Synopsis: Lawrence Talbot (Benecia Del Toro), a haunted nobleman, is lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father, Talbot sets out to find his brother... and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself. Talbot's childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget. But when his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emioly Blunt), tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline has come to investigate.
Joe Johnston turns a classic monster into an anaemic bore.
Screenwriter Curt Siodmak was a German Jew of Polish descent who fled to Hollywood in the 1930s to escape persecution from the Nazis, and it’s widely believed he drew on personal experience when he wrote Universal’s 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man.
I shudder to think how Siodmak would react to the way director Joe Johnston and writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self have clumsily subverted his ideas in The Wolfman.
Siodmak’s vision of a lumbering nobleman (Lon Chaney Jr.), who saw himself as an outsider and was doomed by forces he couldn’t control, is turned on its head in this loose – very loose – remake of George Waggner’s film. Siodmak "understood drama and pathos," says Constantine Nasr, who produced the documentaries accompanying the US DVD re-release of the original movie.
Problem is, Johnston and his writers don’t understand either concept. The result is a B-grade film which is rarely scary, frequently dull, and feels as cold, gloomy and uninviting as the landscape. And it squanders the prodigious talents of Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving.
Alarm bells should have been ringing at the studio when the original director Mark Romanek quit in early 2008 during pre-production, citing the usual “creative differences,” and was replaced by Johnston, who made the third and worst Jurassic Park and the flop Hidalgo.
Test screenings were held in March 2009, when the print featured a number of scenes that didn’t make the final cut, and the release was delayed several times, once to allow for six weeks of re-shoots.
Affecting a strange mid-Atlantic accent, a puffy-faced Del Toro never looks comfortable as Lawrence Talbot, evidently a successful actor in the US, who returns home to England to search for his missing brother. Strangely he seems to bear no ill-will to his estranged father Sir John (Hopkins, in the role made famous by Claude Rains), who sent him to an asylum and thence to an aunt in the US after the death of his mother.
Lawrence soon learns his brother died violently, as did several other villagers, and a local priest claims a werewolf is the culprit. An unlikely romance develops between Lawrence and his dead brother’s fiancée Gwen (Blunt), who in the original film was engaged to the Talbots' gamekeeper.
Inevitably, Lawrence gets bitten by the werewolf, survives and finds his wounds are self-healing, unlike all the other victims who are slaughtered, and he discovers the beast within. This sets up a fiery confrontation between father and son, and a supremely sacrificial act by a teary Gwen.
The special make-up effects by Rick Baker are unremarkable, no better or worse than what we’ve seen in movies like The Hulk and Van Helsing, and one scene where the beast clambers over Victorian London’s rooftops like a miniature King Kong is merely laughable.
Surprisingly given the pedigree of the writers (Walker’s credits include Sleepy Hollow and Seven, Self wrote Road to Perdition and Thirteen Days), the dialogue is exceedingly banal. As the kind of Scotland Yard inspector who gave the Met a bad name, Weaver is lumbered with lines such as “God help us” and “quick, get the others.” His character is supposedly based on the real-life head of the Jack the Ripper investigation, but for most of the film he wanders around for little purpose.
The romance between Lawrence and Gwen never jells, and while Blunt gets to emote a lot and wear some nice costumes, she’s wasted here. Usually a class act, Hopkins is simply slumming it as the mad, bad father who assures his son that “I’m quite dead.”
You’ve heard of the Abominable Snowman. Beware the Abominable Wolfman.
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