tell from the end product. It isn't terrible, but it is a waste of potential. Fans of the genre will want to check it out, but I would recommend renting. If you are intent on buying, the DVD is much cheaper, but nearly featureless, while the Blu-ray has enough extras that it is worth paying more for it.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Wolfman