Title: Hansel & Gretel
Cast: Jeremy Renner (Actor), Gemma Arterton (Actor), Tommy Wirkola (Director)
Genre: Fantasy / Fairy Tale / Action
Watched: August 11, 2013
Summary: Reaches for (and finds) new lows
OMG, someone finally ripped off Van Helsing! Actually, more like mated it with The Man with the Iron Fists. Lest it not be clear, I loathed Van Helsing. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the worst big budget films of all time. Hansel & Gretel is actually better. Not a lot better mind you, but watchable in a sort of horrifying way.
At least it feels like a single unified “vision.” Cough cough. The film is consistent in tone. But what a strange tone! In some ways, it’s a faithful spawn of the original fairy tale (or Satan), but it steals from and mashes in every conceivable bit of jazzed up bad video game / comic sensibility and time period, over-the-top and almost post-modern humor, then goes for the utter gusto.
Some interesting (and terrifying) observations about the film: It apparently cost only $50 million to make. Actually fairly cheap given the number of sets and constant fx shots. They clearly didn’t spend the money on the stars. We all know Jeremy Renner to be under a curse that magically compels him to take every role offered. On the scary side H&G did over $200 million worldwide and a sequel is in production. Spare us now!
Probably the thing that most offends me is the fundamental tonal blend. At some level, one might consider this a horror film, and there is a creepy ass story that could be made out of the original fairy tale. If you lost the we-already-know-it intro and immersed us in a dark forest period village where children were being murdered and the townsfolk turned upon themselves — that could have worked. But H&G eschews subtlety at any and all levels. The scenario makes a high level sense (i.e. you can mostly follow the “plot”), but the world building does not. Where is this? When is this? It looks like a 19th century — no maybe 17th — village. But we have half-indestructible heroes, more witches than children, machine-gun crossbows, multi-stage bullets, witches better at high-wire hand to hand combat than curses, love-struct trolls, and so much more. It’s just plain bizarre. There is even this major scene in the middle where a rape and a fumbling love encounter are intercut. Woah! And weird.
Unlike its putrescent progenitor, Van Helsing, I think H&G actually leans on sets instead of CGI for the locations. They filmed it in Germany. This leant (some) of the backgrounds a slightly realistic touch, if a bit Grim Brothers Kitsch. The post-300 costumes and props — not so much. Also very hit or miss is the flip dialog, mostly consisting of Gretel’s one liners and ham-handed exposition aimed at explaining what passes for plot. The witchy plan is so laughable that I wonder if the outline wasn’t done by the writer’s eight year-old son: Wait for Blood Moon, grab twelve kids (for sacrifice), plus dine on heart of Great White Whale (wait, didn’t I mean Witch?).
You might wonder why I mentioned The Man with the Iron Fists, even though it’s an entirely different action sub-genre. But both films take a similar (and oddball) approach at amping and aping the conventions of their betters. They place wire-flying blood-spurting quip-shouting action at the forefront, forgetting that this is meaningless if you don’t actually have characters you care about. Or a world that makes sense. And both films have this Tarantino inspired tone that forbades any suspension of disbelief — while failing to understand any of the stylistic talents of the master.
Oh yes, and shall we mention that it’s pretty damn gory. Mixed in with all the camp, there are some horrific deaths here, which further lends to the incredibly odd stylistic tone. Toss into that the haphazard attempt to give both leads romantic interests. Wow, this creates some skin crawling awfulness. I didn’t know who to be me more uncomfortable for: the writers, producers, actors, characters, or just me! That intercut rape scene. Shiver. Not like it’s “the ear scene” in Reservoir Dogs or anything, but the clash of elements is so startlingly inappropriate, I don’t even know what to say.
If this is the new normal, shoot me with a gatling crossbow now!