(ed note: I should have published this last Wednesday but, between traveling and other work responsibilities, I just didn’t get to it. But considering I had it 85% done, though, I didn’t want it to go to waste and so I’m going ahead and publishing it now. –CT)
You have to love a good horror flick. I’m talking real horror – scary monsters and lots of shadows that might be moving – and not the recent spat of movies that are all about psychopaths torturing innocent people for no reason, movies that are supposed to be deep explorations of human depravity but which can’t hold a candle to the mythology and genuine terror the classic stories told.
Back in the early and mid-1990s there were a couple of revamps – today they’d be called reboots – of some of those classic characters. Francis Ford Coppola took on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Kenneth Branagh directed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (both movies I seem to have a higher opinion of than most professional critics). This was supposed to be part of a revitalization of these stories and the next entry was logically going to be The Wolf Man. But while there was Wolf, which starred Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer, there was no direct adaptation of the original story of Lawrence Talbot and his tendency to wolf-out.
Now that gap has been filled, with Universal enlisting Benecio del Toro to don the fur and become The Wolfman. The story revolves around Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) coming back to visit his father (Anthony Hopkins) at the family estate after his brother has been mysteriously killed. There he becomes attracted to his late brother’s fiance (Emily Blunt) and eventually becomes the victim of an attack that leaves him changed, with that change then making him the object of a pursuit by an investigator from Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving).
The first two teaser posters were all about mood and attitude. The first featured half of the title character’s face, with the rest obscured by shadow, gazing menacingly at the audience. This one does a good job of showing off that character while not giving away the entire look that has been created. The second shows Blunt hiding behind a tree in a forest, obviously on the run from something. I like that what she’s on the run from isn’t directly shown but instead only hinted at with the barest of shadows on the ground in the background. It establishes a sense of terror without going over the top and that’s a rare and admirable show of restraint on behalf of the campaign. There was another teaser that showed nothing but a pair of hands gripped around the top of a walking stick, with smoke rising from those hands since there’s a silver ornamental top to that stick.
The final theatrical poster again brings plenty of atmosphere to the table but there’s also a big heaping portion of Big Floating Heads syndrome. The noggins of Hopkins, Del Toro, Blunt and Weaving are all arrayed around the top of the one-sheet and are arranged to be glaring at the audience, at each other or into the middle distance. Below them stands the wolf himself surrounded by forest trees and an eery light, while the copy “When the moon is full, the legend comes to life” is placed below the title treatment.
The look of the poster – washed out skin tones, lots of black and other such elements – all evoke to the audience that the movie takes place sometime in the 18th/19th century time period since we all know from other movies those years did not have any bright colors. The arrangement of the actor’s heads is designed to create the tension and show the audience how, in broad strokes, the characters relate to each other.
It’s not bad but it comes off as a little generic, with nothing all that striking about it, certainly nothing as striking as some of the teaser posters and the way they were able to create a feeling of suspense with simple images.
The first trailer starts off with an old man telling stories in a pub about the death long ago of a man who was torn to shreds and how the dead man’s father then wouldn’t leave home after arming himself with silver bullets. At that point we’re introduced to Del Toro’s character, who’s returned home after his brother’s death in the same manner. He begins to comfort his late brother’s fiance and the two of them begin a romance that takes a turn with Del Toro’s character is himself bitten by the beast and he begins to show signs of being something terrible. An inspector from Scotland Yard is poking around amidst all this and is on the trail of the killer, who at this point appears to be Del Toro. But his transformation is something he’s having trouble with and being tortured over, a conflict which appears to drive much the film’s story.
The second trailer takes more of a atmospheric approach, focusing less on the plot and more on the mood and look of the film as the relationships between the characters are less fleshed out while we get more shots of people being beat down here and there. There’s till the hint of romance as we see, from behind, a naked Blunt and so on and you can assume that Hopkins is the father figure with an agenda of his own, but the rest is all quick cut action that doesn’t burden the audience with an abundance of plot points.
The official website opens by playing one of the trailers but you can close that and get to the first menu. Before jumping in to the content there are a couple things here that are notable.
First, there’s a “Share” button up in the right-hand corner that allows you to post the site to your social network/bookmarking site of choice. That option is on a lot of sites but this is probably the best implementation of that function.
Second there’s a prompt to post to Twitter a line from the movie and a link back to this official site. All you need to do is select one of the three available options and enter your Twitter credentials and you can become a marketing outlet for your friends.
