“Where were you?”: God and Grace in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

It is a beautiful thing that the Yukon Film Society was able to bring us “Tree of Life” through their new Available Light Cinema incarnation at the Yukon Arts Centre once a month.  Even more amazing was the swiftness.  Whitehorse is not known as the place where new good films come quickly–but the YFS have almost bridged the gap between us and Seattle.  Tree of Life was handed the Palme D’Or in May, and we have it in September.  I’d say that was pretty darn fast. It shows again on Wednesday night, Sept 14 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The Tree of Life is many things to many people.  The film doesn’t concern itself with a complicated, or even clear, narrative.  It has a simple one.  At the opening of the film, the death of brother/son sends the characters reeling.   What follows is a montage of scenes recalled from the mind of a surviving brother, now grown up (Sean Penn) as he tries to figure out what happened to “allow” this death in God’s great scheme of things.  The Tree of Life, for me, was a calling out, a plea, a requiem to God for our personal tragedies–asking many times of God, Where were you?  Why did you let this person die?  Was he a bad person?  The film is loosely tied together with scenes from a Texas childhood–a paradise of sorts–with a scary center, a frustrated musician father (Brad Pitt) who takes out his anger, at having to put away his music, on his three boys.

There’s a lot of whispering in this movie.  Be careful when you cough.  You’ll miss them.  Often the whispered pleas begin with “Father” or “Mother” or “You”— as the man, who speaks as the boy, tries to figure out whether he was more worthy of death than his brother.

God appears in this movie, but not as Christians typically think of him–he is a bit distant, but consistent with the book of Job.  There is the other “Where were you?” to consider:  the movie opens with an epigraph from Job, asking Job–in the voice of God–“where were you when I created the heavens and the earth?”  And there is stunning cinematography that takes a viewer from the beginnings of creation through to the moment the son is born.   Through this, the pleas and the questions cry out— “God, are you there?” plays over a volcanic planet being birthed.  The magnitude of the event of creation overshadows the magnitude of the personal tragedy.  It is almost as if Malick is answering for God: I was worried about much larger things.

But to make that the only statement Malick makes would be to miss his emphasis on the importance of love and forgiveness in the face of the cruelties of life and death.

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The Other “Hijacked Airliner” Story: Whitehorse, Yukon 9/11

It was the only airplane to emit a hijacked signal on 9/11/2001.  It was heading to New York City, from Seoul, via Anchorage Alaska.  Fighter jets were scrambled.   A whole city, Whitehorse, was given 15 minutes warning that a hijacked plane was heading to their small airport, an airport just above the center of town.  Every school was evacuated, parents were told to pick up their kids, and a giant 747 escorted by jets whose missiles were locked on target came into view.

Max Fraser, local Whitehorse filmmaker, has put together one of the most intriguing “untold” stories of 9/11 in his documentary, Never Happen Here: the Whitehorse 9/11 story.  Only a few hours after four planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and in Western Pennsylvania, Whitehorse is told that a hijacked plane is on its way to their city.  They have 15 minutes to get ready.

Imagine the panic, after watching everything happen in New York that day, hearing that it’s coming to your town in 15 minutes.  No one else got any warning that planes would be falling from the sky.  The morning of 9/11 was a surprise–there was no anticipation, no expectation.  While nothing can take away from the horror of 9/11 in the United States, or can compare to the tragedy of that event, Whitehorse’s story has an interesting angle no other story has.  It is because of the horror of 9/11 that Whitehorse had something to fear.  A disaster of 9/11 proportions was coming our way, only a few hours after we’d been shocked watching the panic and destruction hit New York City.   What would you do if you knew a 9/11 was coming to your city?

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Characters with Something On Their Minds: the brilliant writing inside Deep Impact

Recently, I re-watched Deep Impact, one of two “asteroids-going-to-hit-Earth” movies that came out simultaneously (the other being, the poor-in-comparison, Armageddon).  Deep Impact builds slowly, and has amazingly drawn characters.  It’s worth it to watch just to pick up some tips on character development.  These are my thoughts after watching it.

