The Wolfman
Psst! Emily! Run towards me, I’ll keep you safe!

Theatrical Release Date: 02/12/2010
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik, Geraldine Chaplin

In 1941, director George Waggner brought forth “The Wolf Man” starring Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and Lon Chaney Jr. (as the famous movie monster). Now, 69 years later, director Joe Johnston is delivering a remake of that classic with Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro assuming their respective roles and giving it the slightly adjusted title of “The Wolfman”.

There has been rumor after rumor regarding the postponed release of this film, as it was slated to appear in front of audiences anywhere from 3 months to a year ago. Whether it was indeed editorial issues, re-shoots, or just marketing and distribution cost problems is a matter of conjecture. However, what matters is the version that is now playing in theaters nationwide and your enjoyment of the film is going to depend on what you are hoping to find inside that dark auditorium.

First of all, this is most definitely a film for adults because the gore and violence levels are commensurate with what one should expect to happen if werewolves were real and terrorizing the English countryside. Heads do in fact roll, limbs are torn asunder and disembowelment ain’t just a long word. There are also a number of hallucinatory/flashback scenes that are high on the creepy meter, probably ripe to haunt the dreams of anyone who still deems a night light necessary, not just fun or useful.

Second, while the actors involved are all top notch (although Del Toro is a bit asleep at the wheel), they don’t get the kind of development that truly allows an audience to care about what happens to them. The film starts right off with an attack, briefly introduces the main characters and then proceeds to push forward as quickly as possible to get to the end credits. A series of full moons happen over the course of it all but somehow, it almost feels like this was one of those films shot in real time because it barely stops to smell the mutilated corpses.

Finally, while Johnston utilizes Danny Elfman’s score and a veritable plethora of loud stingers to play up the suspense of many scenes (and gets this wuss of a critic to jump a lot), there’s never any mystery for the audience to unravel. We’re given all the answers pretty much upfront and the characters crash though the script like a pre-recall Toyota.

On the plus side, the creature effects are superb. Rick Baker and his team deserve a lot of kudos for their efforts, as the transformations and action scenes play out as both marvelous and terrifying. Also, while most of the action takes place in the countryside village of Blackmoor, watching Del Toro (who plays as a English boy raised in the states) rampage through England’s capital city gave me a moment to giggle about “An American Werewolf in London” – which I appreciate. There’s also a nice cameo for Baker himself, who plays the first Gypsy killed by the beast (well done, sir).

If the only thing you want is to see werewolf carnage, then you’re going to get your money’s worth. However, at a running time of about an hour and a half, there’s plenty of room to add some more character development – giving the film more humanity to balance out the brutality. A 2.5 out of 5, “The Wolfman” has a lot of good elements but fails to put all the pieces together well enough to make what happens on screen matter for audiences who don’t get any real sense of who the characters are, or why their actions are so difficult to cope with emotionally.

According to interviews I’ve read with Johnston, the DVD will feature an extra 17 minutes (mostly from the beginning of the picture) that was removed on a final editing pass before theatrical release to get to the action quicker. While some of the effects are fantastic and there’s definitely something to be said for seeing films in this genre on the big screen, I suspect the extended DVD version will make for a more satisfying and complete film and you might just want to wait for it to become available to rent, rather than plunk down the $63 to visit the local multiplex.