Monday, February 8, 2010

Clap for The Wolfman?

Here it comes. After what seemed like years of delays, restarts and reshoots, Universal is finally releasing the remake of one of the biggest jewels in its crown, The Wolfman, on Friday.

The original 1941 Wolfman (see my earlier post) is a classic, one that gave me childhood nightmares and prepared me for my permanent residence in Weird Movie Village. Chaney's sympathetic portrayal, along with Claude Rains, Maria Ouspenskaya and even a pivotal cameo by Bela Lugosi, combined with that wonderful music and those fog-bound sets made for a magical experience.

While it's certainly not possible to duplicate the charm or the atmosphere of the original, let's hope that the remake was worth the wait. It's certainly got a stellar cast, Rick Baker is supplying some good old fashioned prosthetic effects and it was rated R by the MPAA—thank God!

Now let's discuss some areas of concern...

It was directed by former visual effects artist Joe Johnston, who made The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III. That's not necessarily a bad thing. A workmanlike director, he'll certainly be able to handle the mayhem, and if the rest of the crew is up to snuff, the atmosphere will be there.

But what about the screenplay? One of the writers, Andrew Kevin Walker, also wrote the beautiful but boring Sleepy Hollow and Se7en, which isn't exactly a period piece. It was reportedly doctored by David Self, whose credits include the awful 1999 remake of The Haunting but also the nice Road to Perdition (2002), so who knows?

It's being released on Valentine's Day weekend—Valentine's Day weekend—and Garry Marshall's titular, all-star romantic comedy is sure to trounce it at the boxoffice. If you think women aren't going to make all of the moviegoing decisions next weekend, you're crazy. And the following week brings Scorsese's Shutter Island and the remake of George Romero's The Crazies. Let's hope for Universal's sake it has legs...four hairy ones.

Not only was The Wolfman in production forever, with a number of directors being attached at different points, different editors, including Walter Murch, were brought in to patch it up. Danny Elfman's score was at first rejected, then used. It's like nobody could decide what to do with the picture. I sincerely hope all this extra effort was lavished to make it just right. When you look at the trailer, it does have the atmosphere—and Baker's effects look great.

Test screenings, as reported by such sites as Ain't It Cool, were pretty enthusiastic. Brutal As Hell saw a 90-minute cut (and still liked it), although the running time of the film we'll see Friday is 125 minutes. Wow...35 minutes is an awfully long time. It could mean a lot more atmosphere and character development...or a lot more boredom.

Again, thank God it's been rated R by the MPAA. I like my horror full-blooded. I'm sure Universal was campaigning for a PG-13, since the wolfman is a kind of "kid-friendly" monster. Ratings are rather meaningless these days, anyhow. It'll show up on DVD and pay-per-view in an unrated "director's cut."

The cast seems to be more than up to the task. Hopkins will be great, even if he nibbles the scenery a bit, and Blunt handles period pieces with aplomb. Del Toro, with his Hispanic looks and heritage, may ironically bring to mind Hammer's superb 1961 Curse of the Werewolf, which is certainly not a bad thing. And the wonderfully weird Geraldine Chaplin is on board to recreate Ouspenskaya's gypsy, which will definitely be worth watching. Odd man out is Hugo Weaving, who plays a Scotland Yard investigator (shades of Sleepy Hollow—egad!). He'll be fine, but I hope his character is well-integrated into the story.

The most important aspect of whether this film makes it or tanks is the commitment of everyone involved. Del Toro serves as a producer in addition to being the star, and a lot of the people involved (Baker included) have spoken about their love of the Universal classics and their passion for the remake. We'll find out if they really meant it and weren't just providing the requisite balloon juice.

Will I be in line for the first matinee on Friday? Possibly. At any rate, I'll be posting my review on this blog soon, along with reminiscences of my favorite werewolf/wolfman films of years past. It's been a long time since this hairy beast has menaced the silver screen.

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