Pic has its problems, but it's stunning

Now and then, a film is plagued by production problems, costs more than anticipated, opens to mediocre reviews — yet still serves up a visual treat that dazzles the eyes.

Case in point: “The Wolfman,” Universal’s remake of its 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the werewolf. The new iteration, with Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins, covers a weak narrative with impressive art direction, costumes and makeup that reimagine the Victorian period.

When production designer Rick Heinrichs came aboard the project in the summer of 2007, original helmer Mark Romanek had already been attached for six months. They scouted locations in the U.K. and picked the 126-room Chatsworth House to play the estate of the lycanthropic Talbot family and the oft-filmed village of Castle Combe for the nearby town.

But at the start of 2008, Romanek and “The Wolfman” parted ways, and production halted just as shooting was about to start. “We pushed the schedule and looked for another director,” says Heinrichs. “Joe Johnston stepped up to the plate.”

The project was at such an advanced stage that the new helmer could do little more than “go with the flow of what had already been developed,” Heinrichs adds. “It was an enormously challenging and intense time for everybody.”

The crew and Romanek had already done tech scouts — assembling all the people for shooting particular scenes — “when all of a sudden we had to do them over again with a new director. But once Joe was on the ground, he started turning the film into his own.”

The production itself was rewarding for Heinrichs as he and his team collaborated with costume designer Milena Canonero and makeup effects artist Rick Baker to create the film’s environments and characters. “We wanted to express the contrast and clash between the animal and the civilized human,” he says. “That was always in the background of the visual narrative.”

But after the shoot was finished, major new troubles emerged. After about four months of editing, “There were issues with the movement of the wolf and with the pacing,” Heinrichs says. “They wanted to up the excitement level, so the studio and Joe went back to England for another month or so” of reshooting, including several scenes with the original actors.

Heinrichs was already working on another film and couldn’t travel, but he assembled the original art department, which pulled the sets out of storage and put them back together. Reshooting took place in London and on location “at some of the same locations as before and some new ones.”

This second round occurred about six months after the film’s first wrap and stretched into the spring of 2009. The pic’s release this month comes more than three years after Universal first embarked on the project.

“It was a big deal,” Heinrichs says. “I have to give credit to Universal and (producer) Scott Stuber. They stood by the movie.”

Signings and Bookings

Rocket Science Talent vfx bookings: supervisor James Tichenor on David Slade’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” coordinator Andy Williams on Michael Patrick King’s “Sex and the City 2,” supervisor Michael Owens on Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” and creature/makeup effects artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics on Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s “The Thing.”

Montana Artists has signed first a.d. Richard Cowan (“The Tooth Fairy”) and creature/effects designers Eddie Yang Studios (“Avatar”). Agency’s bookings: producers Patrick Stapleton on Penelope Spheeris’ “Balls to the Wall,” Tommy Burns as UPM on NBC pilot “Kindreds,” Michele Greco as UPM on NBC pilot “Prime Suspect” and UPM Rick Allen on ABC pilot “Edgar Floats”; d.p. Michael Price on NBC’s untitled Adam Carolla pilot; and production designers Scott P. Murphy on ABC pilot “Edgar Floats,” Ken Hardy on ABC pilot “Body of Evidence,” Glenda Rovello on ABC pilot “Who Gets the Parents?,” Robb Wilson King on CBS pilot “Chaos,” Gae Buckley on NBC pilot “Outsourced” and Kara Lindstrom on Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go.”

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