Recent years have seen classic fairy tales spawn a variety of cinematic adaptations. In some cases we see family friendly updates like Mirror Mirror. In others we see dark reimaginings like Snow White and the Huntsman. In each of these cases regardless of how successful they might have been in achieving their artistic visions it was clear what type of movie was being made. With Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters such is hardly the case.
The film opens with a playful macabre tone hearkening back to the family-friendly (but nonetheless scary) Halloween movies of the '80s and '90s and prompting hope for this attitude to carry forth throughout the movie. The brimming imagery silly dialogue and overacting of the introductory scene makes it feels like the kind of thing you'd have loved as a child — the sort of film you'd make a tradition of watching every October... until you reached 9th grade and were forever robbed of your innocent love of simple pleasures.
But following the intro — which sends young Hansel and Gretel off into the pitch black woods after their mother and father are forced to hide them from an undisclosed threat and subsequently throws them into the clutches of a decrepit old witch in a candy house — we're treated to a movie with a stark identity crisis.
The subject matter pacing aesthetic style and sophistication of the material all suggest a film for children. But for some reason this movie seems bent on proving itself "mature." Kind of like when you reached 9th grade and were forever robbed of your innocent love of simple pleasures and felt the need to prove just how grown up you were Hansel and Gretel "rebels" against its childlike nature by throwing in very jagged flashes of grotesque gore and misplaced expletives.
The two youngsters manage to escape the wrath of a witch and then devote their lives to taking the witch race down hired as bounty hunters by a small town mayor to recover the kidnapped children of a handful of villagers.
Now this could successfully translate in two different ways: it could take form as a fun-for-all-ages adventure wrapped in black magic and kooky characters or as a dark adult deconstruction of the classic tale. What we get instead is a grab for both and an achievement of neither with the confusion of the mixed message landing Hansel and Gretel in a nebulous middle ground.
The story we're faced with seems best suited for young ones. Simplicity is the name of the game for titular heroes Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteron who don't have much in the way of character beyond "We kill witches!"
Renner is the puggish kill-first-question-later gun-toter stricken with diabetes (the strangest element of this movie) after his run-in with the candy house witch; Arteron is vicious with a crossbow and a headbutt but more even-keeled and demanding of evidence of witchcraft before imparting her wrath.
The duo are teamed with the likes of Mina (Pihla Viitala) an enigmatic woman saved from torch-wielding villagers by Hansel and Gretel Ben (Thomas Mann) an overly eager young fan of the pair who looks and acts like he's straight out of Growing Pains and eventually Edward (Derek Mears) a closed-mouthed troll who takes a liking to Gretel for mysterious reasons. The uncomplicated characters fast-flying broomstick chases and incredibly accessible overarching plot would and should land us with a PG-13 gunner.
But the prevalence of the aforementioned gore nonstop violence and harsh language stamps the picture with an R-rating.
And for the adults to whom this brand of movie is limited something like Hansel and Gretel would come off as brainless. Not dull — the pacing ensures that you won't be bored. Not overwhelmingly bad in any way really. Just lacking in substance and charm. In a word dumb.
While preteens and young teens might eat this kind of thing up (whether or not they should is an entirely different question) adults will find it unfulfilling.
Empty characters paper-thin plots effortless (this is not a compliment) acting by the whole cast — even generally talented players like head witch Famke Janssen and villainous sheriff Peter Stormare — will give a sophisticated viewer nothing to hold onto.
But for some reason the movie insists on its head smashings and awkward exclamations of "F**k!" Throwing these to the wayside might have actually granted the movie a more successful mission statement.
Hansel and Gretel doesn't have anything at its disposal capable of making it a great movie or even a good one.
But a decision as to whom it wishes to please would at least have bumped it up a notch or two. No it's not a painful watch nor an offensive one. As suggested above it simply offers nothing discernible. And to whom? That's the big question.
A host of mid-level blockbusters and some serious classic films highlight the DVD release schedule for the week of Dec. 7.
