Various adaptations and versions of Grimm’s fairy tales have been all over screens for a while now, and the $161 million in box office takings since its US opening on Jan. 24th, proves that an equally large audience has been lapping up the tacky 3D spectacle of HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. Shot two years ago, Paramount has obviously been waiting for the right time for its release – January, when any decent competition is thin on the ground. Kids will probably love it, but there’s not much to offer anyone older than 10, or with an IQ higher than a carrot. It’s likewise disappointing to see Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner starring in this cheesy lampoon, and we can only hope his fee was big enough to enable him to get his career back on track and play some decent roles in the future.
But then, seeing Will Ferrell and Adam McKay credited among the movie’s producers should give you a good indication of what you’re in for. HANSEL & GRETEL is obviously not to be taken seriously, and just as obviously targeted at a juvenile audience, if the hackneyed allusions and dumb dialogue are anything to go by. But fans of the genre will be delighted with the gore, violence and special effects which come at you thick and fast in glorious 3D.
The film kicks off with references to the original fairytale: where young Hansel and Gretel, forsaken in the woods, venture into the witch’s yummy-looking, candy-coated cottage, etc. We then leap forward several decades to meet grown-up Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), who have turned their childhood ordeal into a profitable career. In short, they are bounty hunters, who seek and destroy wicked witches and warlocks scattered around the planet. And there sure seem to be lots of them at large in the Middle Ages – if that is the time period in which the film is set. The duo’s respectable arsenal of high-tech weaponry makes this a matter of conjecture.
The siblings have returned to the Black Forest, scene of their childhood trauma. We know they are in Germany, as all the villagers speak strongly German-accented English, while Hansel & Gretel are cool US gunslingers, complete with hip street slang and the occasional “F” word thrown in, possibly in a vain attempt to perk up the lack-luster dialogue.
As they hunt their prey, they meet and are befriended by a succession of supernatural allies: Hansel flirts with an attractive white witch, while Gretel hangs out with a troll – but all in all, they must fall back on their own considerable resources when it comes to fighting evil, personified by their main adversary – the sly and cunning chief of the witches who transforms herself from a gorgeous-looking broad into a hideous hag at will.
Apart from a few pretty weak gags, the script leaves much to be desired. Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola (DEAD SNOW) is adept at gory effects and exploits CGI and 3D technology to their utmost, but unfortunately at the cost of the script and the acting. Renner and Arterton give it their best shot, but the dialogue is just too silly for them to do much with it.
The one bright spot is the soundtrack, courtesy of Atli Örvarsson, music exec-produced by Hans Zimmer himself (who possibly should have left his name off this one). Oh yeah, there is another good thing: the movie is just under 90 minutes!
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (Hexenjäger) 3D (USA 2013); Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Release dates: Jan 24th (US)/Feb 28th (Germany); Running time: 88 Mins; Director/Writer: Tommy Wirkloa; Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears; Director of photography: Michael Bonvillain; Production designer: Stephen Scott; Music: Atli Örvarsson; Executive music producer: Hans Zimmer; Costume designer: Marlene Stewart