When you look back on the cinematic exploits of lycanthropes, there is most certainly a big difference between a "werewolf" depicted on screen and "The Wolf Man". The original Wolf Man, as portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr in the 1941 Universal monster classic is unarguably the definitive "wolf man". Yes, there are amazing versions of the beast in everything from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to THE HOWLING to THE MONSTER SQUAD to DOG SOLDIERS to many, many more. But if you bring up that image to the left, the first thing you think is "THAT’s the Wolf Man".
As far as the theatrical version of Joe Johnston’s remake, all I wanted was an old-school gothic monster movie with a kick-ass version of the monster I’d grown up loving. And sure enough, whenever Benicio Del Toro graced the screen in full make-up, literally tearing people limb from limb, I thought "Holy sh*t… THAT is the Wolf Man!"
Despite it’s few plot inconsistencies most likely caused by numerous re-edits, THE WOLFMAN is one of the better remakes of a classic property. While the story is slightly tweaked from the original version (including setting this one in the 1890’s as opposed to the 40’s), the basic premise is similar enough. In this version, Larry Talbot is a traveling actor who’s been estranged from his family since a psychologically damaging incident from his childhood. He returns home after learning of the disappearance and murder of his brother. He’s attacked by the same beast and later starts going on his own nighttime extra curricular activities.
Emily Blunt plays Gwen Conliffe, the object of Larry’s affections and also widow to his recently deceased brother. Anthony Hopkins plays the senior Talbot.
Benicio Del Toro playing Larry Talbot and the Wolfman seems like perfect casting, especially considering the actor’s resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr. However, in the theatrical version, his performance (or as some reviewers have argued, his lack of one) is by far the weakest link. The director’s cut however fixes that, so anyone disappointed with Talbot’s lack of character development should be satisfied with his portrayal (now more in tact) in this new version.
The director’s cut clocks in at a solid 2 hours. It’s most notable is the first 20-30 minutes, which almost feel like a completely different movie. In this version, rather then send a letter, Gwen travels to meet with Larry backstage after a London performance of Hamlet and informs him in person of his brother’s disappearance. After much debate, primarily out of fear of seeing his father again, Larry hops on a train and heads back home. On the train ride, he encounters Max von Sydow (!) who gives him the infamous wolf’s head cane. While to the average movie-goer, this may seem slowly paced, it’s fine for the gothic tone this film is trying to emulate. There are other little additions sprinkled all the way through out which make the director’s cut a more complete movie, but be forewarned, Del Toro doesn’t turn into the Wolfman for the first time until the hour mark. It’s a tough call to say which version is "better". As a diehard Wolfman fan, I’m just thrilled to have both. The theatrical cut moves at a brisk pace, but if you have the patience and desire to watch a more deliberately slow paced old-school horror movie, then you’ll enjoy all the extra goodies in the director’s cut.
The Blu-Ray sports plenty of great special features. There are a handful of deleted scenes, the most notable is when the Wolfman invades a costume party and no one suspects the threat of this party crasher. It’s a great and humorous scene to watch on it’s own, but I can understand how it doesn’t exactly fit in the middle of the London rooftop chase scene as it currently stands in the movie. There are also 2 alternate endings, both of which are interesting but inferior to the one that ended up in the final film.
The first featurette on the disc is Return Of The Wolfman, a basic behind the scenes and interview montage segment that covers not only the production of the film, but the history of the Universal monster movies. It’s pretty straight forward stuff, but the real gold is the next two featurettes which focus on the Wolfman himself. The Beast Maker is a great, great segment with make-up FX legend Rick Baker talking about his love of the character and how he set about updating it for this new remake. Of note is the test footage (Rick Baker made himself up as the Wolfman for these clips) which shows his ideas for doing the transformation practically! Why they opted to go with CGI transformations after getting this little tease of what Baker had in store for us will forever be one of those studio mysteries. Alas, hopefully Baker will get a chance to do another werewolf movie one day and fully realize the vision he started here. Also cool are dozens of various early designs we get to see for the Wolfman. Del Toro even insisted that some of the fake body parts be made edible so he could really get down and dirty and eat some flesh while behind that mask. The next featurette Transformation Secrets focuses on the CGI FX of the movie. (Some shots surprisingly I didn’t even realize were CG which is a credit to the work done here.) While I’m sure myself and other fans would’ve loved to have seen Baker’s practical transformations, the work done here is among the best I’ve seen for a movie of this scale.
The Wolfman Unleashed is a great featurette that focuses on the stunt work and action set pieces from the film. It’s neat to see video cam footage of stuntman Spencer Wilding in full Wolfman gear jumping from rooftops and running at incredible speeds on moving mats. Also, after watching this, it seems fairly obvious that while I’m sure Benicio is there for the majority of the close-up shots, Spencer seems to have played the Wolfman for a considerable amount of the movie.
If you missed THE WOLFMAN in theaters… shame on you!
In all seriousness, this is a great package. Not only to see two different versions of the movie, but for the features which really are excellent. The disc is worth it alone just for the Rick Baker segment. Recommended. – Robg.
THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray Bonus Clip – Creating Wolfman Speed and Movement
In this bonus feature clip from THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray, director Joe Johnston and others show how they accomplished the Wolfman’s speeds in this exclusive behind-the-scenes look.
THE WOLFMAN U-Control™ Blu-ray Bonus Clip – Transforming Man into Wolfman
In this bonus clip from THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray, VFX Producer Karen Murphy shows how hand animation was used in this exclusive behind-the-scenes look through Universal’s new U-Control™ feature that lets the viewer access bonus materials without leaving the movie.
THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray Bonus Clip – Behind the Scenes with Rick Baker – NEW!
In this bonus clip from THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray, Creature Effects Designer Rick Baker talks about his role in the film through Universal’s new U-Control™ feature that lets the viewer access bonus materials without leaving the movie.
THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray Bonus Clip – Lighting Talbot Hall Set – NEW!
In this bonus clip from THE WOLFMAN Blu-ray, Director of Photography Shelly Johnson talks about Talbot Hall in this exclusive behind-the-scenes look through Universal’s new U-Control™ feature that lets the viewer access bonus materials without leaving the movie.