I went into this movie with a fair amount of trepidation. Having not been truly convinced by the previews that this movie would be a worthwhile option for viewing, I decided to bite the bullet and choose the new film starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as my weekly movie outing. The movie, which was originally scheduled for a March 2012 released date, was delayed to capitalize on the success of Renner’s big year in 2012, though Bourne Legacy turned out to be a bit disappointing. I’m not sure if the delay was also for the 3D conversion, as was the case for G.I. Joe: Retaliation. 3D movies have continually failed to impress me, but I opted with the 3D since its showing was at the best time. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the technology that was used. It didn't seem to be simply post-production conversion. It seemed as if there were shots that were crafted specifically for 3D and it was utilized, in my opinion, in a good way. From witches flying through the air, to Gretel’s crossbow bolts there are plenty of shots that allowed the production team to work their collective 3D mojo.
The film seems like it’s probably set in the 1600s, considering that the 17th century was rife with witch hunts across Europe, which eventually bled into the American colonies. However, there’s not definitive date in which the film is set. The town of Augsburg is referenced several times throughout the movie, which gives the audience a sense of place. Augsburg, as it turns out, is Germany’s third oldest city. Of course, if this movie is set when I assume it is, Germany actually didn't exist. That, however, is a history lesson for another day.
We begin the movie with the back story of Hansel and Gretel. Surely, we know the tale by now. In this movie, we don’t have any pebbles or breadcrumbs, none of that “finding your way back home” business. (Or do we? *ominous laughter*) Rather, at the beginning of the film, Hansel and Gretel’s father drops the siblings off in the woods in the dark of night. Where they wander upon a (gingerbread?) house covered in candy and sweets, which is the part of the story that we’re accustomed to. What follows is safely along the tradition, but what after the siblings vanquish the wicked witch, the next chapter of Hansel and Gretel’s story unfolds.
Most synopses about the movie state that the film picks up 15 years after the events of their childhood, though the film itself says “many years later.” Regardless, the duo has made a name for themselves as hunters of witches, slaying all that practice magicks. The audience catches up with them in Augsburg, at the scene of a witch trial. Without revealing too much of the plot, Hansel and Gretel must defeat a growing evil which may hold a clue to the truth behind their parents’ disappearance and reveal more about their destiny. The movie’s climax during the Blood Moon (not a spoiler, it’s in the official synopsis) is an action-filled gorefest.
Renner seemed very stiff at the beginning of the movie and was not a very commanding star, but by the end of the film, seemed to lighten up a bit. I was glad to see Arterton back on the big screen and in a leading role, after seeing her last in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I think that the two stars made a very good team and seemed to play off of each other well. To be honest, I didn't know that Famke Janssen was in the movie, so that was actually quite the pleasant surprise; I absolutely adore her. Finnish actress Pihla Viitala appears as Mina, a supporting character whose intentions are questionable throughout the film. Rounding out the cast is newcomer Thomas Mann, whose character Ben has a few scene stealing moments. You do find yourself cheering for H&G and the two have some great one-liners. In addition to the obvious villains of the film, the witches, there is also opposition from various townspeople in Augsburg who want no part of the witch threat, including Berringer, the town’s sheriff. He’s a vile, loathsome creature that gets his comeuppance on multiple occasions. Though not an ensemble piece, I do feel that the cast worked very well together with the exception of the two witch minions of the big bad, who were utterly forgettable.
I really do not have too many gripes about the movie. It did seem short. At a running time of 88 minutes, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters does seem to be the shortest movie that I've seen in quite some time. I remember an eight year old me complaining about the length of Pocahontas when it came out in 1995, but H&G does beat the Disney animated feature by seven minutes. Though the movie is on the short side, there are several truly action-packed moments. It’s pretty common for films set in European countries to have everyone speak in a British accent. Apparently director Tommy Wirkola didn't get that memo. Hansel, Gretel, and Ben all speak American accents. Really, it’s as if Renner is just using his normal speaking voice. There are muddled British accents, some German, and though I admit that I’m not an expert on Finnish, Viitala seemed like she was probably speaking in her native accent. That was one issue that threw things off just a tad.
Even as a historian I really had no problem with the anachronisms, because at the heart of it this is really not a period piece. You cannot really categorize this aspect of the film as steampunk, but what you see is distinctly out of place. The pictures of missing children affixed to the sides of milk bottles gave me a good chuckle. I really liked the weaponry that Hansel and Gretel used. Over the years, the pair had not only developed their own techniques for killing witches, they could probably write a tome on it. I loved Gretel's crossbow and Hansel's gun was very THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK. Clothing was a bit wonky. Their witch hunting outfits do seem to have a bit of period essence about them. The shoulders are formed a bit like full-plate spaulders, though the ensemble is made of leather. Unique twists regarding Hansel and Gretel individually bring new element to the fairytale mythos.
Was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters a spectacular movie? Not really, but it was a fun, albeit short, take on the classic fairytale. I completely appreciate the fact that it was given an R rating by the MPAA. Let’s face it, I don’t think that a treatment of the story in this manner could have withstood a rating any more family friendly. The film has its dark moments, due to the way that witches are portrayed as truly disgusting and inhuman, an aspect of the movie that I really liked. The makeup was really great. Most of the special effects were done in CGI, but it wasn't very poorly done CGI, in my opinion. The movie even had a great score with some nice Goth rock moments.
Don’t expect Academy Award winning performances from anyone, I don’t think it’s deserving of its 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Apparently enough people were intrigued by it, because H&G has taken the top spot this weekend with $19 million, beating out Movie 43 and Parker. If you go into it with low enough expectations, you won’t be disappointed.