Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
dir. Tommy Wirkola
Release Date: Jan 25, 13
Getting a film made takes a whole lot of work. Someone has an idea, and then that idea goes through an extravagant series of vetting processes from everyone from executives to punch-up writers to various financiers to focus group testers. And when all is said and done, depending on the pull of the people in control of that idea, the film that makes it to theaters oftentimes doesn’t resemble the film that everybody set out to make in the first place. When you then watch a film like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a movie so colossally misguided that watching it makes the mind wander to thoughts of how many people approved of it and contributed to its existence, you start to wonder exactly how so many people could’ve dropped the ball from such heights.
This goes double for a movie that was supposed to come out almost a full year ago. Originally slated for March 2012, Hansel & Gretel was bumped back to a time of year with far sparser competition. It’s a smart move, and with a trailer that made it look like a good bit of escapist fun, it was a lot likelier that the film could find its audience during a season that made movies like the Underworld series profitable. What’s most distressing about Hansel & Gretel, then, is how woefully straitlaced it is. For a film with an MTV stamp at its start, and production credits from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (and for that matter, a film made by Tommy Wirkola, director of the Nazi zombie movie Dead Snow), at very few points does Hansel & Gretel remember that it’s a bloody adaptation of a children’s tale, a pedigree that would lead one to reasonably assume it might have a little bit of a smirk about itself. That it doesn’t is the film’s major undoing.
That’s not to say it’s the film’s only undoing, though. The story of Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) is updated as a revenge tale; after losing their parents and being lured to a house in the forest made of sweets, Hansel and Gretel kill the witch that took them in and become supernatural bounty hunters. When a small village is beset by a dark witch of considerable power (Famke Janssen), they have to figure out where she’s keeping the village’s children before they’re sacrificed in a moon-related ritual. For once, Hansel & Gretel is an action film that’s actually far too short. The film moves through plot with a relentless economy that feels closer to total apathy, working through stories involving a devoted fan of the duo (Thomas Mann) and a resentful local sheriff (Peter Stormare, wasted) as though it can’t wait to get to the end. In this way, at least audience and film are for once on the same page.
Perhaps the one tactical advantage of the film’s narrative haste is that it’s a sleight-of-hand trick that could draw attention away from the film’s wealth of glaring flaws. There’s the 3D, which was supposedly shot halfway in the format and bolstered in post-production, but only stands as maybe the worst 3D in a major release since Clash of the Titans. The cast fares no better, but that’s of little consequence. Renner looks bored, but to be fair, his biggest defining characteristic as Hansel is what appears to be the mythical equivalent of diabetes. Arterton at least looks engaged, but unfortunately gets saddled with a shaky American accent, extraneous given that no two characters in the film bother to have the same dialect. Most of her performance involves either her being held hostage by various parties or shrugging in exasperation, the latter being the best and most accurate reaction to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.