Have we reached the nadir of 'reimagined' fairy tales?
A few months ago, I wrote an oped exploring what seemed to be a fully-fledged return to the fantasy-packed multiplexes of old.
By my calculations, at the time the piece ran, this was the upcoming-release roll call: "[H]ere we are, roaring through 2012 with a glut of fantasy films set for release over the next year (Snow White & The Huntsman, The Hobbit, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack The Giant Killer), and more still in production and development (The Seventh Son, Oz: The Great And Powerful, The Order Of The Seven, Cinderella and a Percy Jackson sequel). Even TV is getting in on the act, with Grimm and Once Upon a Time melding fairytales with police procedurals and small-town drama."
Some have dropped by the wayside, more have been added to the list, and some have finally had their trailers released. Step up to the plate, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and feel my wrath:
Now, look: as you can tell by the tone of my article, for the most part, I am thrilled to have fantasy back in cinemas in a big way.
(This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am writing a fantasy screenplay, I can assure you.)
Hell, I'm one of the few critics that went on record as thinking Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood was terrific fun: "Hardwicke's riding what is effectively a teen movie on the work of Bettelheim, Freud and Breugel - even if it doesn't always work - is far gutsier than another Hitchcock reheat or mumblecore coming-of-age flick by the same old solipsistic dudes."
And yet, why do I find myself struggling to get excited about Hansel & Gretel, based on this trailer?
Could it be the incredibly lazy witch design, which appears to be ripped from every other "weird demon thing" design of the past decade featuring dark, sunken eyes and gaping fang-filled maws?
Could it be the young bloke hollering "Hell yeah!"? Or is it perhaps the fact that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters appears to be following in the footsteps of Wild Wild West, the world's first "steampunk action adventure", as the world's first steampunk fantasy b-movie?
I have no issue, in principal, with the growing trend for "reimagining" fairy tales. The problem is not the raiding of the back catalogues of The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen - they're cheap (often free) to adapt and fun, everybody knows the stories so can enjoy fiddling with the format, and in the right hands (such as Hardwicke's) you can play with all the Bettelheim-ian and Freudian analysis of fairy tales you like.
It's not even the fact that Hansel & Gretel have "guns" in what is, presumably, a Medieval (or "Medieval") context; we all know Star Wars was set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away".
No, the problem I have is laziness. Say what you will about Red Riding Hood and Snow White & The Huntsman, but if their narratives were a little shaky, the overall "vision" was strong, Snow White's particularly so.
Hansel & Gretel - based on this trailer, and the fact the film has been shunted from release date to release date for the past few years, allegedly so that star Jeremy Renner was more of a guaranteed audience drawcard post-Avengers - appears to be from the lazier end of the spectrum, where a roundtable discussion comes up with a bright idea like "But what if they grew up and got guns 'n shit?"
Indeed, here's producer Adam McKay's take: "The idea is, they’ve grown up and they hunt witches. It’s a hybrid sort of old-timey feeling, yet there’s pump-action shotguns. Modern technology but in an old style. We heard it and we were just like, ‘That’s a freakin’ franchise! You could make three of those!'
Yes, Adam, you sure could. I guess we'll just have to wait until January 2013 to see if you should.