1.  Every character in the movie has their own worries or concerns BEFORE their first scenes.  Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) wants to make a name for herself as a reporter and move up faster than the news organization’s corporate ladder will allow.  Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) is falling in love.  Jenny’s mother (Vanessa Redgrave) is achingly going through the news of the marriage of her ex-husband to a younger woman; and the ex-husband has just married, and in the process, estranged his daughter.  Others are having babies, concerned about parties coming, or debts, or something.

It’s very easy for me as a writer to create characters who come into my scenes to do my bidding and then exit, stage left.  This makes them one-dimensional and cardboard–it also makes them a bit robotic, there to get my plot done for me.  BETTER are characters who have had something JUST happen to them when they come into your story, in other words, they are recovering from a cold, they are dealing with bills, parents passing, daycare that’s too expensive–something.  These scenes were really short, but they helped me care about the characters quicker because they had outside interests, outside agendas besides the imminent needs of the PLOT.

2.  They make CHOICES based on their previous problems or worries.  I was very surprised to see what kinds of choices they made, choices bound by the plot, yes, but could only have happened because of the natural cause-and-effect of the plot.  Someone chooses not to be saved; someone chooses to rescue someone else; someone kills themselves; each new choice brings about other choices–but choices that build on one another.

Sometimes writers (like me) create plots that are heavily structured because of what we want to see but we don’t quite take into consideration the kinds of choices  the characters would make—we make their choices from who they are in the beginning, not who they are BECOMING as the story progresses.  Events change us, and I was reminded that characters in the movies could not have made certain choices without having gone through the events in the movies. It’s a good thing to remember that the events of your story change your characters–and they do it gradually.

Change doesn’t happen because of one event, usually.  It happens because we are exposed again and again with events and choices.

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X-Men vs. X-Men: First Class

Okay, I just had to re-watch Brian Singer’s original X-Men (2000) after seeing X-Men: First Class.  I wanted to see how these two movies played off each other.  Call XM:FC what you want–origin story, prequel–it still has to be a good movie.  And I think Singer’s original X-Men is a much better movie than X-Men: First Class.  Here’s why.

1.  XM: So much more character development of several characters–Rogue, Wolverine, Magneto, Xavier, Jean Grey.  This movie takes time with its characters and keeps focus on Wolverine as the “schill” or the “new guy” who gets to experience all the Xavier School like we do, for the first time.  He operates “as us” so other characters tell him things we need to know.  Their world is well-developed already and intricate and we get the idea that it’s solid and has been this way for awhile, and has stuff that we haven’t seen yet.

XM:FC barely develops Eric as a tragic, one-note, revenge-minded character, and Charles as a privileged fop whose compassion comes because of his blindness to others hardships (though occasionally, his mind-link helps him “understand” your pain).  FC Xavier comes by his compassion too easily; original Xavier seems much kinder, empathetic, a person I’d admire.

None of the minor characters in XM:FC are even developed.  They barely get screen time except to fight.  Sure XM has its share of background/throwaway characters who simply run through a door, or make an ice rose, but we don’t need to know who they are.  They aren’t pivotal to the plot.  XM:FC characters are, and it’s a shame they are never really developed.

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Mob Rules and the Art of the Team Movie— a review of X-Men: First Class

I saw X-Men: First Class last night.  It was a good, solid action movie with stunning special effects.  It moves and kept me interested.  It never had me on the edge of my seat.  It’s an origin story– it has to go through certain details to collect them all–but it doesn’t do it very interestingly, in my opinion.  It also has trouble with multiple characters, having a hard time giving them much development.  I thought the original X-Men did a better job at giving each character a moment.  While Wolverine, Rogue, Dr Jean Grey, et al have their moments to shine as characters pre-Xavier, we don’t have that in this movie.  Here, we barely know anything about Banshee, Beast, Raven, Angel, Darwin, Havoc.  They are more about what they can do than who they are–though they hint at something deeper.  In all, it’s a pretty good film, but not an amazing one.  Enjoy it as an action flick.

