Much like a full moon, consider the frustratingly slow 10-minute load time of The Wolfman’s Blu-ray disc a warning that bad juju is afoot.
Further bogging down Universal discs’ notoriously pokey load times and its cumbersome, intrusive menu screens, viewers must choose to opt in on, or more likely out of, participating in social BLU social-networking connections.
Moreover, the BD Live web-connectivity feature spins up a fresh trailer from the Internet each time the disc is popped in. The mystery there? Why anyone would willfully watch this monumentally misconceived monster-movie remake more than once.
This story of a cursed family was itself bedeviled by development and post-production hell.
Announced in 2006 with Benicio Del Toro attached to star, The Wolfman was to be Mark Romanek’s follow-up to One-Hour Photo. Romanek bailed two months before shooting was to start, and journeyman fantasy filmmaker Joe Johnston stepped in with mere weeks to prepare.
After shooting finished in June 2008, The Wolfman’s release date changed five times, Universal flip-flopped between musical scores by Danny Elfman and Paul Haslinger (Elfman won out) and legendary editor Walter Murch was called upon to “tinker” with the film in November 2009.
With all that indecision, it’s no wonder that, save for two terrifically campy, ferociously grisly werewolf-rampage scenes, The Wolfman never puts the “fun” in “funereal.”
Instead, this dreary dirge is even more painfully prolonged on Blu-ray, with 17 additional minutes of characters glowering out windows or walking through a gloomy London fog.
Looking and talking like a puffy Robert Blake, Del Toro is Lawrence Talbot, an 1890s actor summoned from Hamlet to his hamlet — the tiny town of Blackmoor, England. Estranged from his father (Anthony Hopkins) and repressing memories of his mother’s death, Lawrence returns home to bury his brother Ben, mutilated and murdered by either a lunatic man or an unholy beast.
Barely surviving a creature attack of his own, Lawrence discovers that the full moon now transforms him into a werewolf. While learning the truth about his father’s past, Lawrence must outrun an intrepid investigator (Hugo Weaving), sort out his affections for Ben’s fiancé (Emily Blunt) and seek a way out of his curse.
From Del Toro’s atypically jittery, uncomfortable acting, one could surmise he knew this was a bad role in a doomed project. Much like Derek Zoolander, Del Toro wears the same face (even while sleeping), and it’s easily the worst performance he’s ever given.
As for Hopkins, why phone in when you can text? Doddering through daffy monologues with an Irish accent amid British moors, Hopkins settles in for his usual paycheck snooze.
The Wolfman even bungles its transformation scenes with shimmery, elastic CGI that has nothing on the shock and awe of David Naughton shifting shapes via practical effects in 1981’s An American Werewolf in London. Makeup legend Rick Baker, for whom that scene became a chilling calling card, is onboard here, too, although his newfangled look more like pissed-off versions of Disney’s Country Bears.
Only when The Wolfman splatters puddles of blood on the saddle, ground and all around does it spring to life — an attack scene in a gypsy camp and a chase through Victorian-era London (both available in extended form as Blu-ray deleted scenes).
Such skillfully staged hard-R skirmishes make it hard to blame Johnston, essentially called in on a salvage mission. Still, if it’s a wolfman with nards you want, re-watch The Monster Squad.
This Blu-ray’s visual transfer and lossless DTS digital sound do afford simple-pleasure enjoyment of Johnston’s period-piece detail, Elfman’s reliably sinister score and the swirling sound design of several werewolf attacks.
The film can be viewed in one of two U-Control modes: “Legacy, Legend and Lore,” a blend of pop-up trivia and anecdotes about werewolf mythology, or “Take Control,” in which Baker and other crew members turn up to discuss particular scenes. Four HD featurettes — “Return of the Wolfman,” “The Beast Maker,” “Transformation Secrets” and “The Wolfman Unleashed” — go behind the scenes.
A pair of alternate endings go for something grimmer and cheesier. Lastly, a digital-copy disc is included, as is the ability to stream 1941’s original The Wolf Man via BD Live, computer or smartphone. Although the streaming option expires at the end of 2010, the original remains a timeless classic even this can’t tarnish.