You may think that Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving and Emily Blunt star in Universal’s long-delayed reboot of the classic monster tale The Wolfman. While they all deliver enjoyable performances, del Toro is hopelessly miscast as Brit noble Hopkins’ returned “prodigal son,” who was sent away to be raised by an aunt in America. Del Toro looks uncomfortable in 19th century tweeds as he chases corseted beauty Blunt. If the guy can’t pull off a British accent, then don’t cast him. The star of the monster movie which opens Friday is make-up effects master Rick Baker. The movie is over-labored and may not make back its budget (it should open in the number two spot behind Valentine’s Day) but the R-for-violence wolfman transformations and action scenes are superb. UPDATE: Reviews are not good. Tomatometer: 35%, Metascore: 44.
Universal clearly greenlighted theThe Wolfman with no “big idea” behind it–a strong hook for a remake or reinvention. Del Toro’s manager Rick Yorn sold the studio on a remake of the 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. classic, a fave of his client. So the studio went back to the original and set the film in the 1800s. That helped to make the movie hugely expensive–Universal also plowed through two directors, two composers, two editors. Check out the LAT’s account of the film’s misadventures, featuring hapless director Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk the Kids).
The movie is hugely expensive–I do not believe Universal’s claim that it cost $120 million–after six weeks of reshoots in England and massive overhauls of the visual effects. As you watch the film you can tell that every moth-wing in a corner has been amplified and fussed over. That’s because Universal couldn’t let a potential franchise fail. So they kept throwing money at it. One smart move: as Weaving is the best thing in the movie, they set him up to return in the sequel.
Yet The Wolfman isn’t as bad as I feared. The scene where the werewolf scampers Hulk-like over London roof-tops is stunning. This is not a Stephen Sommers movie like Van Helsing. The Wolfman is not over-pixelated: it functions on a human scale. That’s where six-time Oscar-winner Baker comes in. (EW interview here.) He’s the man behind the laborious prosthetic make-up in King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, The Howling, Norbit, An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. While CG was used for the transitions in The Wolfman, as Baker told the folks at Comic-Con 2008: “Something magical happens when you get an actor in good makeup, when he sees himself in the mirror, and says, ‘I’m the Wolfman.’ This is an old-school gothic horror movie.”
Here’s the trailer: