Wolf Blu-ray Review
Publishing is a dog eat dog world
Movies reviewSRP: £14.99
Mike Nichols' 1994 feature Wolf focuses more on the human drama than creature horror, making the most of its all-star, Jack Nicholson-led, cast.Indeed the dramatic core of Wolf, which peddles in the seemingly mundane politics of a publishing house in the throes of a takeover, is arguably more than enough to make for a captivating watch in its own right, gifted an at times almost Sorkin-quality script, with the Wolf angle built in as an almost symbolic theme that propels the changes to the again seemingly mundane life of Jack Nicholson's lead character. Sure Nicholson seems infinitely more at home as his feral instincts take charge, but he does surprisingly well as the tired and cynical old editor-in-chief struggling with the slimy ambitions of his backstabbing protege, a perfectly-cast James Spader, the frustrations of his relationship with his wife, and the newfound interest he has in Michelle Pfeiffer's stunning and resolutely independent free spirit.Nichols builds the characters and setting perfectly, as Nicholson's life comes crashing down around him, but – at the same time – he is gifted a new life, and new ferocity, allowing crazy-Jack to go into battle with the powers of the publishing house, tear through the problems in his love life, and prowl the streets by night in search of new prey. Again, it's the fact that the script (and fantastic dialogue) is strong enough to exist even without the wolf itself that makes this such an impressive feature, with Nichols holding back on the action and violence largely until the finale, and allowing the superior cast to embrace the animal sides of their human characters as their instincts take over. Filmmakers interested in adapting conventional horror icons for the screen (The Mummy) could learn a lesson or two here.
Picture QualityUK distributor Powerhouse Films' Indicator division give Wolf its UK Blu-ray bow on a Region B-locked disc that looks suspiciously like the US release from a decade back, and rather than offering up a remastered – one would presume a 2K digital remaster would be more than appropriate – rendition, we instead seem to have been lumped with merely a newly-encoded 1080p/AVC High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen based off this old master.
It's still an improvement
Detail fluctuates wildly, affording the image some rich textures without wiping the natural layer of grain from the source, and even impressing on some close-ups as it laps up the increasingly weathered features of Nicholson and revels in Pfeiffer's beauty. There's only so much that can be done with this old master though, and also with the source in general, with problems with the original cinematography (shooting in low level lighting in particular) giving little room to manoeuvre, which doesn't spike the noise - thankfully - but does put limits on how much detail / softness those darker mid-range shots display. Indeed softness is not this presentation's friend. The colour scheme has been naturally reproduced here, with Wolf always being fairly restrained in terms of palette, but boasting strong wooden tones and solid black levels. It's still an improvement, but a twenty-plus-year-old piece like this deserves better treatment.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, on the other hand, very impressive. It's a masterful offering, finely balancing the all-important dialogue and atmospheric effects with arguably the most standout element – Ennio Morricone's sweeping, evocative score.
A very good aural accompaniment that, whilst not quite demo, aims high nonetheless
Dialogue remains prioritised across the frontal array, delivered with clarity and coherence throughout, whilst the effects help craft a suitably mysterious mood – with animal noises, often involving horses, car sounds and bustling publishing house sounds (accentuated with super-wolf-hearing) getting fine delivery across the surrounds but still, in keeping with the style of the piece, holding back from getting too theatrical, and keeping the proceedings natural.
Of course it's Morricone's fantastic, haunting score that helps maintain the supernatural vibe even when the majority of the movie is grounded and 'real', playing with the darker, animalistic vibes and accentuating the wolf in Wolf. Overall it's a very good aural accompaniment, not quite getting any prizes for demo capabilities, but aiming high nonetheless.
ExtrasIn the almost quarter-century since its release, Wolf hasn't ever been treated with much respect on home formats, with Indicator's Region B-locked Blu-ray at least attempting to rectify that somewhat on the extras front. A far cry from the vanilla Blu-ray disc that US viewers got the best part of a decade ago, this disc is packed to the brim with both new and archival background work.
Packed to the brim with new and archival work
Headlined by an excellent new hour-long Documentary on the making of the film featuring new contributions from SFX expert Rick Baker, screenwriter Wesley Strick and Producer Douglas Wick, we also get several accompanying Archival Interviews with Baker, Wick, production designer Bo Welch, writer Jim Harrison, director Mike Nichols and actors Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader and Kate Nelligan. There's also some interesting B-roll footage of the cast and crew in action, a Gallery of production photos and the Original Trailer. The set itself comes in an impressive package with a lavish booklet featuring essays and articles on the film.
Blu-ray VerdictFilmmakers interested in adapting conventional horror icons for the screen could learn a lesson here
The Indicator label comes up trumps again with another Jack Nicholson gem (they've release The Last Detail, and have The Border in the pipeline for the New Year), giving Wolf a decent UK Blu-ray bow with solid video and very impressive audio, but perhaps most importantly a solid selection of extras, both new and old, which easily trump the old US release.
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