MAY 30, 2010
Even your senile grandmother could have predicted that The Wolfman would have an extended version when it came to DVD (even if they HADN'T told everyone that prior to the film's theatrical release - maybe wait until AFTER it's in theaters to let everyone know they're seeing a compromised version? No wonder it tanked). Even though the production troubles were legendary, there was still no way a film could be as botched as the opening reel was, with nonstop voiceovers and a complete lack of a proper introduction for the film's hero (Benecio Del Toro). Now it's here - but is it an improvement?
Yes, it is. Most of the new footage comes in the first act of the film, which was the most problematic section of the theatrical version (reviewed HERE). We now see Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) performing a full scene from "Hamlet" (instead of one shot with a voiceover), and Gwen actually comes to see him there and let him know that his brother is missing (though he still refers to her sending him a letter moments later - the film is improved, but not perfect). There are also a few extended moments between the two, allowing their eventual romance to resonate in a way the theatrical version never allowed for, due to the mad rush to get to the first transformation (which now occurs nearly an hour into the movie).
The next paragraph contains SPOILERS, including part of the film's ending, so please skip it if you are spoiler-phobic.
Unfortunately this also accentuates one of the film's crucial flaws, which was that it allowed Del Toro to go full on monster during his attack scenes, killing dozens of innocent people in the process. It's hard to sympathize with him when he's killing folks left and right, but the added scenes clearly try to paint him as a more tragic figure. I'm all for a werewolf tearing off limbs and such, but it should be a character they're not trying to make into the hero during the third act, when his father is "revealed" (anyone who doesn't guess this right off the bat has obviously never seen a movie before) to be a werewolf himself; the one who killed Lawrence's brother. I almost wish they had tried to paint it as more of a mystery as to which one was tearing up London's social scene and various law enforcement types, which would make the 3rd act much easier to enjoy. It also contradicts itself - we are supposed to believe he has no control over what he does when he's a wolf, but he clearly wants revenge for his brother, and he merely wounds Hugo Weaving's heroic Scotland Yard investigator instead of taking the kill he supposedly relishes. It's just far too inconsistent for my tastes.
But as long as you don't think about the plot reveals and such too much, it's still an enjoyable, lavish werewolf movie, the likes of which we haven't seen in years (and NEVER with this much money on the screen). The period setting is well executed (Emily Blunt is born to wear corsets and such - never has an actress looked more in place in a period horror film), and that just makes the surprisingly ample gore scenes all the more enjoyable - it's not every day you see English bobbies and steam-powered buses covered in blood and guts. And while much has been made of Rick Baker's effects being largely replaced with CGI, the truth is that they did a really good job for the most part; the majority of the effects in the film are incredibly well done, and I even had trouble telling the difference between practical and CG elements during the transformation scenes.
Of course, you'll learn which is which in the various special features that are available on the Blu-Ray and standard definition DVDs. There are four featurettes (ranging from 8-15 minutes each), one of which is a generic fluffy making of that you can skip. The other three focus on makeup, visual effects, and stunt work, and it's pretty eye-opening stuff, as you'll learn which effects were digital and which were practical, as well as the amount of work they put into making sure the werewolf moved as naturally as possible while still appearing superhuman. Baker also reveals that Anthony Hopkins was such a believer in his work that he came in for a casting before his contract was even signed, just so Baker and his crew could get to work on his makeup. The film itself also has a bunch of interactive bonus material that will pop up or automatically play as you watch the film (albeit only on the theatrical cut for some reason). There are two different "alternate video tracks", one will occasionally stop the film so Baker or one of the other crew members can break down a scene in more specific detail than was allowed on the proper bonus features. The other track has pop up trivia and picture in picture footage from the original Wolfman, pointing out similarities or key differences. Since there is no commentary track (director Joe Johnston is all but completely absent on the disc, in fact, only popping up briefly on a couple of the featurettes), it's the closest approximation to one. You can also access all of these mini-features from the pop-up menu, which is a bit clunky (where's the "play all"?), but it beats sitting through an inferior cut of the film (twice) to access all of the information that is offered.
Also, in addition to the unrated cut (which is 17 minutes longer, for the record), we get a handful of deleted/extended scenes (mostly the latter) that are worth a look; most notably another "should have been left in" character scene between Lawrence and Gwen, and a portion of the London "massacre" that was excised, where Wolfman crashes a costume party and then later kills a puppeteer in an obvious but still amusing gag. These scenes all include "tails" so you can place where they belonged in the film, which is always appreciated. They're also in HD and seemingly finished FX wise (though the party scene features what are obviously digital people running around - really, Johnston?), but the sound is very poorly mixed - I had trouble hearing a lot of the dialogue over the music and sound effects. Two alternate endings are also presented, though neither are better than the one they went with (all three seem to set up a sequel that will never happen, so I guess it doesn't matter which one you want to consider the "true" ending).
And for a limited time, Blu-ray players that are connected to the internet (which they pretty much have to be in order to keep up with all of the disc updates) can stream the original Wolf Man from Universal's Blu-ray site. Even on my hardly impressive connection, the film looked great, and I hope that they continue to offer this for future reboots (if any), or maybe offer a different film every couple of months (Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, for example). And as always, there's a digital copy for those of you who think that the best way to watch the 150 million dollar werewolf movie is on your 3 inch iPod screen.
The technical qualities of the Blu-ray are borderline demo-worthy. Universal has delivered a knockout transfer; even though it's a largely night-set film with intentionally muted color to give it that 19th century feel, the colors (read: blood reds) all pop when necessary, and detail is impeccable - you can count the individual fur strands on Larry's head. Of course with such clarity comes some caveats - many of the rooftop scenes after the Wolfman escapes from the asylum are pretty poorly composited, something I didn't notice in theaters. The 5.1 DTS HD mix is also outstanding - the only reason I noticed how poorly it was mixed on the deleted scenes is because the "buffer" footage sounded so perfect on the film proper. Cue up any of the transformation scenes for an aural treat as you hear each bone snap and crackle, with Danny Elfman's somewhat lackluster but still lush score giving your rear speakers a nice workout throughout.
If you skipped the film in theaters (and it seems a lot of you did), then you're lucking out with this release, as it's the superior version of a flawed film, but unlike me, you won't have to watch the stuff you didn't like the first time all over again. The extras are all quite good, and the transfer is immaculate - it's just a shame the film itself shows the scars of its lengthy battle to get there.
Film score: 3/5 (unrated) 2.5/5 (theatrical)
Bonus features score: 4/5
A/V score: 4.5/5