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Jack Nicholson has played a range of wild and crazy characters in films ranging from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest to The Shining. In Wolf, he gives a performance of a truly “wild” (if not crazy) character with his typical gusto.

Nicholson plays a genteel New York book editor whose life begins to go through some dramatic changes in the course of a few days. On a drive through moonlit Vermont back woods, he is bitten by a wolf that he’d accidentally hit with his car. It seems to be only a superficial wound, but his midnight encounter has awakened the spirit of the “demon wolf” in the mild-mannered editor, and surprises are in store for all concerned... including himself.

Wolf doesn’t have the substance to be a truly great movie; the storyline is adequate and the directing is ordinary, though Mike Nichols does go for some artistic cinematography with slow-motion and blurred-motion shots at times. But despite being neither particularly scary or thrilling, it’s still a fun movie to watch, for two main reasons. Reason number one is the basic premise: the idea of the werewolf as a strange but not evil creature, the transformation as exhilarating as well as frightening, and the focus on the character and his reactions to the transformation rather than what he does while transformed. It makes for a refreshingly different take on the werewolf motif.

Reason number two why Wolf is fun to watch can be summed up in two words: Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s performance is what carries the movie. He fits perfectly into both halves of his role; he’s entirely believable as the civilized editor, and yet he manages to use many small mannerisms to effectively convey the emerging “wolf” spirit in a human body. It just goes to show that good acting can do more than even the best special-effects makeup can only hope for (and admittedly Wolf’s special effects aren’t that great): convince the audience to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

Co-starring is Michelle Pfeiffer as the “bad-girl” daughter of the publisher who gets entangled in the events surrounding Nicholson’s strange transformation. Pfeiffer doesn’t bring much to the role; her performance isn’t bad, but the relationship between her and Nicholson is never particularly convincing. On the other hand, the cast of secondary characters includes some good performances by fairly well-known actors: James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Plummer, and David Hyde Pierce.

It’s worth noting that Wolf isn’t really a horror movie, despite the werewolf theme. It has a few horrifying moments, but the effect of the scene comes from what the character realizes about the situation, not from the shock value of violence or gore.

We’re looking at strictly average image quality here. Wolf is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. In well-lit scenes, the image is bright and looks pretty good, but other scenes, particularly darker scenes, are distinctly grainy. The colors are slightly muddy as well.

Like the video quality, the audio quality is only average. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, though it doesn’t make much use of surround effects. Volume control is handled badly in a few scenes in the movie; dialogue is occasionally a little muffled, and on other occasions the overall sound level gets too loud before returning to normal volume.

Having wasted the available space by including a pan and scan version of the movie, Columbia didn’t include any extras on this DVD.

In the end, Wolf offers nothing particularly substantial as a movie, but I thought it made for a fun evening’s entertainment. With the DVD quality being only average, it’s something I’d suggest picking up only if you can get it inexpensively, or if you already know that you like the movie.