Director Mike Nichols’ thrilling modern-day werewolf movie boasts a stellar cast, including Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader, and presents itself as a witty and inventive hybrid of horror film, romantic thriller and biting satire about male anxiety and office politics, where the real monster is corporate greed.
Mike Nichols’ Wolf makes its Blu-ray premiere in this new edition from Indicator. The film is presented on this dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The master was supplied by Sony. Though a UK release the Blu-ray disc is region free.
Though I’m usually beyond impressed with Indicator’s presentations I was struck with an odd sense of disappointment with this one. Considering the talent behind it (directed by Nichols, starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, and Christopher Plummer, written by Jim Harrison with uncredited touch-ups by Elaine May, and so on) I guess I maybe unfairly expected a new, full-on restoration. But of course that expectation ignores the reality around the film’s status: though released back in 1994 as a big summer film it was ultimately met with a chilled reception and has really fallen to the wayside since. Being honest I hadn’t even thought about it since I saw it on VHS and it sure as hell never comes to mind the odd one or two times I have thought about Nichols’ work. Ultimately this is a bit unfair: the film was sold as a summer monster movie when it was ultimately more of a character study of sorts, and this did skew expectations.
At any rate, here we are, the film finally getting a Blu-ray edition and it looks like we’re getting an old master scanned from a so-so print. There are a lot of softer long shots in the film, looking more like a limitation of the source, and close-ups, while fine, are rarely as crisp as one would expect or hope. I found some dark scenes a bit weak in regards to black levels and some details can get crushed out. Colours actually don’t look too bad, in fact I found them to be saturated well and pleasing, but even then they never really pop.
At the very least it’s encoded well, certainly this line’s greatest strength, so at least any existing issues aren’t made any worse. Grain is rendered well enough, a bit noisy, though there is one odd moment where it looks like the print has been zoomed in on to focus on Nicholson’s characters and the grain level gets a bit nasty, getting a bit blockier. I assume this was done at the editing stage of the film, though, and not something Indicator did (I haven’t seen the film since VHS so can’t recall). Outside of that the source looks good, no severe damage present. Still, after a number of Indicator titles that have impressed to a great degree, even when using an older master, this one falls a bit short. Shame they weren’t able to get their hands on something newer.
Indicator provides two audio tracks: the original stereo surround track presented in PCM 2.0 along with a remastered DTS-HD MS 5.1 surround track. I sampled the 2.0 track but watched the film with the 5.1 track. The few scenes I sampled for comparisons were more surround heavy and both tracks worked just fine. Still, the 5.1 track makes use of the direction between the speakers in a handful of scenes and the lower frequency is also used to a nice effect in regards to the music, but the film is, admittedly, not the most creative when it comes to its sound design.
The film is more of a drama than a horror or action film but even then I guess I expected more. There are a couple of more action-packed scenes where most of the audio is still focused to the fronts with some spread to the rears, but there are some real missed opportunities. One scene in particular features Nicholson’s character realizing his new abilities allow him to hear everything occurring around him, even at great distances. The way this is presented is to deliver voices and sound effects coming from different directions and distances but what’s a bit disappointing is that most of this is spread out between the front three speakers with only some minimal effects coming from the rears and the scene could have been a bit more fun with all of this material spread out a bit more noticeably. This is, of course, just how the film was mixed and certainly not anything on Indicator’s side, but it’s still a little disappointing.
Music and some ambient effects are really all I recall getting from the surrounds. Still, at the very least, audio quality is good. Dynamic range is effective and fidelity is excellent. Voices are clear and Ennio Morricone’s score is crisp and clean. The tracks are effective but that’s about it.
We don’t get a huge special edition but Indicator does provide a few special features, the most notable being a new documentary, The Beast Inside: Creating “Wolf”, featuring interviews with producer Douglas Wick, screenwriter Wesley Strick, and special effects artist Rick Baker. I was first surprised by the length, 55-minutes, but it becomes quickly evident why it is that long: the production history behind the film is unexpectedly dense. Wick and author Jim Harrison had gone over an idea for a werewolf film, based on some out-there experience Harrison had (it’s not something I could properly retell here), and Nicholson, who was friends with Harrison, came on board. Nichols was looking to get into more big-budget ventures since that was the direction Hollywood was going and was picked to handle this one. The script, which apparently read more like a novel, went through various drafts, Strick doing a bulk of the rewrites by the sounds of it, before Elaine May came in to punch up the dialogue. The studio got a little antsy about the film and it sounds as though the ending may have been tinkered with, but according to Wick the only significant change was an added shot of Nicholson’s wolf jumping (a shot he says cost $700,000 and really only served as a headache reducer for the studio). What’s nice, though, is the honesty from everyone here. Though Wick likes to really push the metaphors found in the film the others seem to know the film falls a bit short, Baker flat out saying he found the last portion of the film a disappointment. There are a number of surprises (apparently Mick Jagger was considered for the Plummer role before the character was substantially changed) and some amusing anecdotes (Rick Baker’s mistake when applying make-up to Nicholson) to be found, altogether making for a very engaging feature.
The rest of the material is pretty much archival. There are a collection of interviews from the time, more than likely made for promotional reasons, running a little over 20-minutes total. Included are interviews with Nichols, actors Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader and Kate Nelligan, producer Douglas Wick, screenwriter Jim Harrison (recalling his “cabin story” that influenced the film first hand), effects artist Rick Baker, and production designer Bo Welch. There is also around 4-minutes’ worth of B-roll footage that just shows a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage. The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and then a short image gallery with some production photos and posters.
Not packed but this is made up for to an extent by the inclusion of one of Indicator’s excellent booklets. Opening it is a rather good essay by Brad Stevens on Nichols and how Wolf connects to his other films (with excerpts from Jim Harrison’s completely unrelated Wolf: A False Memoir intercut in), followed by two collections of interview extracts, one featuring Nichols, the other producer Douglas Wick. In both cases the extracts were taken from PR interviews conducted around the film’s release. And again Indicator then prints out extracts from a handful of reviews, including a rather favourable one from Liz Smith of the Los Angeles Times, another from The Observer’s Philip French, who notes similarities to a film like Cat People (Val Lewton horror films are mentioned in the disc’s making-of documentary), and then a mixed one from Sight & Sound’s Philip Kemp.
In the end this edition can feel a bit light but the included documentary proved to be significantly more interesting than I would have ever figured it would be.
It’s a bit of a letdown. The film has been encoded well and the final image is okay but it is obvious Indicator got stuck with an older master and there are a number of very noticeable issues. At the very least they have included a rather good making-of and one of the usual excellent booklets.