The timing couldn’t be any better for Columbia Pictures’ Blu-ray release of Wolf, what with Halloween right around the corner, the tweenage neo-vampire/werewolf pop-culture movement in full swing, and the trailer for the new Wolfman starring Benecio Del Torro making the rounds—but how does a more thoughtful and restrained film like Wolf stack up against this newer generation of sexy, frenetic pop-horror? Not very well surprisingly. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more repulsive to me than the baseless praise given to pseudo-horror movies like Twilight and Underworld, but if you’ve never seen Wolf and are expecting an intelligent and genuinely chilling horror film along the lines of Let the Right One In or even The Sixth Sense, you may be disappointed.
After Will Randall (Jack Nicholson), the senior editor of a publishing house, is bitten by a wolf, he finds that his senses gradually become more sensitive, his body more agile, and his demeanor more animal-like. When his job is threatened by his conniving, brown-nosing colleague Stewart Swinton (James Spader) he uses his new found killer-instinct to take back his life while seducing his boss’s feisty daughter Laura Alden (Michelle Pfeiffer). Matters become complicated, however, when Will begins to lose himself to the wolf within and Stewart frames him for the murder of his estranged wife.
Rather than tell a traditional werewolf story—wolf bites man, man becomes werewolf, werewolf wreaks havoc, werewolf is killed/cured—director Mike Nichols takes a slightly more realistic approach, showcasing the inner struggle of a man who is not only losing his dignity and career in the cutthroat corporate world, but both literally and metaphorically losing his humanity. I certainly commend Nichols for his unique vision, but despite having a lot of seemingly good ideas, he just doesn’t execute them well enough to lift the film to a level higher than what the average horror movie typically achieves. What would otherwise be an interesting and entertaining story is hampered by a mediocre script and unbearably slow pacing that masquerades as the main character’s thoughtful introspection regarding his metamorphosis. What does keep the film from slipping down to the realm of complete disappointment are the quality performances given by the cast, some interesting gore and make-up effects that stand up surprisingly well, and the climactic fight scene between Nicholson and Spader at the end of the film.
Ultimately, Wolf’s biggest downfall is that it fails to cater to a specific audience. It treats its content with dead seriousness, yet at the same time it is still, let’s be honest, a movie about a man turning into a wolf. The result is a well-intentioned, but so-so film that falls short of becoming more than just another horror flick while at the same time failing to make a significant mark on the genre. If The Shining is at one end of the horror spectrum and Twilight at the other, Wolf probably falls somewhere in the middle. Horror fans will likely be bored to tears by the torturous pacing and lack of scares, while the more dramatic watchers will be turned off by the often stilted dialogue and inherent campiness of the genre. Unless you’re an absolute diehard horror junkie or a huge Nicholas/Pfeiffer/Spader fanboy, you may find yourself howling not at the moon, but at your friend to hit the eject button.
The transfer here to HD is, sadly, not as seamless as one would expect from a movie released in 1994. There is a slight overall noise and softness to the footage that is most noticeable in the darker nighttime shots, but still visible even during well-lit indoor scenes. It is a constant reminder of the film’s age, but keeping in mind that it is, after all, a horror movie, it’s a forgivable flaw that could be chalked up to its gloomy atmosphere.
There also seems to be a bit of unevenness with the color level at times. In some shots, for example those showing Nicholson’s hyper-blue shirt or the ultra-green grass at the Alden estate, one color stands out so much above the rest that it’s hard not to be distracted by it. It’s almost as if some colors were purposefully over-saturated, but having not seen the movie in theaters or on DVD, I can’t say whether this is an anomaly created by the filmmakers or the transfer. Still, there are plenty of redeeming visuals, particularly close-ups of characters and a handful of bright daytime shots, that are sharp and vivid enough to remind you you’re watching a Blu-ray.
Despite the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, the sound is merely passable, not fully utilizing the technology save a few deep rumbling growls and a scene in which Nicholson’s enhanced hearing creates a nice moment of sound depth. Ennio Morricone’s dark orchestral soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but does do a sufficient job at setting the mood and heightening the tension where necessary.
Supplements? What are those? There’s nothing included with Wolf unless you count the four preview trailers, which I don’t. Maybe there’s some kind of hidden easter egg nobody’s uncovered yet that unlocks a treasure chest of super secret special features. If you find it, please let us know. Until then, I’m going to write my local congressman asking him to make it a federal crime to release a Blu-ray or even a DVD without some kind of extras.
I realize my review is a tad bit critical, but the truth of the matter is that Wolf isn’t all bad. If you’re a fan of the genre I say give it a go—though maybe through Netflix first, just to be safe. Technically speaking, Wolf is a bit of a letdown, but the movie itself gets by with its A-list cast and interesting premise. If you can look past the flaws and exercise some patience, you just might end up enjoying it.