In a press release from September 14, 2023 previewing the year’s Halloween content for Hulu and Disney+, it was announced that Disney+ would release a special edition of Marvel’s Werewolf by Night in color as part of Disney’s yearly Hallowstream event. Though it’s great to see more love being given to one of the most fun and interesting releases during the current era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this news begs a very serious question: why?
Specifically, why would Disney want to release Werewolf by Night in color when it is perfect in its original black and white? The MCU special presentation is meant to evoke the aesthetic of classic monster and horror movies from the 1930s. In many people’s opinion, it achieves its goal extremely well. While no one would mistake Werewolf by Night for an actual movie from decades long past, it is a wonderful homage to the era.
For those who haven’t seen it, Werewolf by Night is a television special released on Disney Plus on October 7, 2022. It tells the story of a group of monster hunters gathered together to compete for possession of a magical relic imbued with power, the Bloodstone. Among the group of hunters are Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of the previous owner of the Bloodstone, and Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), a man with a secret and a special reason for participating in the hunt. It’s a fantastic addition to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe that can be watched knowing absolutely nothing about the rest of the MCU, and without even being a fan of superhero movies.
The reason being black and white is so important is because director Michael Giacchino specifically approached Werewolf by Night with the mindset of treating it like a classic horror film. In an interview with Collider in 2022, Giachhino said, “we always approached it as something that was being done in the 30s.” That is why viewers may notice film reel transitions marked by “cigarette burns.” That is also why Giacchino used as many practical effects and sets as possible, something certain other modern movies could take a cue from.
For Michael Giacchino, 1930s horror means something special. When speaking to Variety in 2022, the director said, “every time I watch King Kong or The Wolf Man . . . I would always feel so badly for them. I’m like, ‘Guys, he doesn’t want to be doing this! He doesn’t want to be rampaging! He’s got an issue and he needs help!'” In Werewolf by Night, the Marvel monster Man-Thing (and to a certain extent the eponymous Werewolf himself) is the creature who is treated like a rampaging beast but is really just misunderstood. Presenting Werewolf by Night in black and white is an allusion to the the classic movie monsters of a similar ilk like King Kong, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster.
The choice to make the show in black and white also provides Werewolf by Night with a unique way to add visual meaning to certain items and moments. While everything else is seen in shades of gray, the Bloodstone is in vibrant red. This technique of using a splash of red in an otherwise black and white film has been used famously in movies as diverse as Schindler’s List (1993) and The Tingler (1959), and it’s always effective. Werewolf by Night also features a direct reference to how The Wizard of Oz (1932) utilizes black-and-white and color in a transition towards the end of the Disney+ special. The impact of that moment, and of the visual impression of the red Bloodstone, will be lost in the full-color version.
Also, being black and white gives Werewolf by Night a completely unique look within the MCU. It is a stylistic choice that sets it apart from everything else surrounding it. It announces that this is different from what you’re used to. One of the biggest complaints about the MCU (whether it’s a valid criticism or not) is that most of its movies and shows look and feel very similar. Regardless of whether you agree with that statement or not, variety within the Marvel universe should always be welcomed and embraced.
Michael Giacchino actually had to convince Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, that black and white was needed for Werewolf by Night. The film shoot began with Giacchino unsure if his request would be honored, but he had a special monitor set up so he could prove that his idea would work. Feige was reportedly convinced by “maybe the third cut.”
If the director intended for his work to be shown in black and white, and the skeptical head of the MCU was persuaded early in the process, then why has Disney decided to release Werewolf by Night in color? The easy answer is that it’s a relatively simple way of getting more people to watch. Even if someone has doubts about how well it will work in color, they may be curious enough to watch it just to see how it changes the feel of the story. Also, making an announcement like this draws a lot of attention to Werewolf by Night, and that combined with the Halloween season means views on the show will spike. And, sadly, there are many people out there who won’t watch black and white movies. So, the decision to show Werewolf by Night in color likely comes down to getting more eyes on Disney+.
Always remember that the colorization of black and white movies has a history of being controversial. In the 1980s, the colorization of classic movies was a topic of debate that went all the way to Congress. In 1986 Ted Turner bought the film library of MGM and began colorizing classic movies for broadcast on television. Many filmmakers opposed Turner’s actions, and federal intervention was eventually sought. In short, the battle ended up leading to the passage of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 and the establishment of the National Film Registry (which you can read all about here).
Ted Turner’s tone-deaf response to the colorization controversy? He said, “I like things in color. We see in color. Why didn’t they make The Sting in black-and-white if they’re so concerned about historical authenticity? I don’t see their point.” Turner also defended his position by saying that colorized movies make more money. So, again, it all comes down to getting more viewers to spend more money. Is this an extreme example when discussing the merits of presenting Werewolf by Night in color? Absolutely. But are there parallels to be found? Possibly. That’s up to you to decide.
To relent, giving people more options to watch isn’t a bad thing. If you’d like to watch Werewolf by Night in color, have fun. No one should tell anyone else how they should and shouldn’t enjoy things. After all, the reverse of b&w-to-color transformations can work sometimes. A few movies originally released in color are fantastic in black and white. The Mist (2007) is a perfect example of arguably becoming better when watched in black and white. Other movies like Logan (2017) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) have black and white versions that many fans enjoy. Enjoy what you want, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Michael Giacchino himself states that the color version is intended to pay tribute to the Hammer horror films of the 1950s and beyond. That does seem fitting when you consider that the horror movies Hammer released during that time largely focused on a lot of the same classic monsters that the Universal horror films made iconic in the 1930s and 1940s. Even so, the aesthetics of the Universal monster movies and the Hammer movies are not the same, so fans will have to judge for themselves if the color version of Werewolf by Night accomplishes Giacchino’s stated goal.
The color version of Werewolf by Night streams on Disney+ beginning October 20, 2023. But if you want to watch the original black and white version, you can stream it right now.