E1 Entertainment // 2012 // 465 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // December 7th, 2012
Long before Twilight, there were the carnivorous canines of Wolf Lake
The television viewing audience wasn't quite ready for a show like Wolf Lake when it premiered on CBS in 2001. This tale of a town inhabited by a clan of wolves called skin walkers, who can take human form at will, came along well before Stephanie Meyer's bestselling Twilight novel hit the shelves in 2005. Cut down in its prime, even before all of the episodes were aired, Wolf Lake is yet another instance where a network pulled the plug much too soon on a show that had the potential to be a lasting hit.
When Seattle police detective John Kanin's (Lou Diamond Phillips, La Bamba) fiancé, Ruby Cates (Mia Kirshner, The L Word), vanishes while going for some take-out, he discovers during the investigation that Ruby Cates is not her real name. After that shocker, John receives an anonymous call that leads him to Ruby's home town of Wolf Lake, a place where werewolves are a plenty and, unbeknownst to John, the town is run by a wolf clan led by Willard Cates (Bruce McGill, Cinderella Man). In Wolf Lake secrets don't come to the surface very easy, and John's attempts at finding Ruby uncover more questions than answers.
I certainly don't remember the show Wolf Lake, but at the time of its premiere in September of 2001, the nation had other things on it's mind besides angst ridden werewolves and the women who love them. Nevertheless, this is a case of the one that got away: a good show that seemed to be ahead of its time.
Today there are an abundance of these types of fantasy/horror programs, featuring young studs and nubile women who are cursed to live as either vampires or werewolves -- but Wolf Lake led the trend. Originally it was slated to appeal to a teen audience with Luke Cates, played by Paul Wesley (Vampire Diaries), as the heir apparent to clan leader Willard Cates. While his alpha female in waiting was Sophia (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), daughter of the town's Sheriff (Tim Matheson, Animal House), whose mother was a skin walker who married a human. It would've been the Hatfields and the McCoys of the wolf world -- with The White Wolf Clan battling the Town Clan. But executives wanted to go in a different direction, scraping the pilot which had already been filmed. Fortunately, for you hard core Wolf Lake fans, the DVD contains that original pilot, which has never been aired.
The show's creator John Leekley left before the revamped shows were filmed, preferring his original idea to the more audience friendly and formulaic direction CBS decided to take the show. In Wolf Lake 2.0, the shows focus is on Lou Diamond Phillips' character John Kanin. He moves to Wolf Lake, hoping to get some help from people who knew Ruby best, unaware that she is a skin walker. John knows there's something fishy going on in this picturesque little town, and manages to get a job with the local sheriff's department (from the "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" school of thought). As he tries to find his beloved Ruby, his suspicions grow, due in part to the lack of cooperation from the locals, as well as the mysterious events that plague the town.
Phillips is solid in the role. How can you not like a guy who can work a name like "Diamond" and not come off as a total douche? He never made it to A-list status, but manages to keep busy ever since his career defining role as Richie Valens in the biopic La Bamba. Phillips plays Kanin with a confident vulnerability that makes him appealing. I'm surprised his devotion to finding Ruby didn't have most of the women in America swooning over their TV sets each and every week -- might've kept the show on the air.
In the re-booted version of Wolf Lake, Sheriff Matthew Donner (Matheson), is part of the wolf clan and his wife, who died when their daughter Sophia was very young, was human. Sophia is near her transformation age, and isn't sure she wants to take that leap. But she will need the help of a father she doesn't trust to give her the tools she must master in order not to make the change. Matheson and Phillips have very good chemistry together as Sheriff and Deputy -- they don't trust one another but, oddly enough, they respect each other. I've always enjoyed Matheson as an actor, and here he holds his own -- as he does in almost all of his performances. Matheson is one of those actors I always thought should've been a much bigger star; with those classic All-American good looks, seems he could've had a career on par with someone like Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde).
Wolf Lake is really an ensemble piece. Kanin is the central figure, but the members of the wolf clan are equally important to the story. The supporting cast includes Bruce McGill as clan leader Willard Cates and Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue) as his wife, the devious she-wolf Vivian Cates, Ruby's stepmother and bio mom to teen wolf Luke. In addition is Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) as school teacher Sherman Blackwell. He is an enigma of sorts, a man who is the advisor to the wolf clan, a role he inherited from his ancestors. Blackwell seems to be playing some kind of game with the skin walkers and Kanin, but only he knows the rules.
You know going in that none of the questions raised by Wolf Lake will be answered, since the show was abruptly cancelled half way through Season One. CBS sold the rights to UPN, and the Syfy network also picked up the series, but no new shows were ever produced. This is too bad, because after the final episode there are so many loose ends. It makes this DVD release a little frustrating knowing those questions will never be answered. Still, it is worth a purchase, especially for those hard core fans that are still enamored by this short lived series.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic wide screen presentation does a wonderful job of showing the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The town of Wolf Lake sits in a valley surrounded by snow covered mountains -- even the overcast days are gorgeous. At night a bluish tint is used to highlight the heavily wooded areas where the wolves make the change. The transformations of the wolves are never shown, which is good. A wise woman once said, "If you can't afford convincing special effects, just let the imagination of the viewers do its job." The Dolby stereo audio, is clear and makes it very easy to hear the actors' dialogue. David Schwartz' soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the dark and mysterious feel of Wolf Lake. Extras include the original unaired pilot, and a 30-minute featurette with show's creator John Leekley and Paul Wesely, who plays the character of Luke Cates.
Wolf Lake wasn't given a chance to develop into what could've been a really fine series, and after watching the last episode I was a little sad that I would never find out what became of John and Ruby.
A howling, Not Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2012 Alice Nelson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 465 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired Pilot