Blu-ray Review: A Second Look at ‘The Wolfman’ Director’s Cut

Joe Johnston’s half-hearted remake of The Wolfman failed to impress me on its theatrical run (review) but intense speculation that the extended – by 16 minutes! – director’s cut of the film was a vast improvement piqued my curiosity. And to cut to the chase, yes, it’s an improvement, but not enough to make a terrible film a good one. Instead, it just raises it to being mediocre.One of the big problems I had with the theatrical version is that it squanders some of its characters and leaves them completely undeveloped, accompanied by gaping plot holes. The new opening of The Wolfman shows the most noticeable improvements, with Blunt’s Gwen Conliffe actually going to one of Talbot’s theatrical performances in London and asking him for help, rather than just sending a letter. Not only does it show that it takes more than a well-written letter to sway him from breaking a performance contract, it humanizes him a little bit more and makes a basis for their relationship, which seemed a rushed in the theatrical version. It also includes a cameo with Max von Sydow that seems like a throwaway bit on the surface; however, it brings up some interesting questions, such as whether or not the potential to be the beast was already in Talbot before he was bitten and the possibility of Sydow’s character being a figment of his imagination, which plays into his stay at the asylum. The rest of the differences are only slight, and most of them just lengthen the action sequences, with a few instances of extra gore. In other words, the beginning makes much more sense and introduces some new ideas… but the film still wastes them in the end because the rest of it still isn’t good.

The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer handles The Wolfman‘s exterior night scenes exceptionally, with deep blacks and intense detail in the darkness. The cinematography, despite a few out of place shots that don’t match the tone of the scene, has an intentionally soft presentation and looks remarkably well during the daytime sequences. Skin tones and details are also incredible. The only drawbacks to the presentation are a few instances of being dull and out-of-focus, and the high-def nature of the picture makes some of the digital work a lot more obvious – though a good bit of it blends in flawlessly. On the whole, The Wolfman is a gorgeous looking film. The DTS-HD track showcases some great acoustics and clean, clear dynamics across all the channels. The bass is extremely powerful though, which is great in some instances and bad when it drowns out dialogue in a few spots – the score also does this a few times.

Special Features

Deleted and Extended Scenes (11:17) – The collection includes 5 scenes, some of which add some interesting character development and interactions. And although they are good, the film is long and slow enough as is, so I understand the cuts, even if they do serve a greater purpose. The masquerade party scene, hinted at in the trailers, is contained here and showcases some great practical effects, including the Wolfman going all “nom nom nom” on some guy’s brains.

U-Control – Universal’s signature Blu-Ray feature contains the most in-depth information on the disc. First up is Legacy, Legend, and Lore, which is a trivia pop-up track that contains information about lycanthropy and The Wolfman legacy. The best thing about it is that it compares and contrasts the original 1941 film and the remake. The other track, Take Control, features PiP commentary from Rick Baker, Visual FX Producer Karen Murphy-Mundel and DP Shelly Johnson and considering that the presentation is The Wolfman‘s most appealing aspect, these are the most interesting people to hear comments on. Well, almost. What would’ve been really great is a track from Johnston which delved into the production problems that have plagued the film since Mark Romanek left but, well, Universal isn’t going to produce something that brings attention to the shortcomings of their own project.

The Wolfman (1941) – People seem to be really praising the idea of streaming the original film from the disc via BD-Live, Pocket Blu, or UniversalHiDef.com, but right on the back of the box, it states the offer is only good until 12/01/10 (or 12/31/10, depending on whether you look at the slipcase or the leaflet inside). What would’ve been really great is an extra disc with the film in HD, since there would’ve been no time restriction on that.

Alternate Endings (7:58) – The disc contains two alternate endings, both of which prove that nobody working on the film really had confidence in what they were doing. They all contain different people dying and surviving, with different possibilities for a follow-up film.

Return of The Wolfman (12:20) – The cast and crew talks about the task of updating a classic film legacy. By now, it’s fairly obvious that they failed in doing that but it does provide a few interesting tid-bits amongst the normal EPK back-patting.

The Beast Maker (12:05) – This featurette focuses on Rick Baker and his love affair with The Wolfman and werewolves in general. He also discusses his prosthetic work on the remake, though his comments on the Take Control track are far more interesting and informative.

Transformation Secrets (15:15) – A companion piece to The Beast Maker, this featurette shows the digital side of the special effects used in the film. Watching The Wolfman in high definition gave me a great appreciation for the effects, though some of them still hurt the film’s mystique quite severely – most notably the digital transformation sequences and that awful end sequence with the CGI pan towards the moon. Still, the information provided here is still quite interesting, even if it focuses on the layering aspect we’ve learned about one million and one times.

The Wolfman Unleashed (8:45) – This segment is about the stunt work and choreography that went into creating the action sequences.

Digital Copy – A standard definition copy of the unrated director’s cut of the film that can viewed on your PC, Mac, or iPod.

Film: 1.5/5
Unrated Director’s Cut: 2/5
Blu-Ray: 4/5