CINEMA: News Weekly
In defence of 3D dreadfuls
, March 30, 2013
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, an American-German action-horror-fantasy movie, filmed in 3D and rated MA15+, is reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Critics tend not to like popular works that seemingly exist solely for escapism and entertainment. It comes as no surprise, then, that the response to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters has been one of derision and contempt. But, in so doing, they’ve missed the point of the film and the meaning behind the magic.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton
in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
As children, Hansel (grown into Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (grown into Gemma Arterton) were left in the woods and trapped in a gingerbread house by a witch who thought they’d make a nice snack. They managed to kill her and have since dedicated their lives to hunting witches and dispatching them colourfully with all manner of nifty gadgets and martial prowess.
The town of Augsburg has a problem with disappearing children. Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) is about to burn Mina (Pihla Viitala) when our heroes stroll in, recruited by Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock), to deal with the problem.
They prove Mina’s not a witch, set her free and upstage the sheriff and his men. They then set about the task of hunting down the witches and discover a grand plan for evil. Duh duh duhhhh!
Pyrotechnics and Orient-inspired fight scenes ensue with plenty of blood and guts and lame wisecracks. Obviously, this is more of a blokes’ movie, but the girlfriends will probably like Gretel — and, dare I say, Hansel.
In a pleasant surprise, the 3D is not just an added gimmick. The film would be fun without it, but it’s used cleverly and doesn’t detract. The cinematography and editing actually allow one to see what’s going on, rather than a confused blur of images that has become popular in action films over the last few years.
The acting is surprisingly able, which is remarkable since the script is unlikely to be remembered as a modern masterpiece. Gemma Arterton is gorgeous, Jeremy Renner is brooding, Peter Stomare is grotesque, the witches are revolting. It’s a fun movie, one that would’ve been great fun to act in. It’s not Aeschylus, but it is enjoyable.
The clockwork-punk aesthetic is clever and distinct. The gadgets are pretty cool and the overall design is one of breezy ease — part contemporary, part historical, totally fantastical.
The story’s success lies in its straightforwardness. Witches are wicked and must be destroyed. Witches can be detected, for diabolism rots the soul and goes on to ravage the body, leaving them “secret, black and midnight hags”, rather like Dorian Gray’s portrait.
The Wiccans are upset, claiming the film incites religious hate. Apparently, witches are actually nice lovely proto-eco-feminists who’ve been misunderstood and persecuted.
It seems they missed the memo that, in reality, actual witches sell their souls to Satan, à la Aleister Crowley, Gilles de Rais and Jeffrey Dahmer. Or that their made-up religion isn’t related to that of the pre-Christian Celts, who had a very open mind about human sacrifice, that is so brilliantly explored in the original The Wicker Man (1973) starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward.
Unlike many movies with strong female characters that have a distinct allergy to showing men coming to their aid, this one has no such qualms. Hansel and Gretel are brother and sister, after all. Nor does it have a problem with positive family relationships, or declaring that nothing is more wicked than taking the life of an innocent child.
When G.K. Chesterton defended the great mess of popular literature, as he did in his 1901 essay, A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls, he did so not on the grounds of its intrinsic greatness, but of its intrinsic humanness, and with that its fundamental goodness. By this he did not mean some sort of glowing purity or piety or radiant cleanliness.
He simply meant that that which is popular has not the luxury of defending despair or perversity. The mob won’t rejoice in that which leads them to hate life, much preferring that which celebrates living and loving and laughing, all of which are essential to the living of a Good Life.
Of course, such works are likely to be as spattered with sin as our own selves, and so open to a questioning gaze. But that gaze, like that of a confessor, ought not condemn but forgive, thus inspiring a desire for excellence.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t try to be anything other than a fun time at the pictures. In so doing, it cannot help but repeat the ancient inbuilt human tropes of good versus evil, with the Good rejoicing and the Evil despairing.
If Quentin Tarantino’s films are proofs that audiences can handle complex stories with sophisticated cinematography, then films like this one are proof that audiences like adventure with a sure moral sense.
The challenge for storytellers remains. The world will devour good stories well told. All the teller need do is be human and rejoice in the great adventure of life.