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TRON: Legacy needs a CLU, gets a “journey without a goal”

I wanted to like this movie.  I have such fond memories of the original TRON.  It was ahead of its time in many ways back then, and probably a little cheesy too…  It was wrapped up in religion a bit, which wasn’t bad— it gave programs a “culture,” a “faith.”  TRON: Legacy has kept up with the digital explosion in movies and taken it to grand heights, but it abandoned good writing and good characters along the way.  I found it hard not to roll my eyes, and even with such great visuals, found myself bored during the last quarter of the film.  How did they fumble such a beautiful opportunity?  I don’t know, but I have some ideas.  I offer these up for consideration.  I’m no Roger Ebert (but I’m a huge fan, Roger) but I think most critics have already agreed that the plot lacks something. The original TRON received 69% on the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes, the new Tron 49%.  Though, oddly the audience seems to like the second one more.  Critics agreed the light show and “glitter” are fun, and who can beat that soundtrack?  I loved the light show, the competitions, the music, but the plot is an epic fail.

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Desperate Times Call For Desperate Magic: A Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt 1.  is a good film–a solid film, giving a good arc and screentime to all three of the main characters, and a host of others. There’s plenty of action, but this film also takes time to develop the story and the characters.  I stood in line at the Yukon Cinema for two hours to get in to the first showing (-10 C)–so my standards had to go up for how good this film had to be.  And I felt like, in the end, it was worth it.

You know the premise: Harry Potter and team are on the run from Voldemort.  Nowhere is safe.  Harry is out to find as many pieces of Voldemort’s soul as he can and destroy them.  We aren’t at Hogwarts anymore.  But the lessons, it seems, still go on–and the grades are worth more.

Some small spoilers follow—but nothing major.  Read later after you’ve seen the movie.  It’s just me talking about the really cool character arcs–but I do a bit of telling what characters do.

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I was pleased at how much this film is about Hermoine.  The opening sequence has her erasing the memories of her from her parents’ minds, and also from every picture in the house.  She has, in effect, erased her existence in the Muggle world.  The film highlights the extreme displacement the kids feel by not being in Hogwarts, and you feel it too.  The camera shots from above the various geographies, rotate just slightly, giving you the feeling of being lost.  And these students are lost, very lost.  They are on the run, and no place is safe.  Hermoine guides them through past memories of her childhood, and the movie plays out as a backwards rendition of those memories she has erased.  Each place they disparate to, or jump to, is a place she alone remembers from her past.  When she is tortured in the film, we realize how much she has always been in potential danger at Hogwarts, especially because she is Muggle born.  While Draco Malfoy always carried the racism and bigotry into Hogwarts, because he was a child–he had no power to enforce that bigotry, and we assumed that it would be knocked out of him.  Hogwarts has obviously failed a few times to instill responsible and compassion in its students.  Voldemort carries this much farther.  On a purity spree, he is trying to subjugate the world of Muggles under wizardry control.  Hermoine represents muggles on the run, Muggles fighting back.  She even helps save another Muggle-born woman who has been stripped of her wand in a courtroom scene straight from the Inquisition.  We know that the imperative for the wizards getting back in control of Voldemort is to save mankind, not just themselves.  And we realize that the last six books were about Hogwarts, a school that taught morality and self-control to people who had great, destructive and constructive powers.  Hogwarts is what stands between wizards and witches taking over the world–young wizards’ and witches’ education is paramount to our safety.

Ron has a great arc as well, as his whole family is left fighting against Voldemort while he and Harry and Hermoine are trying to find the horcruxes.  Every day he listens to the radio to see if his family is okay.  And every day they don’t find a horcrux is another day that he isn’t doing something to stop the war.  He feels guilty that he’s “doing nothing” and doubly guilty because he gets to be with the woman he loves all the time.  This turns in him, and with the help of an evil horcrux which amplifies those feelings of betraying his family, it causes him to rage against his friends, and make a big decision.  It’s a huge move for a major character.  We know part of is the horcrux, but part of it stems from six books of Ron Weasley being seen as less than all of his siblings, and standing in the shadows of Harry Potter.  He now has to play the hero–and while he wants to so badly, there’s a fear that it’s always just “playing” and that this playing is actually taking away from a larger duty he owes his family back home.  His arc represents, to me at least, the wizarding families and the freedom they are likely to lose if Voldemort wins, and the sacrifices they make to keep people safe.