There are also some nods to the cinematic history of the Wolfman at Universal with a link to a “Monster Legacy” site and an ad to buy the original Wolf Man movie’s special edition DVD.
Finally on this splash page are opportunities to download a mobile game, get free ringtones and more.
Once you enter the site the first options you see are opportunities to dive deeper into the film’s settings.
“Discover Lycanthropy” which opens a new site with history on this mythological condition. “Explore Blackmoor” takes you in to the history behind the myth, including a timeline of events that inspired the story and a deeper exploration of the physical locations the story takes place in. Then there’s another link to Universal’s “Monster Legacy” site, on which the Wolf Man is currently playing a starring role.
Going back to the site and opening the Menu, the first section is a “Synopsis” that lays out the film’s story and who many of the main characters are in a decent manner.
“Cast” and “Filmmakers” are the next two, providing bios and film histories on those who contributed to the film both in front of and behind the camera.
How the film got made is covered in “Production,” though all of the six sub-sections it’s broken into are pretty safe and just discuss the casting, design and other aspects of the movie’s making without getting in to the troubles it encountered, which is understandable.
The next two sections are devoted to video content, with “Trailers” containing both trailers, two TV spots and a behind-the-scenes featurette and “Clips” giving you access to seven extended bits of footage from the movie.
The same three things that were on the front page – Monster Legacy, Discover Lycanthropy and Explore Blackmoor can be found again in the “Features” section.
“Gallery” has about 15 stills you can view and “Downloads” has Desktops and Buddy Icons you can download to your computer if you so choose.
The site also has links to Universal’s Twitter feed and to the movie’s own Facebook Fan Page, which includes an app you can add so you and your friends can hunt each other in addition to all the usual information, materials and updates.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There was a pretty decent advertising push for the movie from Universal which seems to be born of a desire to revitalize a more…traditional horror genre, many of the characters of which they hold the rights to.
Outdoor billboards were out and about bringing the movie’s message to the commuting masses. And there were a good number of online ads that I came across.
There were also a fair amount of TV spots created which mainly took the tactic of repurposing footage from the trailers, showing quite a bit of various transformation sequences, a bit of the romance, some scowling and crazy-looking laughing from Hopkins and a bit of Weaving going on the hunt for the monster.
In addition to those regular TV commercials the studio also bought 15 seconds of airtime during Super Bowl XLIV, using it to bring an even more slimmed-down version of the trailer to that broadcast’s audience. It goes by awfully quickly and opts for title cards instead of voiceovers, the inclusion of which eats into that sparse running time and leading to a spot that features even less footage than the others.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately most of the movie’s publicity throughout 2009 was the constantly moving release dates Universal gave it. Originally slated for November 2008, then February 2009, then April 2009, then November 2009 it eventually got pushed to February 2010, a state of flux that didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to instill a lot of faith in the strength of the finished product, rightly or wrongly.
There was also a good amount of coverage devoted to Rick Baker and his mastery over the visual effects of the movie. Baker being a Hollywood legend there was lots to discuss, including his adherence to the idea of traditional, practical effects for the title character. While he did oversee the digital process that was used for the transition from human to wolf, the end result is an actor in makeup and that’s a good thing.
Closer to release there was the usual round of press interviews with the primary cast and crew (again, often involving Baker) along with a rehashing of the many and varied problems the film had through the production process, problems that included a director leaving just weeks before filming, an editor leaving halfway through production and more. That’s unfortunate but could serve to lower industry expectations significantly so a modest win this weekend looks favorable in comparison.
There’s an odd sense of inconsistency running through the campaign that I’m tempted to say is the result of so many delays and so many people looking to get their input registered since the stakes are so high. Sometimes the materials feel very atmospheric and spooky, sometimes they feel very overt as if they’re trying to make it fit in with recent horror genre offerings.
But there’s still some good stuff here, most of which falls in to the former of the two categories above. I love the early teaser posters (especially the one that shows Blunt hiding behind a tree) and much of the trailers are well done. And you’ll never go wrong in my book by acknowledging history, in this case the prominent placements of the classic Universal Studios horror film catalog.
Unfortunately the publicity aspect of the campaign has been mired in stories about the numerous delays, reshoots and other things that hampered production. But there’s an otherwise solid effort on display here that, with a few missteps, at least should get people re-interested in the character and its cinematic history.