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 standard definition via DVD. If you want to watch the extended cut, then you have to watch it on the 2D Blu-ray or via the digital copies. The only way to watch special features is by popping in the 2D Blu-ray.
The 3D release comes with a three-disc blue vortex keepcase with a swinging arm that holds two of the discs. A glossy and embossed cardboard slipcase is included. The only thing to play before the main menu on the 3D disc is a Paramount vanity reel, but a varying number of trailers play before the main menu on the 2D disc. 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 3D 1080p/MPEG-4 MVC transfer. For the most part, the third dimension extends deep into the background and – although I typically dislike the gimmick – occasionally effectively protrudes off the screen into the foreground. The opening Paramount vanity reels kicks off the great depths, showing off the topography of the studio's iconic mountain range. The animated opening credits sequence plays out like a medieval puppet show – boxed in and layered images. All of the daytime sequences carry layer upon layer. It never gives off a two-dimensional pop-up book look, but gradually shifts through the space. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the forested nighttime sequences. Not all, but several of them have the pop-up book look in the background. The strongest aspect of those darkened shots is that there's never a hint of crosstalk. The best instances of 3D are the super slow motion ones involving objects – typically dangerous objects – soaring through the air.
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. There's no diminishing of colors due to darkening 3D lenses; they're 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.
The only fault that I could find was a minor amount of aliasing with the tiny spider web wires that makes up a tree-to-tree witch trap.
'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. The only way to watch them is on the 2D Blu-ray, making all special features 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. With the theatrical cut clocking in at 87 minutes and the unrated cut clocking in at 97 minutes – either way – it's short and sweet. And after making five times its production budget at the worldwide box office, Paramount has already green-lit a sequel. The 3D Blu-ray release is a strange, yet generous one. The 3D Blu-ray disc only contains the theatrical cut of the film, the 2D Blu-ray only contains the extended version of the film, and the only way to watch the few special features is on the 2D disc. The 3D video quality is near-perfect, with the lossless audio quality being a superb five-star Dolby TrueHD mix. I can't say for certain what makes this 3D release "limited" (which all vendors are doing), but I can say that I recommend it.