Friday, February 1, 2013

The CInema File #100: "Hansel And Gretel - Witch Hunters" Review

Damn you movies I want not to suck, why must you keep sucking?

Okay, full disclosure, I love the kind of movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is trying to be so much that I've been in the process of trying to sell a pilot for a television show along very similar lines. It's called Huntsmen, and I envision it as having the same sort of Grimmpunk hardcore fairy tale style, but encompassing all the classic Grimm stories into one universe. I know its been done, but I think I have a fairly unique take on it, and frankly I'm not sure if this makes me more biased for this film or against it. On the one hand, I may subconsciously want it to fail just so my much better script can rise above its ashes, but on the other, just being such a fan of this approach, I want to cherish any opportunity to indulge in what seems to be a recently burgeoning sub-genre. I don't know, but all I can do is give you my immediate takeaway, and right now, that's not a very good one.

Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters follows the titular twins grown up into gritty bad ass experts in all things supernatural after their experience with childhood geronticide. The first thing I ever heard about this movie was that it was being produced by Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman, and upon seeing it, I was surprised by just how straight everyone was playing it. I wasn't necessarily expecting slapstick or outright parody, but a little more humor infused into the movie would have done wonders for what is ultimately a pretty dreary experience. That's not to say they take things completely seriously, and I'd say a big problem is the lack of a consistent tone, trying to be too many things at once and never really settling on anything long enough to do anything right. I found myself wanting either a more earnest movie without any knowing winks at the camera, or a full on satire of these modern stylized action fantasy movies, not a middling amalgam of both.

Given what you've seen in the trailers, it probably sounds a bit silly for me to complain about a lack of characterization in a movie like this, but as far as I'm concerned there is no excuse to overlook something as simple and crucial as developing main characters I can find interesting. I'm never given a reason to like Hansel, Gretel, the witches their hunting, or anyone else in this movie, and I guess I'm just expected to accept how cool they are because they wear leather and carry big guns and leave it at that. If I were a lot younger that might have been enough for me, but then I probably would not have been old enough to appreciate the twist on classic literature inherent to the premise, or how the movie utterly fails to exploit it. Apart from the names and a few light motifs here and there, the connection to the actual fairy tale is extremely slight, which was not only disappointing, but even a little insulting to someone like me who would not have otherwise been that interested in the movie without this promised element.

The closest cinematic comparison I can think of for this movie is Van Helsing. I'm not saying its as bad as that, because I can at least say it is a more streamlined and better executed film, but just in terms of the gulf between what the movie is and what it could have and should have been, with an engaging visual style attempting and failing to mask an otherwise substandard narrative, I couldn't help but get flashbacks to that epically disappointing travesty. I don't know if I'm more of a classic Universal Horror fan or more of a Grimm fan, so I can't quite decide which is the bigger missed opportunity. The action and special effects work is passable, but never especially exciting or innovative, and until the climactic gathering of witches, the bad guys are pretty underwhelming. Their magic is barely used and when it is its relegated to nondescript laser blasts, telekinesis, and the occasional animated tree. There's just so much more that could have been done with this in pretty much every respect.

I've never been a Jeremy Renner fan, and my complete lack of appreciation for the man's career is once again validated. Gemma Arterton's Gretel is marginally better, but really neither of them are given enough to do beyond posing and shooting, so its hard to gauge just how much credit I should give either of them. I imagine Famke Jensen would have been a good villain had her character been fleshed out more, but there's nothing more to her than a few boring exposition monologues and the shock of her turning from a beautiful woman to an old hag, which wears off before we even see it happen the first time. The only other notable actor is Peter Stormare, who at least puts on a believable accent this time around, but has very little bearing on anything and exits the film far too quickly. There's also a brief love interest for Hansel in the form of a good witch, but her role was so slight that I'm struggling to think back on if she is even named onscreen at any point.

Overall, if you can ignore the shallow nature of the plot, Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters is, not unlike Van Helsing, an okay movie to shut your brain off to and just let the visual style wash over you. If that's enough, than this should amount to a fun night, but for me, this is one canon of literature that I can't abide such shoddy mishandling. After Grimm, Once Upon A Time, Mirror Mirror, and Snow White And The Huntsman, there have been a lot of recent attempts to get this sort of thing right, and so far none of them have quite got it licked. We've still got Jack The Giant Killer, but I'm not holding out too much hope. Maybe someday someone will get this right. Maybe me, if somebody buys my pilot.

Just saying.
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