The Brothers Grimm. The world of macabre fairy tales have had a special place in the hearts of children and adults alike for just over two hundred years, and their work has been told on the silver screen many a time in various guises, from strict adaptations of the books to modern translations, parodies and mash-ups, and 2005 became the lead characters in Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm starring Matt Damon and the late Heath Ledger.
Growing up close to the Black Forest in Hanau, Germany, it’s not hard to understand the dark inspiration for Snow White and Rapunzel, but my favourite tale was that of Hansel and Gretel, a cautionary tale about trusting strangers, and living near woods as a child, when hearing the tale it was never hard to imagine the setting on an autumn night, so I couldn’t wait to see if this tale of grown up witch hunters would stand up against my fond memories.
With Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, utilising established characters and backstory, there was potential for a fantastic film, and recent films like Snow White and the Huntsman and to an extent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunterhave shown what can be achieved by taking a different approach to well-known stories, whether comical or not. An obvious comparison is with Van Helsing, with roots in similar settings and subject matter and featuring the popular fad of steampunk weaponry showcased in so many films of the ilk (see also Jonah Hex) and starring X-Man Hugh Jackman in the lead role, as opposed to X-Woman Famke Janssen as the lead villain here, which seemed to have a lot more fun with tongue planted firmly in cheek than this can muster.
For a start, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is woefully miscast. Janssen should easily be the best actress in the piece yet in her few scenes she seems disinterested, as though she regarded the material were beneath her. Jeremy Renner may be a popular choice these days, but although his single-expression, world weary attitude may have worked around the bigger characters of The Avengers.
Rightfully expected to do more to carry a film in which he has one of the title roles, he just doesn’t display the required star quality, and a more experienced lovable rogue such as Nathan Fillion would have been better suited. Relative newcomer to the screen Pihla Viitala will perhaps be the only person to come from this with any real plaudits, and her performance, superior to that of Gemma Arterton, suggests that perhaps the casting of Gretel and white witch Mina should have been reversed.
This isn’t to say that Hansel and Gretel isn’t enjoyable at times. Although there is an overuse of metal music in every fight or action sequence they are well put together and there are some genuinely funny moments. While 3D can be a useful tool to the right director, here it is a waste, seemingly added on by the studio to compensate for skimping on plot development with no moments where the viewer really feels drawn into the film to justify the expense, and the excessive gore and swearing, seemingly to make the film look cool for a 13-18 year old male demographic, have resulted in a 15 rating which has effectively ruled out a large portion of that target audience.
At only 88 minutes, it is a fast-paced film, and that’s where its main fault lies, as there are some good ideas, and with better writing and direction and more effective use of budget, it could have been a great instead of average film. Instead, if you have the spare money, I would suggest that purchasing the DVD of season one of Grimm would be more rewarding.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is now on general release in 2D and 3D IMAX