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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) movie poster Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Theatrical Release: January 25, 2013 / Running Time: 88 Minutes (Theatrical), 98 Minutes (Unrated) / Rating: R, Unrated

Writer/Director: Tommy Wirkola

Cast: Jeremy Renner (Hansel), Gemma Arterton (Gretel), Famke Janssen (Muriel), Peter Stormare (Sheriff Berringer), Thomas Mann (Benjamin Walser), Derek Mears (Edward), Pihla Viitala (Mina), Ingrid Bolsψ Berdal (Horned Witch), Joanna Kulig (Red Haired Witch), Robin Atkin Downes (voice of Edward), Bjψrn Sundquist (Jackson), Rainer Bock (Mayor Engelman), Thomas Scharff (Father), Kathrin Kόhnel (Adrianna), Cedric Eich (Young Hansel), Alea Sophia Boudodimos (Young Gretel), Zoλ Bell (Tall Witch)

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Originally scheduled to appear in theaters March 2012, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was delayed at the last minute to January 2013, the month in which it eventually opened. The move might have surprised or discouraged some who were anticipating the release,
since January is widely considered a dumping group for studios, a refuge for films that don't have a shot at generating good word of mouth or having a leggy run. But if a movie titled Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't sound like a January movie, what does?!

Studios seem to be willing to overlook the negative reputation attached to the year's first month and to complement the usual expansions of pre-Christmas awards contenders with wide new openings. While critical reaction is typically muted for a January release, there have been some strong commercial performers in recent years, especially among front-loaded genre fare destined to fail with different timing.

The English language debut of Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola, who got a little bit of notice for his gruesome 2009 zombie Nazi horror comedy Dead Snow, Hansel & Gretel opens with a prologue presenting the fairy tale made famous by the Brothers Grimm. Abandoned by their parents, the two young siblings wander into the woods and visit a house made of candy. Inside, of course, is a nasty witch with every intention to eat the kids. Hansel and Gretel fight back, burning their unsightly captor. Thus, they have found their subtitular calling.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) performs an ocular patdown, clearing an accused with on the basis of her dental hygiene. Gretel (Gemma Arterton) gets Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) to check himself before he wrecks himself.

Jumping ahead many years and many kills, the film finds Hansel (now Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) all grown up and still taking pleasure in having evil witches meet a bloody end. The mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small town with a disconcertingly dwindling population of children brings in the seasoned, fabled witch hunters. Hansel and Gretel save the life of a woman erroneously accused of witchcraft who is about to be burned at the stake. These are professionals with scruples who won't allow accusations alone to warrant death.

Though attracted by the rich payout offered by Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare, weird as always), no one else really stands a chance against the witches behind the children's disappearance. Hansel and Gretel come equipped with not only the best technology around, they also have the added bonus of being largely invincible to witches' magic. That immunity is a clue to their mysterious past, with which they come to terms beginning on a visit to their childhood home.

As a grand witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen) has the ability not to look like this when she feels likes it. Edward the troll lends a giant helping hand to Gretel.

But Hansel & Gretel is less about self-discovery and more about killing witches. The main target, Muriel (Famke Janssen),
is a powerful grand witch able to change her appearance and get inside her opponents' heads. She and her associates wreak their havoc, while Hansel and Gretel attempt to counter-attack, with help from Hansel's new love interest (that falsely accused witch played by Finnish actress Pihla Viitala), the siblings' starstruck young fan Ben (Thomas Mann), and a large, discerning troll named Edward (performed by Derek Mears and voiced by Robin Atkin Downes).

The film is as advertised: a gory original R-rated action film using a familiar fairy tale as springboard. There is a lot of bloody violence, a significant amount of profanity, and a flash of nudity. The film is fast-moving and very watchable. Its action is played with a sense of humor and not often overextended. The story is something of a forgivable mess. Renner and Arterton give their heroes believable toughness and some appeal.

Expectedly, Hansel & Gretel was scorched by critics, earning Tomatometer ratings of 14% (all critics) and 5% (top critics) as well as a lowly 21 out of 100 score on Metacritic. That was little surprise for a January movie delayed ten months and subjected to reshoots. The general moviegoing public, on the other hand, didn't seem to hate the movie. IMDb users' rating of the film has only fallen from an opening day average of 6.5 to a still kinda okay 6.1. 60% of Rotten Tomatoes readers claim they like it.

While these slanted, self-selecting stats may not sway you, concrete proof of audiences' acceptance is found in the box office numbers, which saw Hansel & Gretel turn a decent $19.7 million #1 opening into a respectable $55.7 million final gross. Those better than average legs alone did not obtain profitability on the $50 million production budget, but the rest of the world helped out, as foreign markets have contributed over $169 million to date including 8-figure grosses in Brazil, Germany, Mexico, and Russia.

The redeeming feature for moviegoers must be that the film arrives with none of the pretensions and pandering of underwhelming recent fairy tale twists like Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood. Hansel & Gretel is a bad movie, but it knows that much and accordingly minimizes the harm. Even its obligatory use of 3D shows self-awareness, embracing camp value instead of feigning artistry.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) puts his witch hunting expertise to use in the woods of yore.

It's neither surprising nor unusual to see Hansel & Gretel treated to an unrated extended cut on home video. What is atypical and strange is that each of the formats comprising this combo pack only get the extended cut or the theatrical cut, the operative word being "or." Blu-ray 3D and DVD simply get the film's 88-minute R-rated theatrical cut. Standard Blu-ray only gets an extended cut that adds ten minutes and three seconds to the runtime and is indeed unrated despite the R rating MPAA card that precedes playback. The downloadable digital copy and UltraViolet are not yet available yet, so it's anybody's guess which edit they'll get, but doubtful you'll get a choice.

Nothing in the Extended Cut stood out differing from my theatrical viewing of the film four months ago. I suspected if anything the action climaxes felt most prolonged, and I spotted at least a little more Hansel banter upon arriving at a witches' gathering. But by that point late in the film, the extended cut is already over eight minutes ahead of the theatrical one, so there must be small, insignificant gains throughout, though nothing that would seem too extreme for a hard R rating.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD film only: English SDH
Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 11, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $54.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($39.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video: Unrated, R-Rated


On Blu-ray, Hansel & Gretel boasts terrific picture quality. The sharp, clean 2.40:1 presentation displays the dark digital video with nary an imperfection. The 5.1-channel lossless audio, Dolby TrueHD rather than the more common DTS-HD Master Audio, is even better, with music and effects dazzling at demo-worthy heights.

Writer/director Tommy Wirkola explains making his English language debut in "Reinventing Hansel & Gretel." An actress is transformed into a gruesome witch in "The Witching Hours."


All special features are limited to the second disc of this combo, the regular 2D Blu-ray. They consist of just three HD featurettes.

"Reinventing Hansel & Gretel" (15:41) details the project's origins, premise, casting, characters, and gore.

"The Witching Hours" (9:01) ruminates on the film's depiction of witches, more so in terms of makeup effects and costuming than in personality or mindset.

Inside the heavy Edward costume, Derek Mears gets fanned off through the mouth hole on the set of "Hansel & Gretel." Olden newspapers report on Hansel and Gretel's witch slaying in the opening credits and on the main menu.

Finally, "Meet Edward the Troll" (5:25) turns our attention to the film's memorable creature,
who is surprisingly revealed to not be pure CGI but costumed performer and animatronic, with behind-the-scenes footage and actor Derek Mears' comments giving us a better understanding of the technically demanding performance.

The Blu-rays opened with a streaming trailer, currently for World War Z. Hansel & Gretel's own trailer is not included on any format, unfortunately.

The same disc sold on its own, the barebones DVD contains only the film's theatrical cut. Its disc-opening trailers promote World War Z, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Pain & Gain. Preceding the same four from the menu's Previews listing is a Jack Reacher ad.

The animated main menus take their cue from the opening credits, featuring fiery newspaper stories on Hansel and Gretel's exploits.

The three plainly-labeled discs fit inside a standard Blu-ray keepcase, topped by a nice embossed slipcover and joined by an insert with directions and your unique code for downloading the complimentary UltraViolet and digital copy.

Watch a clip from "Reinventing Hansel & Gretel":

Siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have spent their life hunting and killing witches.


The fantasy horror action comedy Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters offends much less than a film so poorly reviewed typically does. That's because while it is a dumb movie aspiring to little more than graphic splatters and profane one-liners,
it knows that it is and embraces its crude storytelling rather than trying to elevate it to something loftier. Although no one will mistake this for a great movie, many will consider it a fun one that delivers on its modest promise.

Offering a dynamite feature presentation and a perfectly adequate half-hour of making-of featurettes, Paramount's Blu-ray 3D combo pack is mostly satisfactory. The only area where it will disappoint is in the limits of its versatility, by requiring each format to accept some compromise. While I don't think enough of the film to personally mind or even really notice, I'm guessing those who enjoyed it in theaters will be bummed not to get a chance to see that original edit in 2D high definition, especially since it shouldn't have been hard for the studio to implement branching on a Blu-ray quite light on bonus features and well under capacity. For that matter, I'm sure that the DVD demographic won't be thrilled to only get the theatrical cut and not a single extra. Still, like the film it holds, it's tough to get worked up about this generally harmless combo pack.

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Reviewed May 28, 2013.

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