Anticipation can be a dangerous thing in the movie business. Especially when it appears as if everything is so perfectly aligned, success seems like a sure thing. For it is at that moment that the proverbial house of cards begins to collapse.
This past weekend saw the Comic-Con hit a fever pitch of excitement. Genre fans from all over the world traveled to San Diego with hopes of getting the latest news or even being able to catch a glimpse of their most anticipated films, television shows or comics of 2008 and 2009. Over the past couple of years, movie studio head honchos have embraced the Con as a way in which to kick-start the marketing machine for their films. Last year, the excitement for Iron Man began at the Con, while the year before that 300 surprised everyone with its audacious panel. Even though the Con was originally meant to focus exclusively on comic books, films have taken over, with members of the filmmaking team (those in front and behind the camera) showing up to reveal tasty little tidbits here and there.
While I was unable to attend, I paid close attention to a number of different websites, trying to get as much information as possible. I was actually worried that it wouldn’t be as strong a Con as in the past. Given the writers strike late last year, I thought for sure that a number of high profile films wouldn’t be able to show anything in time. While Paramount (usually a huge player at the Con) didn’t reveal any films from its upcoming slate, its presence was still felt. From what I’ve heard, a number of The Last Airbender, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Star Trek t-shirts were floating around.
There were some surprises. The Wolverine footage caught quite a number of fans off guard, while Terminator: Salvation and Friday the 13th probably earned a whole slew of new fans (as well as lost quite a number in the process, I’m sure). Personally, my most anticipated film of 2009 is also the one that intrigued a number of Con attendees with its panel.
When One Hour Photo was released back in 2002, director Mark Romanek was known mostly for his memorable and highly original music videos. While the film wasn’t a masterpiece, it definitely solidified Romanek as a feature filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. Almost immediately, I wanted to see what this guy would do next. It took another couple of years, but eventually Romanek announced his next picture- a Universal remake of The Wolfman. Well, I’m a fan of a classic horror, so the film’s already got my thirteen bucks based on that alone. Wait… what’s that? Starring… Benicio Del Toro in the Lon Chaney Jr. role? Holy shit! I’m sold. A strong, passionate actor, with an intriguing and intelligent director with a wonderful eye can only mean great things for genre fans.
As if I needed any more of a reason to see The Wolfman, the cast and crew began to take shape. Anthony Hopkins as Del Toro’s father, Hugo Weaving as the lead inspector and Emily Blunt as the love interest. Then, the crème de la crème- Andrew Kevin Walker wrote the screenplay. Walker is the mad man who wrote Seven, 8MM (actually a very good script before Joel Schumacher got his hands on it), Sleep Hollow and an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Oh and did I mention that the werewolf effects are being supervised by Rick Baker? If you don’t know who this guy is, that’s your homework assignment for the week. He’s one of the “Big 3” in the special effects world.
Everything seemed to be perfect. However, there were rumblings that the script wasn’t ready to go in front of the camera. Too much violence, too much gore, not enough character development, and an unnecessary plot twist- it began to break my heart. Then the film was bumped from its original February 13th release date to a later April 3rd. If there ever was a project that perfectly suited the talents of those in front of and behind the camera, this was it. Then, back in January, Romanek left due to the dreaded “creative differences” reason. A search for a new director began. Rumors broke out that since principal photography was to begin in a matter of weeks, Universal was looking for a quick replacement. After much anticipation, they decided on… Joe Johnston?
The first thought that came to mind was… Jurassic Park III? Is this the guy they settled on to recreate one of Universal’s most famous properties? It wasn’t that I had disliked Universal’s decision. It’s just that I didn’t think anything of their choice, which isn’t a good sign. I wanted a filmmaker that challenged me and made me question whether or not they could pull off the seemingly impossible. Furthermore, given the rumored (more interesting) names, it was quite a shock to see the studio decide on such a safe name. Don’t get me wrong, Johnston is a well-respected name in the industry (especially in the special digital effects department) and he has quite the filmography (Honey I Shrunk The Kids, The Rocketeer, The Pagemaster, Jumanji, October Sky, Jurassic Park III and Hidalgo). It’s just that hearing the plans of what the producers had in mind involving the Wolfman remake and having read snippets of Walker’s older draft, it seemed to me that the studio was going for a darker, more somber and dare I say Hammer Studios approach to the picture. And that is why Johnston seemed really out of place.
As if to dissuade the wave of negative press, a number of promotional stills were released in March, showcasing Del Toro dressed in Baker’s incredible make-up. While everything that was happening behind the scenes was heartbreaking, it still didn’t change my mind about the film. I was going to see it; for at the very least, Rick Baker was going to impress us all with his tribute to the film that made him want to get into this business in the first place.
As soon as he took over the reigns of the film, Johnston hired his own screenwriter (David Self) to do some rewrites of Walker’s script. Contrary to popular belief, that’s nothing to be too worried about. Sometimes a screenplay doesn’t match a particular director’s sensibilities; so another writer is brought in to flesh out the story, while keeping the essence of the original draft. Besides, if there really were a problem, Del Toro would have said something. It is his passion project after all; he’s been a part of the film since it became public knowledge that Universal was going through with a remake.
Since the release of the promotional stills, Universal has remained silent on the topic of The Wolfman. That is, until this past weekend at the Con. Del Toro, Blunt and Baker took part in a panel in which they discussed the production thus far and even premiered a (Con exclusive) trailer. Aside from the revelation of one shockingly bad decision (CGI werewolf transformations?!), what I’ve read sounds absolutely incredible. It is the only panel that hasn’t had any bootleg footage leak online and I’m kind of thankful. The descriptions of the trailer sound stupendous and when I finally do see some footage from the film, I want it to be as clear and pristine as possible. To be honest though, it’s great to hear that Universal, Johnston and co. are well on their way to creating a period piece horror picture with Hammer sensibilities.
Which brings me back to the notion of anticipation. Maybe it originated back to when we were kids. You know, waking up Christmas morning, running down the stairs and anxiously ripping through each brightly colored box, dying to see the surprise inside. Half the fun of being a moviegoer is the anticipation of an upcoming film. The only problem is, with time, we begin to formulate our own version of the story. So when it is finally released, there’s nothing left to feel but slight disappointment. It is rare when a film exceeds our expectations.
In regards to The Wolfman, I was excited about the film from day one. The possibilities seemed endless given the talent involved. Over time, however, I find myself waiting cautiously for its release. Which, come to think of it, might a good thing. If it turns out to be great, then the surprise will undoubtedly floor me. But if it turns out to be mediocre at best, well… the Lon Chaney Jr. version will always be there to comfort me. And at least we know that the filmmaker’s hearts were in the right place.