The Wolfman is over in less than two minutes. A man is seen running through a dimly lit forest, chased by an unseen being, but in a flash, it is ruined. The full face of the being, of course the wolfman, flashes on screen as the credits spring up.
Isn’t the point to build up to this moment? Aren’t the transformations supposed to be the highlight? All of that is lost in two minutes. Somehow, it continues to screw things up. An assault on a gypsy camp spills more blood in a few minutes than all of Saving Private Ryan. How is this necessary? It does not build horror, but shock value of the cheapest kind. The flurry of spilled intestines and flying heads is all very brutal, yet pointless and numbing.
Even worse, the transformation impact is completely lost. The perfect opportunity exists as Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is being held in a mental institution. He sits strapped to a chair, the focus of a lecture involving other psychologists as his doctor tries to convince Talbot the full moon will do nothing. Of course, he is wrong, even more so since the audience already knows due to a transformation earlier. As Del Toro’s face contorts and his bones snap into their new form, the effect is already tiresome. There has been no attempt to build up to this moment, just showcase additional graphic gore that could not be further from the expectation.
The Wolfman, at least in Universal’s line of horror films, is always about aggression and fury. The violence seems to fit, but the film loses its true horror. This is not a creature that stalks, but one of brute force, completely lacking in viewer fear since the audience already knows he will jump around and slash at humans.
Del Toro is cast well. Certainly none of the blame falls on him. Talbot needs that long, sad, depressed face. It is what made Lon Chaney Jr. work in the original, a tortured soul who lives with his guilt over his actions the previous night. Even his torment needs a physical representation in this remake/update. Psychologists torture Talbot, dipping him into ice cold water and injecting him with an unspecified hallucinogen. He has no chance to show his own emotions and internal horror.
Wolfman is filled with energetic action, the big chase across the rooftops of gothic London handled with flair. It is all elaborate, with expansive CG backgrounds and big budget Rick Baker make-up effects. Why is it then the most effective scene in the film uses little of those, shining some light and fog through a forest, cloaking the actors in silhouette. Emily Blunt hides behind a tree while her former lover stalks in the background. That’s how it should be done.
Wolfman comes to Blu-ray from Universal in an inconsistent AVC encode. The opening shot of the full moon at 1:09 (Note: all time stamps refer to the unrated edition) does not set a positive light, littered with banding. Black levels seem okay, which will be the case for most of the film. Rarely do they achieve a deep, inky quality, a shame given the dim lighting that suits much of the film.
The grain structure at work here is problematic. Not only does it appear digital, but distractingly noisy. Smoke and fog are bothersome throughout, while backgrounds consistently appear swarmed with compression. At 7:38, the headrests are notably harsh. Other shots to take note of include 18:38, 32:00, and some truly awful artifacting occurs at 1:35:54 above the window. A bit of vertical banding is noted 1:35:13, and is distracting until the film incurs an edit.
Some minimal edge enhancement is noted, but generally it is very brief such as the rocks towards the right side of the screen at 1:31:11. Certain shots can carry a slightly processed, digital look as well. A long shot of the bar at 53:30 is unnaturally smooth and lacking grain. Emily Blunt’s face at 1:23:48 suffers the same flaw. This is not due to the slightly soft lighting. It is definitely digital in nature.
These flaws compromise seconds of screen time on average, with the exception of the light blacks. Detail in close-ups can be astonishingly high. A close-up of Del Toro at 1:05:30 is superb, revealing every bit of blood splatter, sweat, dirt, and pore on his face. Certain establishing shots of the Talbot home are exceptional, and you’ll find great definition of plant life at 1:30:08 during a brief montage. Close-ups are routinely excellent (especially of Del Toro), but mid-range shots are rarely impressive. Their texture is lost, both on clothing and faces. This one is undoubtedly rough, but only sporadically so.
Thankfully, the audio offers precision, unlike the video at times. There are moments where the surrounds feel slightly cranked past where they should be (at 9:19 when a carriage passes overhead), but this is a typically well established, balanced effort. Ambient effects, in forests especially, are aggressive in creating an immersive atmosphere.
The first assault on the gypsy camp is wonderfully aggressive, with screaming people trying to escape in all directions. Their hollering is tracked beautifully across the soundfield, while the wolfman scurries about in search of pray. Gunfire is aggressive, handled properly in the stereo channels, and in the surrounds when it should be. Clarity is superb, and a small low-end punch is noted for a complete experience.
Most of the LFE work is saved for the wolfman himself. As he parades around, his steps deliver a small yet satisfying thud. His various punches hammer his victim with a heavy crunch, and when two werewolves begin their brawl before the finale, the mix is allowed to fully breathe and utilize all of its best aspects. Danny Elfman’s forgettable score is aided by the uncompressed audio, adding a vibrancy to the music as it aggressively bleeds into the surrounds.
Both unrated and the theatrical cuts are included, the former adding 16-minutes to the film. As such, U-Control features, including an excellent pop-up piece comparing the classic Universal horror films to this remake, are only available on the theatrical version.
Two alternate endings and five deleted/extended scenes run close to 20-minutes combined. The promo featurettes begin with Return of the Wolfman, a 12-minute making-of that is as bland as they come.The Beast Maker is the best of the bunch, focusing on Rick Baker’s work and the admirable make-up design for 12-minutes. Transformation Secrets is a piece on the digital effects, followed by a separate piece on the action scenes. D-Box support is included too.
BD-Live support is added, allowing users to stream (not download) the original Wolf Man (1941) for free. That’s great in principal, but it never worked. The first attempt locked up the player before it even left the generic BD-Live menu, and the second started playing (at a whopping 1.2 Mbps), but crashed before the opening titles and went back to the disc’s menu. Great bonus Universal. How about showing the movie some respect and giving it a proper Blu-ray release now?