Harry, though frustrated as a leader, has a lot of moments to make good and bad decisions as he goes.  I like that he learns that his friends are doing the best they can.  They are counting on him to know what he’s doing–and sometimes he does and sometimes he’s just an 18 year old who is figuring things out as he goes.  I like that he’s learning to be a leader here under trying circumstances and there are moments in the film that he shows how good of a leader he can be.  We know the final film will explore even more of Harry’s character, and Dumbledore’s.  I wonder how much they’ll bring out the relationship between Grindewald and Dumbledore.  I’m very excited to see how Harry reaches what he has to reach in the next film.

Even though this film deviates from its normal Hogwarts school year–I was pleased to see that the way the earlier films marked the passing of time was kept in this one: holidays.  So even though you are on the run, Harry, you still mark time the same.

Deathly Hallows does have some overtones of Lord of the Rings, as Harry searches for multiple objects, so that he can destroy them.  The scene interrogating Creature about a locket gave me Gollum, Frodo, Samwise feelings all over the place.  And the dream sequences of seeing Voldemort closing in on various people acted like Sauron’s eye in reverse.

And then come to the middle of the film, I was surprised and charmed to find such a finely animated film inside.  When the story of the “Three Brothers” is read aloud by Hermoine, the film indulges in a beautiful moment of cinema.  I was entranced. The short segment is worth its own short film status–and I would definitely be interested in seeing a film like this made from the stories in Beetle the Bard.  If this was the director’s way of seeing if we’re interested in seeing that film–let me be the first to say, yes.

Overall, the film far exceeded my expectations, in that it brought out threads that resonated with the first six films, and managed to find humor in the darkest book of the HP series.  It also gave such meaty character building parts to Ron, Hermoine and Harry–just when you thought you knew them, now you see them grow again. This is the perfect culmination movie.

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Kudos to the folks at the Yukon Cinemas for decorating the theatre, keeping peace, for filming the line, and asking us trivia questions for prizes.  Thank you for threatening any person who had cellphone nonsense during the movie with immediate expulsion.  Please do this for every movie!  🙂  I’m very proud of our how well Yukon Theatre did with the massive crowds, and regulating traffic.  And they were all dressed in Hogwarts robes!  Priceless.

Inception: the Idea trumps Character (movie review)

Help! My characters have no life. Oh wait, maybe they just need to wake up.

Inceptionis a solid movie, full of complications, a lot of thrill, and most importantly, some good ideas.  While it also has a couple of interesting characters in DiCaprio and Murphy, the rest of the cast fulfills their positions dutifully, easy to interchange and forget.   It’s a caper film–with the majority of the movie about the caper.  It uses a Matrix-like idea as a vehicle to achieve its goals.  The idea is central, the science fiction secondary; but like good science fiction–the idea is enough to carry the movie.

I liked the movie, enough to see it again if the time comes to rent it on DVD or if a friend wants to see it; but I found the inconsistencies in the premise took away from the caper.  How do they share freakin dreams!  Plug yourself in and something determines whose consciousness you’re going to share?  Doesn’t matter, the movie says— we’ll just tell you.  How do they determine who will dream and who will share?  Doesn’t matter, the movie says, watch what we can do with a special effect.

There’s enough infodump in the first twenty minutes to choke a horse, disguised as dialogue, interspersed with scenes of cities running amok and riots in the streets.  The riots are there to make sure the ideas go down easier.  “Just a spoonful of riot, makes the infodump go down…”  Take a note: this is NOT how to do an infodump.  We learn absolutely nothing about the characters in the first twenty minutes…only that a Molly means betrayal.   Nope, we need to explain the premise….

Now, once I got past that we were rushing through the “technical” issues to get to the action (I could almost hear the movie tell me–who cares about whether or not this makes sense? We’ve got a cool thing to show you), I enjoyed the movie.  But I didn’t really care about DiCaprio’s character– or empathize with his loss.  Normally Ellen Page is fantastic (LOVED JUNO!) but any actress could have pulled off that role, it required so little.  In some ways she, Michael Caine, and all the other actors are wasted to serve the idea….

