Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D



Although made independently of one another, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) can be taken as part of a new franchise in stereoscopic filmmaking. The formula is simple: take a well know historical/mythical figure(s), give them a gothic superhuman quality and allows them to fight evil with spectacular blood and guts made all the more impressive with 3D effects. The plots in each film are, of course, nonsense. In the latter, the young heroes of the German fairy tale have grown up since their initial defeat of a wicked witch and now work as a professional witch destruction team that moves from village to village. In this particular episode, their aim is to trounce an attempt by the region’s head witch to undertake a new power-building ritual which, in turn, leads them to realise the true identity of the mother who forsook them to the forest in their childhood years. In the former, Abraham Lincoln is far less concerned with the pesky task of eradicating slavery and much more interested in destroying an underground network of vampires that, coincidentally, took his mother’s life.




Both films, along with a host of other recent 3D offerings play into the gimmick-adverse fears of contemporary critics (‘the obsession with the visual deters filmmakers from the complex plots and intriguing characters’). These films have no shame in throwing objects directly at the audience and no desire to keep their effects subtle in order for the storytelling to prevail. Most interestingly, at the time of writing, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was doing better at the overseas box office (US$ 79 million) than Spielberg’s 2012 rendition of the same historical figure in his film Lincoln (US$ 66 million). Although that will likely change, and Spielberg’s serious treatment of one of the US’s favourite leaders will catch up, it signals the significant audiences that are happy to pay for visceral stereoscopic imagery. This seemed the case when I watched Hansel and Gretel. There were only a small number of people in the auditorium but they chuckled their way through the slapstick violence and tawdry dialogue in a way that was clearly expected by the film. If the stereoscopic effects were gimmicky then the film was all the better for including them.


Worth noting is that Hansel and Gretel is also part of increasing sophistication in stereoscopic visual effects. Although the film has a lot of footage that was converted into 3D rather than shot in 3D , it produce strong depth configurations and manages to avoid many of the problems (strobing, uncomfortable editing) that the earlier generation of digital 3D films has been criticised for. Beyond producing a smooth visual experience, it also incorporates many elements and trends that the new generation of 3D filmmakers are working on.


The beginning shots in the forest where Hansel and Gretel live effectively emphasise the stereoscopic depth formations between trees and other foliage. When their father abandons the two young children in the forest, tree branches frame the shots and hang towards the audience.  The focus remains on the children in these shots yet the scale of the setting around them is keenly felt. While widescreen cinema is suited to expansive landscapes, 3D cinema is often better suited to settings full of multiple objects so that their spatial relationships can be emphasised. Forests, cluttered interiors and crown scenes are those that work particularly well.


hansel and gretel gingerbread


There are also effective uses of rounded objects. I’ve already noted that the tendency of CG animation to use bulging, curved features in their characters, makes it possible to highlight the depth dimensions of their bodies.  Although Hansel and Gretel does not contain any of this type of CG animation, it does emphasize curved lines in other ways. When Hansel and Gretel approach the witch’s cottage, the bulging, curved lines of the cottage’s facade are prominent. Its strange candy layers are palpable beneath the children’s fingertips. Similarly, numerous 3D films are incorporating water and other bodies of liquid (Life of Pi (2012) Bait 3D (2012) Piranha 3D (2010) Titanic 3D (2012). Scenes shot with liquid, particularly within the liquid, allow objects to flow around the screen space in a way that an effectively make the most of negative parallax effects. When at one point in the film a witch is dunked into a bucket of water, air bubbles stream away from her face and towards us. In this instance we are fully enveloped in the water as it seems to have spread out to saturate the whole of our viewing space. In a later scene, when a white witch immerses Hansel in a forest pool in order to heal his wounds, water is given further tactile use. The camera angle is placed so that the water flows around the bottom of the screen, creating an aquatic bridge between the viewer and the scene.


Another trend that occurs in 3D films with multiple action sequences is a ramping up of the action and, simultaneously, the stereoscopic effects, as the film progresses. This is particularly applicable to negative parallax effects. Rather than making full use of the auditorium space from the beginning, objects seem to come closer and closer to the audience as the film moves towards its spectacular climax. Although there is violence from the beginning of Hansel and Gretel, including the pre-credit shots of the witch torturing and then being overcome by the children, the potential for 3D effects to expand the violence are not fully utilised until a tracker’s head explodes much further into the film. He is framed in close-up as his mouth convulses, suggesting he might be about to vomit. As he looks at the audience, it seems likely that he will expel some type of hideous material directly at them. Yet, instead of an eruption from his mouth, his entire head detonates and sends thick globs of blood and flesh hurtling around in negative parallax. The vocal reactions from the audience made it clear that they were delighted by the spectacular display while simultaneously amused by the outrageous nature of the set-up. The use of negative parallax in the film increased further as it continued. In the second major battle scene with a witch, an arrow from a crossbow splinters directly into the auditorium. It is the image of a wooden weapon coming directly towards the audience that is most often cited by critics as one of 3D cinema’s gimmicks and thus this scene is apt in its brazen repetition of this trend. Another witch later firebomb the village’s houses and embers and further wooden splinters are directed straight towards the audience. All of these effects are utilised again, and in greater force, in the climatic last battle that involves the dissemination of witch body parts throughout the screening space.




Although there is a lot to see in these sequences, there is often so much speed in the action and pace in the editing, that the full potential of the stereoscopic effects never fully develop.  As a friend who watched the film with me pointed out, some of the most dynamic scenes were in the opening and closing credits, a factor that often comes into play in other 3D films.  In Hansel and Gretel’s opening credits, an otherworldly set of images is displayed in burnt oranges and browns. An imaginary camera pans across medieval parchments and maps that are drowning in flickering flames. The transparent quality of the flames allows them to flash across the auditorium’s space while the (relatively) slow pans means there is time to fully absorb them.


Many critics are hoping that narrative storytelling will overcome the distraction provided by stereoscopic effects and 3D filmmaking will find its proper, subservient, place. Yet films such as Hansel and Gretel make it clear that there are still audiences fully enjoying this wondrous spectacular schlock of the silliest kind.

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