Wednesday, November 22, 2017

WOLF (1994) (Indicator Blu-ray Review)

WOLF (1994) 

Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator Series
Duration: 125 Minutes 

Rating: BBFC cert: 15 
Region Code: Region-Free 
Audio: English LPCM Stereo 2.0. English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 

Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Plummer

Director Mike Nichols’ (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) directed this 90's take on the werewolf genre starring Jack Nicholson (Chinatown) as Will Randall, a buttoned-down book editor turned lycanthropic menace is a fun, star-studded  genre mash-up. We have the always magnetic Nicholson starting out as an aging editor, but when he encounter's an injured wolf on a snowy Vermont road in the middle of the night it ends with a bite on his hand under the full moon. Shortly afterward the area around the wound begins to strangely sprout hair, his decrepit vision improves and the old-timer has a renewed zest for life, in addition to a keen sense of smell and hearing. His amplified sense of smell catches one of his fact checkers at the publishing house off guard when he smells vodka on the man's breath and makes comment of it, bewildering the man. 

James Spader (Jack's Back) shows up as Will's sycophant protégé, Stewart Swinton, who secretly plots against his mentor with new boss billionaire Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer, Dreamscape) to usurp Will's position at the publishing house. Along the way Will discovers his wife Charlotte (Kate Nelligan, Dracula) is having a an affair with his younger protege, that little bastard steals not just his job but the guy's wife, that motherfucker. It's a fun little tale of corporate greed and the cutthroat ways of the publishing world, a story that on it's own would have been engaging even  before you add the element of lycanthropy to the mix. As the Nicholson's character begins to wolf-out he gets a new taste for life and makes a play to reclaim his throne at the publishing house, along the way striking up a friendship/relationship with Alden's smoking-hot daughter Michelle Pfeiffer (Into the Night), who at first sees him as just a sympathetic old man but as he begins to seemingly regress in age and become more spry something more develops between them, which irks her billionaire father to the delight of Nicholson's character.

As I have already said, the cutthroat world of NYC publishing and the story of greedy ladder-climbing alone would make this an interesting movie, with Nicholson's character being aided in part by his loyal secretary Mary (Eileen Atkins) and co-worker Roy (David Hyde Pierce of TV's Frasier) who assist him ably and enthusiastically when the worm-turns after his sudden demotion, just the dramatic movie is pretty great and the star-studded cast is a fun watch. plus it's rather funny in a sly sort of way, not a comedy, but legitimately funny, as showcased by a scene of Nicholson pissing on a competitors leg in at the urinal, marking his territory. 

Onto the good stuff, the way the werewolf-ening happens is more downplayed than your average werewolf film, and it's worth noting no one says the word werewolf throughout the whole movie, it's more about being possessed by the spirit of the animal. Thankfully we do get some werewolf transformations courtesy of a man who knows a thing or three about werewolves, make-up effects legend Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London), transformations which don't end in full-on hairy werewolves, but instead shaggy-faced men with sharp teeth and animal-eyes and claws. The effect is great, particularly on Nicholson who looks fearsome towards the end. Spader's character also gets in on the transformation but his is not quite up to snuff in my opinion, he has a bit of a pretty-boy face and the wolf-mane just doesn't frame him the same way as Nicholson, but what he lacks in fearsome visage he makes up for in straight-up meanness, stabbing Nicholson with a pitchfork and attempting to rape a frog-legged Pfeiffer. The wolf versus wolf battle at the end wasn't too bad at all, it holds up way better than what we saw with Universal's digital-monstrosity The Wolfman (2010)... now there's a sad story about Rick Baker working on a film that went wrong, through no fault of his own, but that's a different movie, so let's move on.

Watching Wolf this time around I enjoyed it more than I ever have before, when I caught it in the cinema during it's initial release I think the way younger me was looking for a more traditional werewolf flick, like what I grew up with in the 80's,  and this one doesn't quite go there. However, in a lot of ways this is the old familiar story of a man cursed by a bite, but it nicely mixes in a story about 90's greed culture that holds up as do the special effects.     

Audio/Video: Wolf (1994) arrives on Blu-ray from the UK's Indicator framed in 1.85:1 widescreen on a single-disc region-free Blu-ray. I have the Region A Blu-ray from 2009 and couldn't detect an appreciable difference between the transfers aside from noting that skin tones look more natural to me on the Indicator release. The image is sharp and detailed, black levels look great, colors are nicely saturated, and there's some good fine detail to the image, with the Rick Baker make-up effects coming through strong. Audio on the disc includes both English LPCM Stereo 2.0 and English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English subtitles. The surround option offers up some nice us of the surrounds, it's crisp and well-balanced, perhaps a bit artificial in the mix, but the Ennio Morricone score sounds wonderful, but I preferred the stereo mix on this one. 

Onto the extras, the US release was bare bones so it's nice to get some extras on the Indicator release, beginning with a brand new 55-min making of doc with SFX legend Rick Baker, screenwriter Wesley Strick and producer Douglas Wick, a good watch, detailing the genesis of the project, writing the script, creating the special effects and working with Mike Nichols and Jack Nicholson. There's also about 25 minutes of archival interviews with the cast and crew that seem like they were done for an EPK at the time f the film's release. Additionally we get a few minutes of b-roll footage, these include shots of Pfeiffer in a vehicle doing a poor man's process shot and of Nichols directing scenes, the disc is finished up with the theatrical trailer and an image gallery. 

Sadly we don't have any new interviews with the main cast, I would have loved to hear from Nicholson, Pfeiffer and Spader. I've always heard of an alternate ending and deleted scenes for this one, but it's just not here, I'm assuming Indicator made the effort to find as much as they could but the elements just were not available and the stars were not available, or did not care, to take part in any new interviews, which is too bad, but at least we get some new extras. 

Packaging extras include a 20-page booklet with cast and crew info, notes about the transfer, an appreciation of the film by author Brad Stevens, a vintage promotional interview with Director Mike Nichols, and vintage interview excerpts from producer Douglas Wick, plus selected critical response from the time of the movie's original release in the cinema. 

Special Features: 
- The Beast Inside: Creating ‘Wolf: a new documentary on the making of the film with new interviews from SFX legend Rick Baker, screenwriter Wesley Strick and producer Douglas Wick (55 min) HD 
- Never-before-seen archival interviews with actors Michelle Pfeiffer (1 min), James Spader (2 min) and Kate Nelligan (2 min)
- Never-before-seen archival interviews with director Mike Nichols (8 min), producer Douglas Wick (3 min) and writer Jim Harrison (3 min)
- Never-before-seen archival interviews with SFX maestro Rick Baker (2 min) and production designer Bo Welch (3 min)
- B-roll footage (4 min)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD (Fullframe)
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography (24 images) HD 
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film 
- Limited Blu-ray Edition of 3,000 copies 

Wolf (1994) is a fun watch with a the star-studded cast, Nicholson's transformation from buttoned-down book editor to wolfed out predator makes for good entertainment, as does James Spader doing what he does best as the slimy younger guy looking to steal Nicholson's thunder, and truth be told he steals the show several times throughout. Add to that mixture some hairy werewolf action and you have a truly entertaining slice of lycanthropic-cinema, enhanced by the special effects work of Rick Baker, it'd be hard not too have a good time with it, just don't expect a bloodbath, this was directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate) after all - he's was a classy guy.   

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