Yesterday I mentioned that the writers over at The Confabulator Cafe are retelling fairy tales all week. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out some of our stories.
It is no small coincidence that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters also debuts at theaters this week. Last night, I had the opportunity to catch a sneak preview of this retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale classic. So, with the idea of retelling fairy tales in mind, I thought I’d take a closer look at the film.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters turns the old into something new by bringing in some light humor and lots of blood-splattering action (in 3D, no less). While it certainly won’t win any awards for high art, it is an amusing film that offers an entertaining hour and a half of screen time.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton portray the orphans of legend — now adults, who have transformed their witch-killing prowess into a career of sorts. On a job to rescue a town’s missing children, the brother/sister duo find themselves confronting a grand dark witch (played by Famke Janssen). She and her fellow witches have been collecting children for a spell that will forever make them immune to fire (because fire is the best way to kill a witch.) Hansel and Gretel need to save the children, but the approaching blood moon means the clock is ticking.
On the plus side, the film does a pretty good job at world-building. The rules for dealing with witches are pretty standard. Thanks to Ben (played by Thomas Mann) — a star-struck fan of H&G who asks the famous duo a lot of questions — we get a nice info-dump during a scene in the local tavern which ends spectacularly.
The time period of the story is purposely vague. The fairy tale quality is fulfilled with a combination of Ye Olde Timey weaponry, parchments, and period dress. The witches are beautifully grotesque, and the trolls (we only see one) are stunning to look at. I wish the film had introduced more creatures, at least in small ways.
H&G are walking anachronisms, with modern-looking costumes, shotguns and Gatling guns, and a penchant for dropping the F-bomb whenever they feel like it. The characters are seemingly timeless, living both in some unspecified past but also in our present. Hansel even suffers from a “sugar sickness” (read “diabetes”) that forces him to take injections every few hours.
There’s some humor here, too, but not enough for it to be campy or distracting. In fact, to attain the cult status this film was likely shooting for, it probably needs more humor. There aren’t a lot of great lines in the movie. Most of the memorable moments have more to do with people exploding like blood-filled mosquitoes.
The downside is that this film was made for 3D. Too much of the direction is for the sake of seeing things move directly at the screen, whether it’s a flaming crossbow bolt, a chain, or an exploding witch. The 3D is a bit much, and it never really moves beyond the obvious cliches. In short, it would have been a better movie in 2D.
As for being a retelling of a classic fairy tale, I think H&GWH is a success. I believe that it had a particular story to tell (in this case, picking up where the Brothers Grimm left off). The humor and anachronisms are purposeful, not the result of lazy storytelling. Could it have been better? Sure. There are some major plot holes and unnecessary diversions in the story. But it never takes itself too seriously.
The film sets up an entire world that could be explored further in a sequel. The funny thing is, for a film produced by MTV, this might have worked better as an ongoing television series (much in the same vein as the CW’s Supernatural).
A shorter version of this review appears on GOFOBO.com