Friday, December 17, 2010

wolf man slack

The Wolfman was so universally panned when it came out that I never got around to seeing it. So when I came across it the other night I figured I'd give it a try, with my expectations low. I can't say that the movie confounded those expectations. All in all it was pretty bad. Funny in all the wrong places, serious—ditto, and obsessed with phony flesh-tearing gory special effects that were just—gross. But it made me think—not about the plot, but about all the hard work going on behind-the-scenes—while I was watching it. I was able to separate myself from all of the failed aspects of the film, while wondering about some of stellar ones, and there were a few.

How disappointed an artisan must be. Spending months on location or in the studio, utilizing their particular skill to get something—the costumes, the light on an actress or the furniture, the exterior landscaping of a building—just right. Do they know while they are watching it that the actors or director are not doing it justice? Do they hope it can all be fixed in the editing room? Or are they just jurneyman, there do the best job possible?

The look of the thing. Whether the crew of The Wolfman knew where the production was headed or not, they definitely delivered a gorgeous film. When many folks watch the Oscars, categories like set design and the like are usually only appreciated by film nerds while the rest of the audience is itching for the producers to get on with it. I can be in either camp, depending on my mood, or interest in the nominees. But while watching The Wolfman I got seriously caught up in the fabulous set design. So much work and detail went into the interiors of Anthony Hopkins's manse and Emily Blunt's curio shop.

The locations were gorgeous and gorgeously-filmed. The costumes were impeccable. Not flashy, but era-appropriate. They looked like real clothes, not too new or not too grubby—many costume pictures send a false note when they get this important detail wrong. When it wasn't over-busy with entrails and decapitations, The Wolfman was lovely to look at.

The supporting cast. Geraldine Chaplin was minimally used as head gypsy, but she was still great and it's always fun to see her. Hugo Weaving obviously had a blast. The man simply does not get enough work. Or I need to look out for his movies more diligently. I was honestly more interested in his character after five seconds onscreen than anyone else in the film.

One plot/structure change could have made the entire film so much better. More updated, more meaningful. If the movie had been told from Emily Blunt's character's point of view it could have been turned into a gothic paranoia classic, a la The Others. There were germs of this, especially in her late-in-the-movie horseback ride-to-the-rescue at the end of the film. Truly a missed opportunity. It could have been Emily Blunt, Werewolf Hunter. If I ruled the world ...

Two more observations. Anthony Hopkins has been over-chewing the scenery for so long, that it is hard to know how to take him in any role anymore. Funny on purpose? There for a paycheck? He is so ham. But his presence was also strangely comforting. Benicio Del Toro was so completely miscast it was painful. I love me some Benicio. At first I thought maybe the problem was that he hated what he got himself into, but he was also a producer and apparently a big Wolfman fan
... a fan of the original and collector of Wolf Man memorabilia in the lead role. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was attached to the screenplay, developing the original film's story to include additional characters as well as plot points that would take advantage of modern visual effects. Del Toro also looked towards Werewolf of London and The Curse of the Werewolf for inspiration.—Wikipedia
No matter his Wolfman fandom, his method/interior work style of acting was not a good fit for this monster flick. As I was watching him suffer, maybe it was the Danny Elfman music, but I suddenly thought, "Too bad that he and Johnny Depp couldn't have changed places." Depp would have been well-suited, I think, to this role. He would have been better able to emotionally connect with Blunt and the audience as man and beast. And Del Toro would make a fabulous Barnabas Collins. He might even temper the wackadoodle collaborative thing Tim Burton's got with Depp. I have real fears for the upcoming Dark Shadows.
[According to] Rick Baker [who] created the make-up for The Wolfman ... Going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolf Man isn't a really extreme difference. Like when I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who's practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth.—Wikipedia
I'm not sure that's anything to brag about. Isn't the underlying werewolf myth all about transformation, from a man into an animal, into our basest desires? Categorizing Benicio as uber-hairy is overstating it. He's dark-haired and swarthy, maybe.

One more observation. What the hell was going on with all the gore? Did the filmmakers think that was going to make the movie scarier? It was just silly. Why were these werewolves so angry and flesh-hungry? A little lore might not have hurt the proceedings. The wolfmen tore through twenty people a night. Talk about hunting and wasting the resources.

There is just something intrinsically goofy about a guy, still in his clothes, running around in the woods as The Wolf Man. If you don't find the right note, the suspension of disbelief just kills the whole thing. What happens to the Wolfman's torn and bloody clothes post-transformation is always an issue, or at least confusing to me. An American Werewolf in London handled the dilemma humorously by having David Naughton creatively cope with his naked post-werewolf state. Now that's a werewolf movie to check out. Or even Teen Wolf.

Movie production stills from Universal.
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