Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter had an interesting and different premise but from the beginning it never quite found its footing. For one thing, I didn’t buy Renner and Arterton in their roles although the script didn’t help matters so their performances are somewhat forgivable. All told, sadly this is a downright forgettable movie with nothing to offer except for Famke Janssen’s hammy, yet fun, performance.
Genre(s): Action, Fantasy
Paramount | R/Unrated – 87 min. / 97 min. – $54.99 | June 11, 2013
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Writer(s): Tommy Wirkola (written by)
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Peter Stormare
Theatrical Release Date: January 25, 2013
Features: Featurettes, DVD Copy, UltraViolet, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 3
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Portuguese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Disc Size: 36.9 GB (3D BD), 31.9 GB (2D BD)
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
Writer and Director Tommy Wirkola marks his first English-language debut – following a few Norwegian features – with this new hybrid horror-actioner, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a title which tells you everything about the movie before the first frame. It’s also a title that is reminiscent of the crap the SyFy Channel broadcasts, just with higher production values and a talented cast.
The story opens with young siblings Hansel and Gretel being rushed out to the forest in the middle of the night by their father, but they have no idea why and eventually their father never returns. After an artistically animated opening sequence showing the brother-sister tandem’s progress we fast forward to “many years later” to find Hansel (JEREMY RENNER) and Gretel (GEMMA ARTERTON) chasing down witches throughout the land when they’re hired to come to a backwoods crappy town to find 11 children who have been kidnapped and gone missing. Meanwhile, ignorant Sheriff Berringer (PETER STORMARE) is about to execute a young woman named Mina (PIHLA VIITALA) for being a witch but is saved in the nick of time by H&G.
After some head butting (literally) with the sheriff, they get a plan going to find the children, although they will not go out during the night as it’s far too dangerous… and cue the sheriff hiring his own men whom he orders to go out that night to being their hunt. As one could predict, these guys are not going to get a good night’s sleep as they encounter Muriel (FAMKE JANSSEN), a powerful witch who can appear like a normal person rather than the hideous facial figure like most other witches. She quickly dispenses of them but not before sending one back into town to send a, well, bloody message via a spell.
The following day, Hansel and Gretel, along with a guide from the town, set out on their search of the forest coming upon one witch which was a dead end – although they do show off their skills as witch hunters – but they did get one lead, something to do with a red moon solstice of some sort. Meanwhile, Hansel is befriended by Mina and obvious sparks, albeit forced, fly between the pair.
Outside of Hansel and Gretel’s investigation, such as it is, we get an inside glimpse at what Muriel is up to, looking inside her lair where she is keeping the kids. She also has two cartoonish sidekicks in, and this is how they’re credited, “Horned Witch” and “Red Haired Witch”, the former of which seemed to come from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. The two are, I think, supposed to be taken seriously but the horned one was so frickin’ ridiculous it was hard to do. In any case, Muriel and her two cohorts are working on a way to rid of their one big weakness: fire.
The brother-sister witch-killing duo follows the clues trying to stop Muriel and she has it out for Gretel. Basically what you need to know is there’s a lot of killing, a bad ass troll named Edward (who doesn’t sparkle!) and plenty of gore… well, poorly rendered CGI gore anyway.
My biggest problem with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is for such a corny yet obvious title, it’s a fun movie to watch and that’s because none of the cast, save for Famke Janssen who chews the scenery with glee, doesn’t seem to have much fun or were taking the material far too seriously. Sure, there’s some dry humor but neither Jeremy Renner nor Gemma Arterton delivers it very well. But in fairness, they don’t have a whole lot to work with as their characters don’t get much depth outside of the opening and outside of that, it’s just chasing down witches and little else left.
Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola certainly has a good imagination and might be a talented filmmaker by twisting an old fairy tale and giving it a full-length treatment. However, it’s more or less a one-note story with little to no character development, thin supporting actors and any intended emotional depth lost due to poorly executed set ups.
On the positive front, aside from the production values, Peter Stormare once again plays a fine, although superfluous, villain but his presence is merely an obstacle unfortunately and so his contribution is minimal. The score by Atli Orvarsson, with Hans Zimmer serving as Executive Music Producer, gives the proper atmosphere and is one of the few highlights.
In the end, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters does indeed deliver on its title but depth-wise it’s no better than movies you see on SyFy just with a more talented cast and higher production values. By no means do I think it’s bad and Arterton for what little she has is good but otherwise this is forgettable.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
The 3D Blu-ray Combo pack comes with a matte semi-embossed slip cover. The inside houses three discs (3D BD, BD and DVD) as well as a paper slip with codes for either the UltraViolet download or regular Digital Copy.
The first disc contains the 3D version of the theatrical cut; disc 2 has the unrated version only; and features while the third disc is the standard def DVD of the theatrical cut.
Reinventing Hansel & Gretel (15:41; HD) is a featurette that covers the beginnings of the project from its inception with meeting the director and the concept. This includes some basic sound bites with the director, cast and others involved with the film.
The Witching Hours (9:01; HD) covers the witch’s aspect and the main villain’s intent that drives the plot. It’s nothing extraordinary but provides some insight into what the filmmakers’ wanted to do bringing an old concept and revamping it.
Meet Edward the Troll (5:25; HD) is a bit more interesting, even though it is a short featurette, showcasing how they brought Edward to life.
All told there are only 30-minutes of material which is disappointing as one would assume there’d be more.
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Paramount unleashes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter presented in its original theatrical 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio and a first-rate 1080p high-def transfer. The detail levels are quite nice showcasing good skin tones even if the movie itself mostly takes place at night. On that point, the black levels is stark showing no signs of artifacting or other abnormalities that sometimes plague transfers, even newer ones. I can’t say this is a showcase picture, but it’s still rather notable.
The 3D version isn’t overly impressive. While the depth is pretty good, other parts look fairly flat. This is one of those cases where the 3D element isn’t at times very noticeable and compared with other releases, it is rather unsatisfactory. Taking that aside, I will say it’s visually impressive in terms of color which if often dampened and skin tones looks quite good. 3.75/5
AUDIO – 4.75/5
The disc includes a solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The lossless audio is fairly dynamic in its range from the loud action and chase sequences to the quieter moments. The dialogue levels are crisp and clear coming primarily from the center channel while the other elements make excellent use of the front channels with ambient noises, as well as the score by Atli Orvarsson through the rear speakers.
OVERALL – 2.75/5
Overall, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter had an interesting and different premise but from the beginning it never quite found its footing. For one thing, I didn’t buy Renner and Arterton in their roles although the script didn’t help matters so their performances are somewhat forgivable. All told, sadly this is a downright forgettable movie with nothing to offer except for Famke Janssen’s hammy, yet fun, performance. The Blu-ray does boast great audio and video transfers while the features are limited and basic. I would say at best this is a rental.