Heading things up is Warner Bros.' special edition of the Renny Harlin-directed action feature "Deep Blue Sea" ($24.98 SRP). A sort of 1999 version of "Jaws," "Deep Blue Sea" features a group of scientists attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease by experimenting on sharks. As the sea creatures are altered with enlarged brains, they begin to get uppity, and chaos ensues. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows and Thomas Jane. Warner's special edition includes a running commentary, behind-the-scenes documentaries and detailed storyboards and stills.
As expected, Disney has re-released its Academy Award-winning "Shakespeare in Love" ($39.99 SRP), this time in a deluxe, special edition. The Best Picture recipient at last year's Oscar presentation now features a pair of audio commentaries -- one with director John Madden and one with cast and crew as well as deleted scenes and a spotlight on costumes. Unfortunately, this pattern of releasing and then re-releasing its films in special-edition format comes as a bit of a blow to Disney enthusiasts who find themselves having to buy multiple copies of a film in order to get all the added goodies. On the plus side, at least these special editions are actually seeing the light of day in the first place. You decide.
Director Mike Figgis' controversial "Loss of Sexual Innocence" ($27.95 SRP) will also hit shelves this week in a special-edition package. Debuting at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and starring Julian Sands, Saffron Burrows and Kelly MacDonald, the feature includes a running audio commentary by Figgis, as well as the original theatrical trailer.
The Disney animated classics continue to roll off the presses. This week, an old classic joins a newer one when "The Jungle Book" ($39.99 SRP) and "The Little Mermaid" ($39.99 SRP) hit video outlets. Both are presented in their proper aspect ratios (1.33:1 and 1.66:1, respectively) and are available only for 60 days. Unfortunately, neither includes any real extras and will probably have collectors shelling out additional cash at some point down the line when the real special editions finally hit the streets.
For those looking for a walk on the wild side, the seminal 1969 biker epic "Easy Rider" ($24.95 SRP) hits stores in a deluxe special edition. Starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, "Easy Rider" turned a generation on to the beauty of riding a big, loud Harley across America. Easily one of the most influential psychedelic films of its time, "Easy Rider" continues to impress filmgoers. Columbia/TriStar's special edition also includes a running commentary by actor/director Hopper, as well as the making-of documentary "Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage."
The filmmakers of today owe a monumental debt of gratitude to cinema's forefathers, not the least of which is silent-film icon D.W. Griffith. The grandfather of modern filmmaking was riding a high and powerful wave when he released his 1916 tour de force "Intolerance."
His 178-minute ode to man's brutality toward man throughout history was one of the most expensive and time-consuming projects ever attempted. Jumping between tales of injustice from four different moments in history (known as the Babylonian, French, Judaean and Modern stories), "Intolerance" proved to be far, far ahead of its time. While film scholars marvel at the detail and complex storytelling, the film proved disastrous at its time of release. Fortunately, in the 83 years since its box office flop, film lovers have come to embrace Griffith's tale of corruption and inhumanity as perhaps the most important work in early film history. Image Entertainment's special edition DVD of "Intolerance" ($29.99 SRP) includes the fully restored 178-minute version of the film, as well as deleted segments, publicity material and copyright registration frames.
From the classics to the notorious, home video will never be the same once documentary filmmaker Todd Phillips' ode to the late punk rock icon G.G. Allin hits stores this week. "Hated: G.G. Allin & the Murder Junkies" ($24.98 SRP) documents the performer's final U.S. tour after his parole from a Michigan prison on assault charges. With a wide (and amazingly fair) assortment of interviews with fans, former teachers and band members, as well as archival and concert footage, "Hated" paints a disturbing portrait of a man whose biggest claim to fame cannot even be printed on a family Web site. As controversial as its subject (upon word of Allin's lethal drug overdose in June 1993, several magazine reports began with the qualifier that "it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy"), "Hated" gives viewers a well-rounded introduction into a world most would rather not inhabit.