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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/11/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/28/2013
As an aspiring screenwriter, I can tell you that summing up a script can be a huge challenge. It's very challenging to boil a screenplay down to one or two sentences (which is what is often requested) and still make it stand out. Therefore, I'm jealous of a movie where the summation is something as simple as "Hansel & Gretel grow up and, because of their experience in the gingerbread house, hunt witches." There you go -- I'm sure that based on that one sentence, contracts were immediately drawn up and signed. However, a gripping premise doesn't always guarantee a good movie. Can Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters deliver on this promise?
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters opens with the familiar story from the fairy tale. Hansel and Gretel are taken into the forest by their father and left there. They wander until they find a house made of candy. Starving, they begin to eat the house, only to find that a witch lives there. The witch ensnares them and plans to fatten them up with sweets in order to cook and eat them. However, Hansel and Gretel soon turn the tables on the witch and escape. The story then leaps ahead many years, where we find that the siblings (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are now famous witch hunters. They've been summoned to a small village which has seen a rash of children disappearing and witches are suspected. Hansel and Gretel check things out and soon learn that a "blood moon" will be coming in a few days. This is a special day in which witches can cast especially powerful spells. A very powerful which named Muriel (Famke Janssen) is organizing other witches in the area. She doesn't fear Hansel and Gretel and she's hatching a plan which will effect all mankind.
As noted above, the central premise to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a deceptively clever one and Writer/Director Tommy Wirkola (who previously brought usDead Snow) takes it in two different directions. First of all, simply the name of the movie conjures certain expectations and Wirkola delivers on these -- namely, we get to see Hansel and Gretel fight witches...many of them. Once the story moves ahead to the two being adults, it doesn't take long for the first witch attack to occur and the film rarely skimps on the action after that. While it introduces its own ideas at times, the movie doesn't stray all that far from what we expect from heightened fairy tale witches. But, that's not to say that the movie is underwritten. Wirkola does attempt to give the characters some depth, and there is a nice twist in the third act which ties together some bits of the story which have cropped up throughout. Along with the story, the movie has a great look. The production design team has created some settings which look “real” for lack of a better word and the make-up designs for the witches is intriguing, as they look like china dolls.
The other direction in which Wirkola takes his idea has to do with some liberties taken with the time period. The story appears to be set in the 16th or 17th Century and most of the film jibes with this. Hansel & Gretel come across a quaint village where the locals work as farmers and such. (When they arrive, a witch trial is taking place which will immediately remind many viewers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) It's all very tranquil (save for the witches) and pastoral. However, Hansel and Gretel use weapons which appear to be much more modern than anything else in the movie. (Is Hansel using a gas-powered shotgun?) And then we have the accents. While this clearly looks like a European town, not everyone has an accent, which I found to be very interesting. (You can’t help but notice that Jeremy Renner sounds just like Jeremy Renner.) I would imagine that everyone has noticed that when an English-language film takes place in Europe or in the past, everyone has British accents, which makes no sense at all. Perhaps Wirkola was skewering this conceit by having some of the characters have no accents.
The most surprising thing about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how “out-there” it is in terms of its action and language, especially in the unrated version. This could have very easily been a watered-down PG-13 movie which gave us a hint of violence. Instead, we get a no-holds-barred free-for-all in which witches are shot-gunned, torn about, set on fire, and blown up. The movie also contains some pretty salty language. In other words, this is a great ride for adult who like their fairy tale movies to be extreme. Sure, there are some plotholes and the story gets a little convoluted towards the end, but the movie is never boring and I found myself enthralled by the fact that a studio movie with a fairly big budget like this would go for broke. Thus, it’s a shame that the movie wasn’t more of a hit. Classic gonzo horror movies likeEvil Dead II and Re-Animator found audiences for a reason and I love the fact that Wirkola tried to do something similar here.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters also deserves praise for having a latex monster on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing noticeable grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the film is never overly dark or bright. The depth is excellent, as the actors are clearly delineated from the backgrounds and the level of detail is very impressive. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I gotta tell ya, this is one of the best audio tracks I’ve heard in a while. The audio is very muscular and incredibly detailed. The action scenes are marked by rich and textured audio which creates stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects which work in unison. We can often pick out unique sounds and the stereo and front-to-back separation is excellent. The subwoofer effects provide great bass which never overpowers the dialogue.
The Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Blu-ray Disc contains only three extras. "Reinventing Hansel & Gretel" (16 minutes) is a making-of featurette which contains comments from Director Tommy Wirkola and Producer Kevin Messick, who talk about how the project came together. We then get an overview of the cast and characters, and hear from Renner and Arterton. The piece then looks at the effects and gore. "The Witching Hours" (9 minutes) offers an examination of the portrayal of witches in the film, both physically and storywise. This contains some concept art for the witches. "Meet Edward the Troll" (5 minutes) shows us how the monster was created and that it's an actual suit as opposed to CG.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.