Jeffery Overstreet has the same concerns in part one of his review of Inception.  And says them better.  It wasn’t so much a bad movie–as a rushed one, one that engaged your brain but not your heart–even when it was trying so desperately to do so.  And the ethics involved in changing someone’s mind so illegally made DiCaprio not a very sympathetic character.

Now, back to that idea.

The BEST thing about Inception, and why everyone should see it, is about how you put an idea into someone’s head.  The discussion about how you make someone believe that it was their original idea, as opposed to yours, is insightful–and will make everyone talk.  The whole work to get Cillian Murphy to think this is his own idea is downright fun.  And everyone in Marketing should see this.  Or maybe they shouldn’t!  (What might have been more interesting, but not as fun, would have been a philosophical film based on the premise–you know, in the same way that Sophie’s World merely used the least amount of plot to play with an idea.)

There is NO insight on dreaming in here.  Dreams, while they can be detailed, are murky and inconsistent.  They’re rarely realistic and may involve someone who looks like they are a walking shark carrying a tuba….  And as Overstreet admits too– other filmmakers have handled the surreality of dreaming SO much better.  That dreams can be invaded by someone–so casually–with no idea how to operate in someone else’s dream — is really lame.  As if the writer (and I like Christopher Nolan) just needed to get past some hurdles here…. to make a cool graphically conceived movie.  Also, the biggest clue that you’re in a dream is that you cannot read the same text twice.  It appears and changes as you’re reading it, rendering the opening premise illogical….

SPOILER:  And this is the third “dreamy” film–or film which contains reality based on your own thoughts–to include a suicidal woman.   What Dreams May Come, Solaris and this movie all have this as a premise…  that women can’t handle their own thoughts and will take their lives, causing their husbands, every one, to come rescue them.  And all three films end with that rescue leading to a kind of pseudo-paradise that the audience recognizes as delusion.  (What Dreams May Come is worthy of its own review.  A movie which ranks as one of my all time worst movies ever. But the ending delusion is supposed to be Heaven, so I can’t really argue with that.)

So, I found the movie a bit flat–even as the action was all revved up….  Caring about the characters, to me, was essential to enjoying the intensity of the film.  If I can’t care, then I can’t care about the intense situations you put the characters into.  Solaris made me care about the main two characters in their hyper-reality film; What Dreams May Come suffered from the same overblown concept with lack of character interest.   Inception forgets that narrative relies not just on amazingly cool logos, but on believable pathos too.

Is There No Wonder in Wonderland? A Review of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

What do you want when you get down the rabbit hole?  Burton begs this question in his version of Alice in Wonderland.  Folks will probably enjoy the visuals–they are delightful to watch.  But in this age of CGI, there’s not as much fanfare left for special effects.  It’s coming down quickly to who tells a good story, and I want to examine Burton’s story here.

What I like about the story of Alice in Burton’s Wonderland is that we get a detailed look at Alice’s life before the rabbit hole–especially her cloying debutante-shuffling world, where so little was expected from women, and so much was expected from their cooperation.  I like the summer dance on the lawn, the hordes who like to watch when she’s proposed to.  I like Alice.  I liked that narrative so much that I was expecting more of it when we got to Wonderland and it wasn’t there, not immediately anyway.    When I realized that Wonderland was reflecting her own re-vision of a forced duty, then it got more interesting–but that time in Wonderland feels off.

Two things happened when she got into Wonderland.  I got confused, and Wonderland was reduced to a strip of land between two kingdoms.  The premise of this movie is that Alice has been here before.  In fact, she has recurring nightmares throughout her childhood and young adulthood, and yet nothing in Wonderland sparks her memory?  Even a memory of the dream?  I don’t buy it.  If I was haunted by something, I would start recognizing people and things.  She acts like she’s never even SEEN the place.  Why doesn’t anyone try to jar her memory when they pull out the Calendria?  (When we do see her previous journey in montages it looks vaguely like the same plot…and boring)

This plot seems very focused on the end of the movie.   It’s like one big long foreshadowing.  She has to fight the Jabberwocky–everyone tells her this.  All the beautiful weird dialogue of Lewis Carroll is gone, pared away to focus on an ending that’s so inevitable we might as well have just skipped to the end.  All the characters are focussed on Alice.  This is so unlike Carroll’s version where everyone was focussed on themselves.  Alice was merely observant.  Here she does only what we expect her to do; she goes through the motions of the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence, a moment with the Mad Hatter, a second with the Cheshire cat.  She’s not even curious anymore.  Where’s Alice–Carroll’s Alice?  

