Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment
Confession time, folks. This reviewer is no fan of Dead Snow, that Nazi zombie action comedy you and everyone else loved back in 2009. With its mix of loopy humor and grisly gore, Dead Snow should’ve left me grinning ear to ear, but its off-kilter pace and uninteresting cast of characters left me as cold as its wintry setting.
So it was with little interest that I regarded Snow director Tommy Wirkola’s newest film, the big budget horror/comedy actioner Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Even with its fun setup and impressive cast, Wirkola’s involvement and the film’s lackluster marketing ensured that I would stay away from this title when it hit theatres. And I’m kicking myself for that now, as I’ve finally caught it on Blu-ray and dearly wish I’d witnessed its wonderful lunacy on the big screen.
Opening with the Grimm fairy tale we all know so well, Witch Hunters fast forwards years later to find adult versions of Hansel and Gretel (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) traveling the lands and hiring themselves out as supernatural bounty hunters, all while employing anachronistic weapons and gadgetry that’d impress Batman while tossing off enough F-bombs to score Tarantino’s approval. Things seem to be going well enough for the leather-clad witch slaying duo, until a new job has them running afoul of Muriel (Janssen), a powerful witch planning a world-changing ritual that would allow her kind to remain impervious to fire (always a nuisance for witches, fire). Our heroes are aided by young would-be slayer Ben (Mann) and a mysterious young woman named Mina (Viitala), who has both a secret and a crush on the dashing Hansel (who, strangely, has seemingly developed diabetes from being force-fed sweets by the witch from his childhood). Gore-strewn mayhem and bone-crunching action follow as our heroes battle Muriel’s minions before discovering that Muriel’s big plans may reach back all the way to that fateful night they spent as children in an evil witch’s care.
With its mix of splendid design, crazy action, impressive practical effects and dodgy CG, Witch Hunters plays out like a Hammer flick on steroids with a sugar rush. If you aren’t a fan of this kind of horror/comedy/action hybrid, then this flick will most certainly not win you over. But if you’re agreeable to this sort of goofy tale, there’s much here to enjoy. The actors all do a fine job with the material (though American Renner and Brit Arterton make no attempts to alter their natural accents to fit their German-born characters), except for perhaps Janssen – who should have either passed on the project or found a way to have a bit more fun with her villainous character.
The film looks mostly gorgeous throughout, too. I say mostly, as even with its handsome art direction and beautiful cinematography, the film is marred by some truly terrible CG. At times it looks suitably lavish, others more like a Syfy Channel Original. Add to this some cool creature effects, good fight choreography, and a pace that practically races through its thin plot and scant running time toward the end credits, and you have a perfectly enjoyable way to kill ninety minutes.
Paramount did well enough by Witch Hunters with its Blu-ray release, giving it a gorgeous transfer and dynamic audio track. In addition to providing the “unrated” cut of the film (adding a bit more padding to the film but featuring no gore or violence that would upset the original R rating), we get three featurettes totaling about thirty minutes of viewing time. They are: "Reinventing Hansel & Gretel," a look at the film’s origins; "The Witching Hours," which focuses on the film’s villains (particularly Janssen’s baddie); and "Meet Edward the Troll," a brief look at the practical creation of the film’s lovable creature (played by Derek Mears). It should also be noted that Witch Hunters is available in a 3D release as well. All in all, a fun if light package (perfectly in line with the film’s quality).
Is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a great film? No. It may not even be a very good film. But it’s a well made and enjoyable enough romp that left this reviewer grinning, and I can’t ask too much more from it than that.
3 out of 5
2 out of 5