There’s a series of rather glaring errors in the first five minutes of Hansel & Gretel. During the pretty animated opening titles, ye olde newspaper articles flit by telling us of the witch hunters’ exploits. Whilst the headings are in big, bold lettering, being quite the nit-picker, I focussed upon the text in the articles below and immediately noticed that it was completely irrelevant and cut from random old English texts. If anyone was looking for a cinematic harbinger of trouble to come, this was it.
To be fair, this kind of blunder finds its way onto our screens with reasonable frequency. Tango & Cash is another film that springs to mind, which makes the same mistake several times. (Maybe the ampersand common to both has something to do with it?) I think it’s safe to assume that the glossy titles created for Hansel & Gretel were a last minute addition, and that the designers were simply given any relevant props, including the newspaper articles that the actors use in the film later on, and these props were never designed for close-up examination. Still, it’s an embarrassing beginning to a mediocre film.
Hollywood’s current fascination with all things fairy tale is coming close to stultifying, with Red Riding Hood and Beastly already behind us (and TV’s ‘Once Upon a Time’ continuing) and Jack the Giant Slayer coming out soon. Whilst none of them have been brilliant, it is interesting to think that perhaps Terry Gilliam was ahead of his time when he made his terribly flawed The Brothers Grimm.
Like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter before it, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a revisionist retelling of a story many of us know, except perhaps a little easier to swallow than the former since the Grimm Brothers’ recording of the original tale featured the supernatural to begin with. The film opens with a quick and nasty recap of the story, as the child siblings are left alone in the forest only to find themselves prisoners of a witch in a house made of candy. We then flash forward to see that Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are now kick-arse witch slayers, complete with anachronistic weaponry and black leather outfits.
The film is clearly aiming for silly, and never asks to be taken too seriously. Renner and Arterton aren’t called upon to do anything difficult in an acting sense, however their chemistry as sibling orphans really shines. Famke Janssen gets to have some fun as the head witch, whilst Peter Stormare plays a character he’s done time and time again – namely a petty, nasty man who’s bound to get his just desserts before the film is up. (That being said, in between such easy money roles, he does get plenty of good work.)
One of the best aspects of the film is the practical effects. Whilst there is a lot of shoddy CGI on show, we also get some marvellous prosthetic and animatronic work. The absolute star of the show would be the troll, an animatronic puppet that manages to emote in a way that very few CGI creations can. Reminiscent of Ludo from Labyrinth, I loved every second he was on the screen.
The action is pretty darn shoddy, and encapsulates the worst of a trend that I thought was over and done with: rapid-fire editing and handheld, jerky camerawork. I saw the film in 2D and found the high octane scenes difficult to follow, so I can only imagine that it would be worse in 3D. In fact, the film as a whole was really murky, so the idea of viewing it through polarised 3D glasses sounds positively horrid.
All in all, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters would be an adequate film to watch on disc if you simply want to tune out on the couch, but I wouldn’t recommend you spend your hard-earned cash on seeing it on the big screen.Rating: