Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teen Wolf (1985)

Who's In It: Michael J Fox (Family Ties, Back to the Future), James Hampton (Hanger 18, Sling Blade), Jerry Levine (Casual Sex?), and Jay Tarses (wrote The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan).

What It's About: An average teenager (Fox) struggles with his identity when he discovers that he's a werewolf.

How It Is: I haven't seen this in years and it wasn't originally on my list for this year either. But after the I Hate/Love Remakes: Wolf Man episode came out, David and I got to talking about werewolf movies and this is one that he's been aware of for a long time, but never seen.

I remembered liking it back in the day, but comparing it unfavorably to Back to the Future which sneaked out ahead of it in 1985. My memory was that I really liked Fox in it (of course), that I also liked his dad (Hampton), and that I loved the twist that the werewolf was an object of popular admiration and not fear. But I also remembered being super irritated by best friend Stiles (Levine) and a little confused about the film's ultimate message.

Seeing it again, I still love Fox and Hampton. I'm not as annoyed by Stiles as I used to be, but that's probably because that kind of character isn't as ubiquitous these days as he was in the '80s. I still love the twist of the werewolf's popularity, too. That first public transformation during the basketball game is so great, because the way that Scott (Fox) handles it and then the crowd's reaction is completely unexpected.

With age, though, I think I have a better handle now on what the werewolf represents. As a high school student myself when Teen Wolf came out, I thought it was awesome that everyone accepted the Wolf in all his oddity. This was a big theme for me growing up and it's the reason that I feel such deep connections to characters like Chewbacca, Worf, and the Frankenstein Monster. Teen Wolf was another example of that, so I didn't love it when characters like Boof and Lewis made Scott feel bad about embracing his uniqueness. And I didn't love it even more when Scott basically rejects the Wolf at the end. Scott had previously lamented his "average"-ness, which I interpreted as "normality" and "fitting in." I didn't get why he would go back to that, but I was bringing my own hang-ups to the story.

I still feel strongly about resisting conformity, but those feelings are deeply embedded at this point and don't dominate my thinking. Because I don't actively wrestle with them these days, I was able to watch Teen Wolf this time from a different point of view that made me appreciate its message more. Instead of being about general non-conformity, this time the Wolf was about being "special." That is, it's not so much about being "different" from everyone else as it is about being "better." I think that's pretty clear in Scott's language. He doesn't want to be an "okay" basketball player, he wants to be an exceptional one.

With that in mind, I like the movie's message much more. There's a price to pay for being The Best. Some, like Lewis and Mick, fear the exceptional. Others, like Stiles and Pamela, want to exploit it.  It's Boof who has the perspective that Scott ultimately adopts for himself. She already likes him as he is. He doesn't need to be exceptional or the best at something to have value. That's an important and underheard message and it makes me really like the movie.

As a grown-up, I hope that Scott one day adopts his dad's perspective, which is to embrace his gifts responsibly. Teenagers aren't exactly known for balance though, so until Scott's able to do that, I'm thrilled that he's learned to like himself in the meantime.

Rating: 4 out of 5 shaggy shooters.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I know a number of people who are fans of this movie but I've been hesitant to pull the trigger. Maybe it's my inner snob asking how good can it be with such a dry title as "Teen Wolf"?

Michael May said...

My advice is to keep them expectations low. I like the movie a lot, but I suspect that any stronger feelings than that about it are heavily influenced by nostalgia.

Paxton said...

I love this movie. It has a few quirky issues, yes, but it's still pretty great. Like you Michael I enjoy that the reaction to a werewolf in their midst is the opposite of what you'd expect.

I see another theme running through it. You don't have to let one specific thing define you. You are more than that one aspect. There's a whole section of the movie where Scott is the wolf 24-7. He's letting that part define him and how he interacts with his peers. He's so much more than the wolf and he needs Boof to help him come to that realization.

I absolutely agree with your other observations as well, Michael. I hadn't really even thought about it that way.

Too bad there are no more Teen Wolf movies to watch after this one.


Michael May said...

Nice observation about not letting one thing define you. I like that a lot.

I don't know what you mean about no more Teen Wolf movies though.

Paxton said...

Yeah, of course there's the awesome 80s cartoon. There's the MTV show. But no more movies. And that's a shame.

*Speak no more of this*

Paxton said...

And HA! I just clicked your link. I haven't ever watched that Michael Landon movie. I need to get on that.

Michael May said...

I haven't either. Going on the list for next year. :)


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