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July 2010

The Wolfman

cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, and Art Malik

director: Joe Johnston

98 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
review by Gary McMahon

The Wolfman

Let's just say that I wasn't expecting much from Joe Johnston's much-maligned remake of the classic 1941 Universal horror film The Wolf Man. The bad reviews, the stories about sacked directors, in-fighting and extensive re-cuts and edits all made me nervous even before I'd even put the disc into the DVD player... and yet... a miracle happened. I bloody loved it.

Don't get me wrong, The Wolfman is by no means a great film, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. What we have is a very basic, very linear plot that could have been written in the 1940s, a set of accomplished actors who know how (and when) to chew the scenery to maximum effect, some of the best set and production design I've seen in recent years, and state-of-the-art CGI transformations scenes whereby Benicio Del Toro turns into a lovely retro werewolf whose design was inspired directly by the look of Lon Chaney's beast in the original film.

The story is simple: successful stage actor Lawrence Talbot returns to his ancestral home after hearing of the death of his brother (mauled by some great beast). Once there, he uncovers a family secret and finds that he too is cursed, just like the rest of the Talbots. Yes, it's familiar. Yes, it's clich�d. But nobody said it wouldn't be. This is Hollywood homage - a very deliberate attempt to make the kind of film, using modern technology, which Universal was churning out in their heyday. Taken on these terms the film works a treat. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as any kind of serious attempt to create a great werewolf film... which is where the film falls down, as clearly it occasionally tries to take itself a little too seriously when in reality the whole thing is just an 85 million dollar B-movie.

However, when the pace does flag and we need something to liven things up, we are presented with a couple of standout set-pieces, some fine character acting from Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving (as the elderly Sir John Talbot and Inspector Aberline of Scotland Yard respectively), and the gorgeous Emily Blunt pouting her way with class through an underwritten role as the love interest. The film is also a lot bloodier than I expected, and there's a wonderfully ludicrous wolfman versus wolfman fight scene at the end.

The Wolfman is flawed, it's silly and derivative, but it made me smile. And sometimes (especially these days, where doom and gloom is easy to come by just by looking out of your window), that's all a film like this is required to do. Steer clear if you're expecting anything fresh and original. But if - like I did - you just want to see an entertaining, yet knowing romp through Hollywood werewolf lore, you might just find yourself smiling and nodding in cosy recognition as you watch this unassuming monster mash.



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