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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wolfen (Blu-ray)
Wolfen (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // June 2, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted May 27, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Based on the Whitley Strieber book of the same name, 1981's Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh for Orion Pictures, begins when politician, his wife, and their chauffeur are found dead, the victims of a bloody murder. The cops are called in, puzzled by the fact that the corpses have obviously been slashed to death but it doesn't look like a knife was used… the wounds look more like teeth marks. Enter Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney), an NYPD officer who is assigned to the case with fellow officer Rebecca Neff (Diana Venora). Dewey's got his own set of problems, not only does he drink too much but he's got… issues. Regardless, he and Rebecca start doing their thing and working the case. Slowly but surely they start to find enough evidence that leads them to believe that the there just might be a wolf loose in New York City and that said wolf might be responsible for the murders.

The investigation continues and the evidence continues to mount so they bring in some help from an expert named Whittington (Gregory Hines). As our cops work the streets they interview various suspects and try to track down people who might know more than they do about what's going on. Eventually a few signs point them in the direction of some Native Americans who may or may not have a connection to the wolves that can't be scientifically explained. Are they the ones behind the killings or is it all just a strange circumstance?

Those expecting a standard horror movie or a ‘werewolf' film will likely be taken aback by the fact that, despite how it was marketed, Wolfen is really neither of these things. The film is quite deliberate in its pacing and while it does use some interesting ‘wolf cam' POV style cinematography to ramp up tension in a few of the more action oriented scenes, we spend more time with the cops than we do with the creatures. The murders are bloody without being over the top or particularly gory and the horror element of the film, which is there, plays second fiddle to both the police procedural aspect of the movie and the thematic elements that come into play in the reasoning behind the events portrayed. There's an obvious message to all of this, one that fits into the story without feeling ham-fisted or overdone.

As far as the performances go, a lot of what you get out of this will depend on how feel about Albert Finney's lead role. As Dewey Wilson he doesn't have a whole lot of range or emotion. The guy is a slob, eating and smoking on the job almost constantly and he is far from friendly and rarely likeable. Of course, Finney plays this part with all the smarm you'd expect him to, and while in this writer's opinion it works it wouldn't be a stretch if some found it grating. As to the rest of the cast? Diana Venora is likable enough as his partner, though it's hard to really imagine her falling for him the way she predictably does in the last half of the movie. You see it coming not because it makes sense but because it's a tried and true movie cliché, but it feels out of place in an otherwise well written character. She looks the part, she's got the right mix of tough and smart to pull it off and she handles herself well here. Gregory Hines also does decent work, in fact, his character is considerably more likable than Finney's is. Supporting turns from Tom Noonan and Edward James Olmos are also memorable.

On top of that, the movie has an interesting time capsule element to it in that it was shot on location in the New York City of the early eighties. It doesn't just stay in Manhattan either, it gives us some pretty great footage of the Bronx that once was, a literal wasteland or urban decay with more derelict buildings than you can shake a stick at. As such, there's some interesting bits and pieces in here that, had they been shot in the New York City of today, would not had have the same dirty, dingy atmosphere that they do in the movie. So yeah, add to that the fact that the film also has a pretty decent score and that the story is interesting and intelligent makes this well written and well-acted thriller one definitely worth revisiting.

The Blu-ray Set:

Video:

Wolfen arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.40.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This is a nicely authored disc of some great looking source material. The gritty New York City locations really benefit from a nice increase in detail, and you'll also notice this in the costumes and wardrobe selections as well. Close up shots really show off every poor or piece of stubble on a character's face while color reproduction looks nice natural. The different shades and hues are very well defined without looking boosted or too hot. Skin tones also look very natural here, they're quite warm but not too hot or too pink. The item has a nice, natural amount of film grain evident throughout but is free of major print damage, just a few specks here and there. Compression artifacts are never a problem and there are no signs of edge enhancement or noise reduction. The movie looks great on Blu-ray.

Sound:

The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with subtitles provided in English only. The audio here is quite clear. There's decent channel separation when it comes to the score and the effects (you get some nice rumble from the surrounds when that building falls earlr on in the film) while the vast majority of the dialogue stays up front in the mix. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced. Good depth and range is present throughout and yeah, this sounds just fine and at times it can be pretty engrossing.

Extras:

Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features included on this release outside of the inclusion of a theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Wolfen is a bit of an underrated gem. It doesn't move at the fastest pace ever and the lead character is tough to like (though believably so, you've got to give him credit for that) but there's some interesting ideas at play and the acting is quite solid across the board. Add to that some nice scenes of palpable suspense and some great New York City location footage and the movie is a winner. Warner Archive's Blu-ray is light on extras but it does look and sound quite good. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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