After that Abraham Lincoln genre flick with the "Vampire Hunter" subtitle, I wasn't looking forward to the similar Hansel & Gretel movie with the matching "Witch Hunters" subtitle. The lifeless 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' had the fun sucked out of it from the get-go, so the idea of a similar, supposedly playful twist on another well-known story had very little appeal to me. The trailers for 'Hansel & Gretel' didn't help; they made it out to be too serious – which was the coup de grâce for 'Abraham Lincoln.' It wasn't until I noticed that 'Hansel & Gretel' was produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay that I realized the actual tone that the movie would carry – a (hopefully) comedic and fun one. Luckily, it does and it's a lot of fun.
'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' takes the Brothers Grimm tale and expands the narrative into a creative direction. The film opens with their story as we know it: a kid brother and sister are lured into a sugary sweet house made of candy where a witch plans to fatten them up, cook them and eat them. Of course, they outsmart the witch, kill her and escape. After this opening scene, an awesome animated opening credits sequence shows what the sibling duo did in the years that followed – they wandered the land as witch hunters for hire.
Jeremy Renner, the man currently working with four franchises ('Bourne,' 'Mission: Impossible,' 'Avengers,' and now 'Hansel & Gretel'), plays the older brother, Hansel. He's cool, comical and playful. Plus, he's surgical with his shotgun. Writer/director Tommy Wirkola ('Dead Snow') has even added a hilarious twist to the character that I'll refrain from spoiling because of how genius it is. Bond Girl Gemma Arterton plays Gretel. Despite being a gorgeous and foul-mouth badass, she's always getting her trash kicked – but she can take her lickings and keep on dishing it out, too. After the opening credits sequence, we see our heroes in action. A small village has recently become a target. Witches have been raiding the homes and kidnapping the town's children. Hansel and Gretel show up in the middle of the medieval witch hunt and take over, dismissing the power-hungry sheriff (Peter Stormare) to find the local witches and put an end to whatever scheme they're concocting.
Our lead witch is play by the great Famke Janssen, an actress who doesn't seem to age at all, making her perfect for the role as a mastermind witch. It takes a short while to find out exactly what she's planning, but I'll refrain from divulging into it since the movie, as a whole, is relatively short. Let's just say that she's working on something that will greatly affect Hansel and Gretel's ability to do their jobs.
The comedy of 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' isn't the type that instantly warrants laughs. There aren't any gags. No punchlines. It's all situational. And, for me personally, it gets funnier with each viewing. It almost feels like a spoof comedy that never winks at the audience. A few of the witches seem to carry a resemblance to those of Sam Raimi. Modern day lines are subtly dropped that replace the word "bitch" with "witch," and if you're not paying attention, you're definitely going to miss them. Some of the humor derives from non-politically correct elements: conjoined twin witches, legless witches, diseases, etc.
In the grand scope, 'Witch Hunters' is an origins story for the Hansel and Gretel characters. We follow them on one of their most important jobs and learn a lot about their past along the way. Due to huge international success, Paramount has announced that 'Hansel & Gretel' has a sequel in the works, so you can expect to see more of the duo in the near future. There's no solid indication of where the franchise if going from here, but I'm willing to follow it wherever it goes.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount has given 'Hansel & Gretel' an odd and unique set of home video releases. The 3D release is being deemed "limited." It contains a 3D Blu-ray of the 87-minute theatrical cut, a 2D Blu-ray of the unrated 97-minute extended cut, a DVD of the theatrical cut and Digital Copy and Ultraviolet codes for the unrated cut. If you want to watch the theatrical cut, then you have to watch it in 3D or in standard definition via the DVD. The 2D Blu-ray only contains the extended-by-10-minute unrated cut.
The 2D release comes with a two-disc blue vortex keepcase that contains the BD-50 and the DVD. A glossy and embossed cardboard slipcase is included. A varying number of trailers play before the main menu. Because the trailers are pulled from the Internet, you never know what you're going to get. The first time that I popped the disc in, I only saw one trailer and it was for 'World War Z.' The second time that I popped it in, it triggered three trailers – 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' and 'Pain & Gain.' This menu is like a box of chocolates...
Paramount has given 'Hansel & Gretel' a very strong, near-perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that expands the film from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 2.39:1.
The video quality is crisp and always clean. Noise, bands and all other flaws are completely absent. Facial features are highly defined, showing off both the detailed textures of our heroes' faces and the cracked and deathly features of the witches' faces. Black levels are solid and consistently deep. Colors are just as vibrant as they should be – especially the reds that light up the sky during the blood moon. Explosive fires roar with great colorization amidst the natural and muted colors of the dark ages. Fleshtones are natural and spot-on for the "living" folks; the witches with somewhat normal faces carry a dead pale look.
The only fault that I could find in 'Hansel & Gretel' was a minor amount of aliasing with the tiny spider web wires that makes up a tree-to-tree witch trap. This flaw is present in both the 3D and 2D presentations, so don't feel like you're being ripped off for not owning the 3D version.
'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' features an always-active 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track. Be prepared to have all channels constantly lit up with unique sound.
I was impressed by the overall volume of this mix. Even during the downtime, scenes where we watch characters safely wander through forests, effects are constantly emitting from all around the room. Imagine the most amount of wildlife that you've ever heard at once, then triple it. Woodpeckers, chirping and fluttering birds, wind blowing through tree limbs – that's what you're hearing non-stop in even the most calm moments of 'Hansel & Gretel,' making the action-packed and tense moments even more exciting, loud and thrilling.
The bassy and dynamic effects of cottages exploding, fire crackling and creatures roaring sound fantastic. A few of the action moments contain would-be graphic violence where the action takes place off-screen (these were probably the instances planned for the now-non-existent PG-13 cut of the film), but the horrific and disgusting sounds that blare from the speakers paint a bloody picture in your mind of what you would be seeing had the action taken place in the frame. (Don't worry – there's still a lot more bloody violence than just these PG-13 moments.)
The vocal levels perfectly blend with all of the other sounds. The clarity is perfect and never trumped by the scoring - which occasionally consists of distorted electric guitars chomping away with power chords. As loud as the overall mix may get, the music, effects and vocals always work harmoniously with one another.
Neither the 3D Blu-ray nor the DVD contain special features, so you can't go wrong with the 2D version if you love special features. The only way to watch them is on the 2D Blu-ray, so all special features are HD exclusives.
'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' isn't the best re-imagining of a classic tale, but it's a hell of lot more fun, memorable and likable than most of the others. It not only adds wit and charm to the playfully violent twist of the Brothers Grimm story, but it's absolutely entertaining. After making five times its production budget at the worldwide box office, Paramount has already green-lit a sequel. The only way to view the theatrical cut in high-def is by owning the 3D Blu-ray. This 2D Blu-ray only contains the new unrated cut which features 10 additional minutes of footage spread throughout the film. The video quality is near-perfect, with the lossless audio quality being a superb five-star 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix. While I prefer the 3D Blu-ray release over the 2D one, if 2D is the only option, I still recommend 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.'