Wonderland really takes on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, two queens that duked it out after Henry VIII died.  I didn’t buy the petty rivalry of sisters.  What’s there to fight over?  Two courts, fully intact.  The flashback involving the Jabberwocky smoking a White Queen party—well, there weren’t any consequences.  The White Queen had a new castle, attendants, and enough white to choke the Arctic.  I didn’t get the queens at all.  There’s no reason for them to be upset, and in fact, the White Queen seems devoid of any will to fight–she has to be saved.  Her court resembled the starchy-white English party Alice just left.  And we hated that.  

Remakes where characters revisit their original stories can be good.  Hook is an excellent version of the grown up Peter Pan visiting Never Never Land.  The script was brilliant.  Burton’s Wonderland has very little wonder left–even for the characters involved.  

Yes, Carroll’s original story is obtuse and playful–it isn’t easily figured out.  But Burton scrapped the multiplicity of places in Wonderland, the depth of odd characters, and Alice’s curiosity in favor of a plot.  If you’re going to put all your money on a plot, it better work.  This one is so muddly in the middle, I just waited for there to be a reason for Alice to do something….until we see her realize that everyone is telling her what to do–in both worlds, and then she goes and does something else.  But it’s not enough.  She hurries through the epilogue in the world’s longest/shortest “I need a moment to think.” 

I liked Burton’s rescuing of Alice’s real world experiences—though she doesn’t talk about them much in Wonderland any more.  I like the ending, I like the beginning, but her time in Wonderland plays like nobody wants to be distracted by wonder anymore–they want the big battle.  Carroll’s Wonderland was about the wandering, about the figuring things out, about the wonder— but this one had few choices for Alice, a lot of inevitably and no wonder.

The Wolfman: A Waning Version of the Original

The Wolfman,(2010) directed by Joe Johnston, starring Benicio Del Toro, is a remake of The Wolfman, (1941) directed by George Waggner, and starring Lon Chaney, Jr.  You know that.  My biggest question through the movie is WHY REMAKE IT?

The first half hour is a snoozer, merely a recap of the film you’ve already seen.  In fact, the writers so depend on you knowing the characters from the 1941 movie that hardly anyone is allowed screentime to develop as NEW characters.  Who is Lawrence Talbot in this version?  We don’t know.  He’s cast in such dark and moody lighting, such gothic teasery, that we don’t get a sense of Lawrence as a person.  They make the BIG SIN of Bad Movies–let the actors only talk about the Plot. So, every line, every snippet of dialogue is there to give us Backstory, Context, Tell Us Things We Should Know–but no one is allowed to actually talk about anything else.  No one asks anyone to pass the salt.  There’s no time.  We must talk, and talk quickly, about the plot.

To the movie’s credit there are three new twists thrown in:

* * *SPOILERS * * *

1.  Lawrence Talbot is an American Actor, starring in Hamlet in London. This is cool. I don’t mind there being some Shakespearian allusions in the movie!  Yay!  And Lawrence Talbot and Hamlet have some similarities— they’ve seen the truth about their fathers; they have seen their mothers ravaged by other men; they were gone for most of their adult life and are brought back for a funeral; they are in a quandary about what to do; their girlfriends think they are insane; they must kill their “fathers”.  Brilliant idea to show these similarities.  But where Shakespeare’s play develops characters, Johnston’s movie superimposes limp characters onto established patterns.  Not only is Del Toro’s Talbot hoping you think of Chaney’s Talbot, but he’s hoping you think of Hamlet–except Hamlet was clever, Hamlet PLAYED insane, Hamlet had a plan…  Talbot in this film has no plan.  He’s a victim of the werewolf, a victim of his Father, and ultimately a victim of the town.  The Comparison to Hamlet is an attempt to ride on Shakespeare’s coattails and give this film some depth it doesn’t earn.

