HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
** (out of 5)
January 25, 2013
Jeremy Renner as HANSEL
Gemma Arterton as GRETEL
Famke Janssen as MURIEL
Pihla Viitala as MINA
Derek Mears as EDWARD
Thomas Mann as BEN
Peter Stormare as SHERIFF BERRINGER
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
BY KEVIN CARR
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Even after seeing the trailers, posters and other marketing material for “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” I didn’t know what I was getting into when I sat down to watch the film. Even then, the movie took several minutes to find its footing and decide what it wanted to be.
And boy, is it a strange duck.
The film tells the story of the legendary fairy tale characters of Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), who grow up to become deadly witch hunters. When they are hired to come to a village to find almost a dozen missing children, who were supposedly kidnapped by witches, they uncover a greater danger. The powerful witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) is planning a ritual for the next lunar eclipse in which something very bad will happen.
Sorry if that seems rather vague. The movie itself never quite clarifies what this bad thing is that will happen. They talk around it and hint at things, but the audience isn’t actually brought in on the secret.
It’s for reasons like this that “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” feels like it was written in a different language, and something was simply lost in translation bringing it to an English-language audience… like an old, cheesy Godzilla movie with poorly dubbed dialogue.
I kid, of course, but it’s clear this film had a long, meandering path to become the movie it is. This becomes apparent when you see Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s names show up as producers in the opening titles. Soon after this, there’s a rather clever joke about missing children’s faces put on milk bottles. At this point, I thought I was in for a comedy.
But perhaps the desolate box office numbers for the film “Your Highness” caused there to be a shift in the script. Maybe the studio wanted something less goofy and more serious, or at least semi-serious. It seems that all the jokes and humor were stripped away, and the film then aimed for something like “The Brothers Grimm,” “Van Helsing” or “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (none of which were massive hits, so I’m not sure why they were headed in that direction).
The only problem is that “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” isn’t any more serious of a film than “Your Highness.” Sure, it has less overt humor, and there isn’t the bevy of dick and week jokes. However, it’s just as silly, featuring woefully bad CGI work along with one of the most ridiculous-looking practical effects in recent memory. (This would be the goofy rubber suit that Derek Mears wears to portray the troll Edward… yes, in what I can only assume is a desperate grab at the “Twilight” crowd, they literally named a fantasy character Edward.)
But instead of being scary, things just get loud and obnoxious. Instead of being filled with rip-roaring action, things just move around a lot. There’s some entertaining R-rated violence in the film, which I enjoyed, but I imagine this will not exactly grab the younger movie-going audience a film like this needs to survive.
Then there are some honestly nonsensical things added into the mix, including a thoroughly insane subplot about Hansel being a diabetic because he was forced to eat so much candy by the witch that captured him as a child. Somehow he has a shot of insulin with him the entire time. Don’t ask me why this happens or where he manages to get said insulin, considering the drug wasn’t even developed for this use until the 1920. He probably picked it up at the trading post where he buys his gattling gun and Gretel’s fully automatic, rapid-fire crossbow.
Again, don’t ask me to explain this film any more than this.
In the end, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a spectacular failure of epic proportions, delivering a loud, anachronistic and ludicrous film. But I can’t say I wasn’t entertained at times, probably for all the wrong reasons.