Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Wolfman - 2010

Director:                     Joe Johnston
Screenplay:               Andrew Kevin Walker and
                                      David Self
              from the 1941 screenplay by Curt Siodmak
Dir. Photography:       Shelley Johnson
Editors:                       Dennis Virkler and Walter Murch
Music:                         Danny Elfman

Lawrence Talbot          Benicio Del Toro
Sir John Talbot             Anthony Hopkins
Gwen Conliffe               Emily Blunt
Aberline                        Hugo Weaving
Singh                             Art Malik
Maleva                          Geraldine Chaplin
Ben  Talbot                  Simon Merrells
Dr Hoenneger              Antony Sher

I really, really wanted to like this movie a lot.   As it turns out, I only like it.   I admit I have always had a soft spot in my heart for werewolves.  Among the Creatures of the movies, the Wolfman is the most tragic.  You’ve just gotta feel for poor old Larry Talbot.   He would always die at the end of the old movies, and then just get dug up in the next one, and the whole mess would start over again.  He couldn’t catch a break.  He still can’t.

This story and screenplay are based on the original 1941 Universal film.   The screenwriter for that one, Curt Siodmak came up with most of the werewolf lore we take for granted today – silver bullets, full moon, pentagrams.  He even wrote the poem that is as familiar as Mother Goose to any self-respecting horror fan:

Even a man who is pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf
When the wolfsbane blooms
And the moon is full and bright.


Our modern version starts with a shot of this poem engraved on stone, and recited by (we find out later) the gypsy woman, Maleva.  The setting is 1891 rural England.   Lawrence Talbot is returning to the family estate, brought home by a letter telling him that his brother is missing.  He has lived abroad for many years, sent away by his father after Lawrence’s mother was killed. 

Sir John Talbot coolly tells Lawrence that his brother’s body has been found in a ditch, torn to pieces.  Partly out of grief and guilt that he had not seen his brother since childhood, Lawrence vows to find out what happened.  He also gets a look at Gwen Conliffe who was the brother’s fiancée and is the one who sent for Lawrence.  She has been staying at the manse and is something of a Victorian knock-out.  You just know that these two are really meant for each other.  But, you also know you will not be hearing wedding bells at the end of this movie.
When Lawrence goes to the gypsy camp to try to learn more about his brother from Maleva, he is attacked and bitten by a werewolf.  The later scenes of his transformation are impressive.  The make-up is based on the original created by master monster-maker Jack Pierce.  This Wolfman, like the one in 1941, is really part man, part wolf.   Not a dog, as in “An American Werewolf in London” or a deformed demon as in “The Howling”.   And I really appreciate that you see his clothes in tatters after his transformation.  I could never understand how Lon Chaney Jr. would always wake up with his clothes spotless and looking as sharp as ever.

There is a funny nod to history in the character of police detective Aberline who is investigating the rash of killings.   Lawrence asks him if he is the same Aberline who investigated the Ripper murders.  The real detective on that case was named Frederick Abberline.  (Another version of this character is played by Johnny Depp in the 2001  film “From Hell’). 

There is much blood and gore, as anyone would expect these days.  The set decoration is marvelous.  Every room is full of  fussy Victorian everything.  The colors are gray and muted everywhere.  Whoever was in charge of keeping the sets misty and foggy had his hands full.  Even the scenes outdoors where we might expect some green and sunshine are still gloomy.

For me, the most horrific scene is in the asylum where Lawrence is sent after his first transformation.  The “therapeutic” methods used by the doctors to cure Lawrence of his supposed delusion are even more disturbing when you know that they are based on what was really used at the time.  (“Dr. Mengele, you have a call on line one”)

 In the asylum Lawrence transforms in front of a roomful of doctors who are there to witness his cure.   In a nice little bit of comedy, he throws his doctor out of a window, shortly after the doctor announced to his audience that it was just as likely that he would fly out of the window as it would be for the patient to turn into a werewolf.   Oops.   Lawrence has a nice run through London, terrorizing and tearing up a few citizens.
He eventually returns home, and the ending will be a surprise to you only if you have never seen a movie before in your life.

Anthony Hopkins plays his role with the usual twinkle in his eye – perhaps just a bit too much of a twinkle this time.  He chews the scenery with as much relish as a werewolf tearing into a juicy villager.

 Emily Blunt’s Gwen is warm and has much more depth than the 1941 version.  Benicio del Toro is very fine as our hero.  The part really only calls for suffering, and he plays tragic very well.  As Lawrence he is darkly gorgeous and as the Wolfman he is pretty hunky (I know that’s weird, but like I said I have a thing for werewolves).  Mr. del Toro is a collector of Wolfman memorabilia and had a lot to do with getting this film made.  I hope it turned out as he wanted.

I will let sentiment rule me on this one, although I am preparing myself for the inevitable sequel.  Like I said, poor Larry never could catch a break. 

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