Title: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Adapting fairy tales onto the big and small screens in recent years has been a risky, hit-or-miss venture for filmmakers and television networks. For every anticipated film, like ‘Jack the Giant Slayer,’ and break-out series, including ‘Once Upon a Time,’ there has been several poorly received entries, such as ‘Snow White and the Huntsman,’ ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Red Riding Hood.’ Writer-director Tommy Wirkola tried to reverse the spell of the doomed fairy tale films with his new entry, ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,’ but unfortunately only succeeded in doing so with the memorizing special effects. His underdeveloped characters and plotline proved once again that the genre focuses far too much on the visual effects than the story.
‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ follows the young title characters as they enter a gingerbread house made of candy, after their father abandons them in the woods. After eating a large amount of the sweets that are growing on the house, the siblings are met by a witch, who tries to burn them to death in an oven. For an unknown reason, the two children are immune to harmful spells and curses, and succeed in killing the witch. The two children subsequently grow up easily defeating witches and saving villages from harm.
As adults, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) arrive in the German town of Augsburg to prevent Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) from executing Mina (Pihla Vitala), a young woman falsely accused of practicing witchcraft. Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock) has hired the two witch hunters to also find several children who have been abducted by witches. Hansel and Gretel discover that the evil sorceress Muriel (Famke Jenssen) has been using the children to prepare for the Feast of the Blood Moon. When the siblings discover the witch needs one more child to complete the ritual, they elicit the help of Ben (Thomas Mann), one of their devoted followers, and the witch’s troll Edward (Derek Mears), who changes allegiance after meeting Gretel, to stop Muriel and her sacrifice once and for all.
Wirkola featured impressive sets and special effects throughout the special effects-fueled film adaptation of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Production designer Stephen Scott aided the filmmaker in creating a visually dark, eerie village that’s struggling to survive as they battle Muriel’s determination to gain more power through the sacrifice of the children. From the dreary bar where Hansel and Gretel plan their approach in defeating the evil witch to the decrepit jailhouse where the siblings try to extract information about Muriel from one of her followers, the Tall Witch (Zoe Bell), the horror film’s unique locations perfectly suit the feelings and motivations of the characters.
While many of the sets do reflect the looming evil and darkness brought on by the witches, Scott also reflected Hansel and Gretel’s more innocent and trusting nature as well. Also including such colorful, free-spirited sets as the Candy Witch’s (Monique Ganderton) brightly decorated cottage to the peaceful healing spring where Mina brings Hansel to heal his wounds after a fight, the production designer created diverse, stunning locations to reflect the emotions of the two main protagonists in each scene.
To help build the tension between Hansel and Gretel and the witches they continuously fight throughout the horror action adventure, Wirkola also featured stunning 3D effects that truly enhanced the film’s story and action. While many recent 3D movies only include impressive use of the technology in the beginning of the story to grab viewers’ attention, ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ continuously and effectively drew audiences into the story’s dimensions. Whether the siblings are shooting elaborate bullets at the witches or Muriel and her followers are throwing fire and trees at the witch hunters to stop their pursuit, the filmmaker cleverly frequently uses the technology across the entire screen to truly showcase the action.
While Wirkola succeeded in creating impressive sets and stunning 3D shown throughout the course of ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,’ the writer-director unfortunately failed to create a fully developed story or delve into the characters’ true personalities and motivations. The filmmaker deserves credit for trying to create a new spin on a widely known, beloved fairytale, but seemed more focused on creating a visually stunning film than an innovative explanation of the siblings’ lifestyle. Wirkola dis little to explain why the siblings never talk about their parents, what motivated them to continue fighting and killing witches or why Muriel was so intent on including Hansel and Gretel in her feast sacrifice. Without any explanation or analysis of their title characters, Renner and Arterton were only left to perfect their witch hunting skills through the film, which they seemed to bore of quite quickly.
In his first original, non-parody American movie, ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’s Norwegian filmmaker Wirkola proved he’s truly able to visually tell a stunning story. With elaborate, detailed and unique sets and surprisingly captivating 3D effects throughout the course of the horror action adventure, the director effectively captured viewers’ attention. Unfortunately, Wirkola was unable to live up to his impressive production values with his underdeveloped, scarcely planned story. With such a well-known and beloved fairy tale as ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ the writer-director failed to do the characters justice by not fully developing their background and motivations.
Written by: Karen Benardello