IF they had started the movie on stage with Benicio Del Toro, playing Hamlet, going backstage to hear that his sister-in-law had written to him to come to the Family Manse, there’s been a murder–and he had to go back onstage—that would have been interesting.  It would have been SCENE.  We could have seen Talbot as an actor, as a person….  BEFORE he goes home to Goth House.

2.  Anthony Hopkins is HIMSELF a Werewolf. Cool.  In fact, I think both men are sexy as werewolves and the battle scene is beautifully done and fun to watch.  In fact, I’m sure that battle scene is worth the whole movie to some.  By making the dad a werewolf too, you add a great deal to the idea that Fathers make their Sons into monsters when they are monsters.  And I kind of liked this aspect of the movie.  It should add a depth to becoming a monster–abusive parents create abusive children, etc.  But that’s not really explored.  The Dad is completely heartless in that he’s finally decided to embrace his inner Werewolf and just kill at random.  He has no reason and no regret.  And so, we don’t care about him.  He’s one-dimensional and speaks from the script. And neither man can stop himself from killing once he’s a werewolf….  so why bother with morality at all?

3.  Lawrence Talbot was sent to a mental institution. VERY cool.  I like this.  It’s logical.  He sees his father kill his mother and goes a little bonkers.  And then they send him to America where those who are a little bonkers will fit in.  One scene.  That’s all the movie gives this beautiful, but underdeveloped, idea… so Talbot is dunked in icy water and given injections, and we get a flashback.  That’s it.  And, the second major transformation happens here…which is fun to watch.  But the addition of this backstory is sewn on with big thread and doesn’t really match the rest of the movie.  It isn’t utilized.

Some inconsistencies in this movie made this remake more confusing and tiresome.

A.  Why wasn’t Lawrence killed when he saw his father eating his mother? None of the other werewolves have stopped to save a child…. Lawrence should be dead, or he should have never seen that incident.

B.  Sometimes the moon comes through a cloud and changes you AT ONCE, and sometimes, you get to walk around outside or inside as a human being until you’ve finished your dialogue, and then you get to transform into the werewolf.  There’s no clear rule about transformation. Bad.

C.  What is the purpose of the Inspector or Gwen now? They are Wasted characters because they’re not given any screen time to really develop.  In 1941, Lawrence Talbot was a normal man, flirting with a beautiful girl, come back to run the estate of his family.  When he is bitten, that first “normal” life is taken from him.

Watch this here and see the development of character in a 1940’s way (and, wow, is Lon Chaney Jr. a hunk of a guy)

In 2010, Lawrence Talbot is already doom and gloom, and his bite is just further nightmare.  Nothing is normal in this new Talbot’s life.  The girl he’s flirting with now–that’s his dead brother’s fiance.  His father?  A werewolf who killed his own wife.  There ain’t a happy moment in this film–and therefore, without that happier beginning, there is no tragedy.

This was the HEART of the 1941 film. That a good man could be destroyed by a bite from a werewolf.  It has been ripped out of the chest of this story to make way for a kind of pre-ordained House of Usher doom….

So I come back to my first response:  WHY remake such a classic film?  To get neat special effects in and to get more gory.   There are some scary moments in the film, but twice we are blatantly tricked, making us feel like fools:  Samson the dog scare us at quiet moments.  (Oops!  Not a werewolf…shucks.  Gotcha anyway!)

There’s lots of killing, lots of killing, and it’s so random, that after awhile, it all becomes white noise.  Six people, ten people, there’s no challenge to the werewolf.  THEY ALL have silver bullets, but not one of them can shoot straight?  Yeah, right.

Bottom Line: Beautifully filmed and with stellar special effects, the Wolf Man gives us nothing else new and tarnishes what was good about the original. If you’re interested in seeing the classic, follow the Youtube connection above to see the whole film.