Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - FilmReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

As we are seeing an increase in vampires and zombies terrorising folk in both literature and on screen, could witches become the next big thing?

There is absolutely nothing better than a dark fantasy to feed a hungry mind, and a movie about brother and sister, orphaned, hunting and destroying evil witches easily fires the imagination just as surely as a witch being burned at the stake. And, on the whole, "Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters" works its magic well. The cast, too, perfectly matched, with stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in the title roles, their talents pitted against head witch Famke Janssen.

Co-written and directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, the movie adds to the German folk fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel" (recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812) by exploring their adult lives, as they travel, town to town, village to village, in search of the evil that plagues innocent folk.

Though sprinkled with black humour, some of it working effectively, there was just a little too much of the "grotesque witch" for this reviewer, in similar style to that of 1990 feature film "The Witches" (based on the book of the same name by Norwegian-British author Roald Dahl). Personally I have always found evil witches to be more menacing when beautiful, alluring and deadly. Such a shame when you cast Janssen and fail to use her natural beauty in a way that would benefit the movie. The introduction of Pihla Viitala as Mina certainly makes up for this, however.

"Hansel and Gretel" is surprisingly quite gory in places, and violent, especially the scenes featuring Edward the troll (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes but played physically by Derek Mears). There is some fun to be had, though the story's thin plot is difficult to overlook. You do feel as if this movie was simply made for the 3D elements, without thought of what goes beyond that. Yes, the blood splattering and gore will undoubtedly look amazing using the 3D technology, but any film needs to be "story" first, clever visual techniques second.

This isn't a movie that makes you think, nor does it take itself seriously, but perhaps that is the problem - if the script held more depth, characterisation, and a stronger tale, there might just have been a complete change enough for this to be a classic, though it is likely to reach cult status for some. This was not writer and director Wirkola's ambition for the project, however. Clearly this feature was always meant to be a fun fairy tale with plenty of action and horror combined, although praise must be allocated for the former, for there are plenty of cleverly-choreographed scenes featuring Renner and Arterton.

The idea that Hansel and Gretel, both surviving a witch's attempt to kill them as children, grow to become bounty hunters is an interesting one, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the lead actors, nor are Janssen and Viitala in any way miscast. The CGI and effects are masterfully realised too - "using mostly practical effects, supplemented by computer-generated imagery". Wirkola had even stated, "I’m a big believer in just using CGI to polish what you get on camera. For me that’s the ideal use of CGI".

As expressed earlier in this review, the project "works its magic well", for what is simply an engaging forgettable romp. It certainly isn't the biggest movie of 2013, nor will it make an impact within the film industry, but there is no denying that for over an hour and thirty minutes you will be entertained. Another frustrating point is the use of modern-day spin which, instead of keeping the right amount of atmosphere grounded in a perfect period setting, makes the feature feel mixed and inconsistent. I am not always a fan of movies that use this technique, though there can be exceptions to that rule: Steampunk, when done properly, can be very rewarding; "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (penned by French writer Jules Verne and published in 1870) is the perfect example!

Sadly, for me, "Hansel and Gretel" has more in common with 2004 feature "Van Helsing" than anything that will be praised and loved for many years to come. An emotional outing for the siblings might have been a far more embracing tale. However, Wirkola gave not one single moment that justified a tear, warm feeling or anything regarding a serious attempt at exploring how two orphan's lives changed following escape from the witch's gingerbread house and the loss of their parents. With skillful writing and concept, this could have been a trilogy of discovery, redemption and closure...