Wolf benefits from its 1080p transfer in many ways. The 1.85:1 image is cleaner, far more detailed, boasts colours that are deeper and more vivid and offers up a level of three-dimensionality that was totally absent from the SD edition.
Encoded via MPEG-4, the print retains its original grain and still bears the odd little nick and fleck, although this version is, by far, the clearest and most robust that I have seen. There is a blue-line taint at the edge of the frame that distracts during one early sequence, but the film actually looks quite strong for the most part, and this unwanted tint does not appear again. Colours have certainly been given a shot in the arm. The skin-tones are richer and warmer, with hair colour - particularly Spader's and that manor-house guard, George's, beard revealing reds and sandy tones that were quite obscured on the SD. The denim shirt spattered with garish blood, the grey whiskers in Will's facial fur, the varied hues of the book-spines in the shelves at the office and the dense greens of the forest foliage and grass all appear with more precision and gradation than they have enjoyed before. Plus, the yellow gleam of various sets of feral eyes have a tad more distinction. Neon signs and the lights of New York, however, don't seem to fare anywhere near so well, often looking muted and subdued in those frequent scene-transitional aerial views and overhead shots. The wood-panelling of plush office suites and the warm opulence of the Aldan estate have that appealing lustre of thick, cosy comfort that comes across well.
Detail is variable, though always better than I have seen it presented before. The grain is never absent, though there are times when it spikes noticeably. Shots can vary in the same scene, going from detailed and reasonably sharp, to much grainier and less distinct, though this is surely a product of the print, as the same thing occurs in the R2 SD transfer. For the majority of the time, though, the image is quite crisp, with good separation of the fur and whiskers, the near-background sets and the costumes.
Three-dimensionality is nicely improved. Shots looking out across the Aldan estate now boast a lot more depth, as do a lot of interior scenes in the office or the guest-house that Laura resides in. Will's ridiculous slo-mo pursuit of the deer and the fur-flying fling-a-bout at the end also provide evidence of a much greater sense of visual spatiality. Black levels are very decent, though there are occasions when some noise can appear within the deeper shadows. Contrast, on the whole, is very good and consistent for a print that doesn't appear to have been restored to any great level.
This doesn't look excitingly fresh and vibrant. But, for a film that has been allowed to fester unwanted for fifteen years, Wolf makes the leap to BD with very appreciable results.
Wolf is brought to Blu-ray with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that, all things considered, adds quite a lot to the viewing experience. The presentation is primarily arranged across the front soundstage, although the track does make some fine attempts at wrapping the atmospherics around you. The voices come across clearly and with some degree of subtle inflection, dialogue receiving a pleasing amount of detailed variance. Morricone's score is also pleasantly rendered with a smooth mid-range and a level of warmth and detail that even envelopes his synth-based elements. Instrumentation has some agreeable separation and individuality, too. The music, on a whole, issues forth with a fine, though frontally-charged vigour.
The first wolf-snarl, when Will is bitten out on the snowy mountain road in the wilds of Vermont, and then the bedside alarm in the Randall apartment both had me leaping out of my skin, they were so loud, clear and well-projected. Further screams, snarls and gunshots also have a keen intensity that brings the track to life. But this is not, strictly speaking, a vivid and all-encompassing soundtrack that makes you celebrate Nichols' film gaining a lossless new lease of life. Yet, what it does, it does with more panache and presence than ever before on home video.
I would have liked a little bit more positioning around the soundscape of the voices that Will hears when enjoying his new-found proficiency with his sharper lupine hearing. Whilst there is definitely more definition and separation in them than ever before, the effect is still presented mainly across the front. However, there is some enhanced ambience with regards to the natural sounds of the forest, the city and the zoo. This tends to be more along the lines of stretched tonal echoes rather than actual effects taking place, but the added presence of carried detail does provide more atmosphere and there were a couple of occasions when I actually did glance over my shoulder - which is pretty decent for a track that was never designed to show-boat surround sound in the first place.
Bass levels aren't tremendous. We get some impacts now and again, but the track isn't one for sub-demonstration. But I liked this audio presentation and found it had more detail, aggression and atmosphere than I'd experienced before. Which was fine by me.
Sony's disc carries nothing more than a few trailers and BD-Live capability. Though, to be fair, there was never any other extras complementing this title on SD, anyway.
However, this was an opportunity for Nichols to have come clean about his intentions for the movie in a commentary, at least.
Personally, I quite like this film. It doesn't follow any conventional path. We have no typical moonlit prowlings and murders, and the story works best as a satire on voracious business acumen as opposed to the more sensational and supernatural elements. Sadly, where it fails abysmally is in the spring-heeled action that the beast-men suddenly seem capable of and the inevitable dust-up, no matter how fierce the mutual scratching becomes, is a definite disappointment, despite some admittedly terrific snarls and contorted expressions of bestial rage.
Nicholson and Spader are certainly chewing substantial bites out of their roles, and there is able support from Plummer and Nelligan. But Pfeiffer's character is a daft and clichéd addition, and the rest of the cast all suffer from woeful dialogue and insipid motivation, leaving the film feeling uniquely broad with big character moments that are then undermined by ham-fisted hangers-on and low-rent bit-parters.
Sony and Columbia put out a transfer that is definitely ahead of its SD predecessor and, although nothing to write home about, still looks pretty darn decent for an unloved and mostly forgotten-about film from 1994. Without any extras, this particular Wolf is sadly left forlorn and adrift outside of its den, which is an undeniable shame considering that the makers could have shed some light on its troubled rearing, and subsequent theatrical drubbing. Surely something could have been found.
As a werewolf yarn, Wolf is a concerted disappointment that appears to have been made by people who erroneously assume audiences have just as little knowledge of the format as they evidently do. But, alongside this, there is a delightful air of nostalgia about the makeup and the veritable restraint that the film exhibits.
Wolf, therefore, is recommended for fang 'n' fur fans who are seeking either lycanthropic completion or just fancy a slice of Wolf Man Jack at his most idiosyncratic and hirsute. A troubled mainstream attempt at a genre movie, then, but still an amusingly enjoyable one that manages to provide some laughs, some snarls and the sight of Jack Nicholson piddling on a rival's feet.
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