Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the recent gory take on the classic fairytale on BD
The fabled siblings, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are all grown up and hell-bent on killing witches wherever they hide in the no-holds-barred epic of modern action and adventure. After a lifetime of witch-hunting, the pair now faces an evil greater than anything they’ve seen: a terrifying new threat so massive, it could destroy the world as we know it. When the legendary duo meet their most powerful match to-date, Murial (Famke Janssen) and her band of child-snatching witches, it’ll take all their training, weapons and courage to survive. (Taken from the PR.)
I caught Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters theatrically earlier this year and found it surprisingly enjoyable. It's definitely one of those 'guilty pleasures'; a movie that overcomes the rather pedestrian sum of its parts to deliver a pretty entertaining ride. Competently directed the man behind the Nazi zombie movie Dead Snow, Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, the film cracks along at a fair old pace, which leaves little time to reflect on the absurdities of its plot. The effects are generally impressive, particularly the varied witch make-up and the giant troll Edward, here played by Derek Mears in a suit rather than a computer-rendered character. I also appreciated the decidedly adult attitude towards the material. It would have been very easy (and probably more lucrative) to go down the watered-down PG13 route, but there's gore by the bucket-load here. In fact, the Blu-ray features even more violence by way of an extended cut of the feature.
Arterton and Renner aren't going to win any awards for their performances, but they do their best to treat the material seriously when it would have been all-too easy to camp it up (and from a male perspective, Arterton is always easy on their eye). Swedish nut-job (and I mean that affectionately) Peter Stormare has a small but memorable role as a morally-questionable small-town sheriff, but it is Dutch beauty Famke Janssen, probably best known for her role as Jean Grey in the X-Men films, who steals the show with her gleefully wicked portrayal of the grand witch, Murial. Stephen Scott's ( Hellboy and Hellboy II) production design is also worthy of special mention, as are the many visual and comedic references to films such as The Evil Dead. Don't get me wrong, it's still an average movie, but it's at the top end of average and both more enjoyable and more memorable than a number of more 'worthy' films I've seen this year.
I did a little research before I started writing this review and it would seem that Hansel & Gretel was shot digitally in a mixture of 2D and 3D. Presented here entirely in 2D, Paramount's 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) offering delivers the sort of quality one might expect from such a recent release. A lot of the action takes place at night or in dimly-lit buildings, during which the blacks are solid and shadow detail is generally well-preserved. The palette has a very obvious warmth to it in these scenes, characterised by lots of amber hues, but given that the lighting of choice is candlelight it's an extremely fitting stylisation. Exterior night-time sequences are often tinged with cool blues, while daytime shots offer up plenty of earthen tones, punctuated by the lush greens of the forests and vibrant reds of the free-flowing blood. Detail is impressive, if not the most impressive I've seen, but I can't seen anyone other than the most demanding videophiles finding anything to complain about. I don't claim to have total recall, but having seen the film theatrically only a few months ago I can speak with a certain degree of authority as to the accuracy of this Blu-ray. For my money it is a very faithful representation of the theatrical experience with the added benefit of not having to endure the lacklustre 3D elements.
The impressive visuals are accompanied by an equally impressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that sets its stall out to be as aggressive as possible right from the opening moments. The credits themselves are more active than the entirety of some films, showcasing all of the elements that make the track great. Stereo separate in both the front and rear channels is excellent, there's plenty of directionality with arrows, hatchets and the like whooshing around the soundstage, and bass is extremely potent. Luckily this continues throughout; while the myriad action sequences offer up the most impressive moments the subtleties are not forgotten, be it the murmur of an assembled crowd, the sounds of birds and other animals echoing through the forest, or the gentle sound of the breeze. During the aforementioned action scenes the sounds of clashing weapons are extremely clear, while punches, kicks and the heavy footfalls of Edward the troll are all supported by some deep low-end from the sub. The audio steering as the witches fly through the environment on their broomsticks is particularly nice, as are the guttural gurgles made by the evil creatures as they as dispatched. Dialogue is distinct in all but one or two of the livelier moments and the film's soundtrack - a surprisingly effective mix of raucous rock music and traditional score - is also well-balanced in the mix. To cut a long story short, it's an effective, modern sound mix that more than does the material justice.
There isn't a lot in the way of bonus material on this release, but here's a brief run-down of what you can expect to find.
- Reinventing Hansel and Gretel: A fifteen minute featurette that covers things like inception, casting, and stunt training.
- The Witching Hours: This short featurette concentrates primarily on the witches, specifically the design and make-up effects.
- Meet Edward the Troll: An even shorter featurette that takes a look at the animatronic troll, Edward, and includes interview footage with performer Derek Mears.
Hansel & Gretel: Switch Hunters is a dumb movie, but it's enjoyably dumb. I put it in the same camp as something like last year's Battleship, insomuch as it's a film that I should despise intellectually, but actually quite liked on a purely visceral level. I don't expect to come over all misty-eyed when I look back on it in years to come, but I'd happily watch it again and it's the sort of film that would be great fun to watch as a Friday night feature with a bunch of friends. Technically the audio-visual elements are right up there, and while bonus material is pretty thin on the ground it is about par for the course these days (although it does drag the overall score down). If you're in the mood for a slice of disposable entertainment and can look past the silly premise, well, you could do a lot worse than this.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 24th June 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare
Genre: Action and Fantasy
Length: 98 minutes
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