ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Release Date: January 25, 2013
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Screenwriter: Dante Harper, Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R
"Me and my sister? We have a past."
A legendary fairy tale transforms -- taking a dark, twisting turn down a new path into fun, fast-paced action and sly, sinister modern thrills -- in the rollicking action-horror adventure Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. The story picks up 15 years after siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) hatched their escape from a child-snatching witch, who changed their lives forever... and gave them a taste for blood. Now they have come of age as fierce, formidably skilled bounty hunters 100% dedicated to tracking and terminating witches in every dark forest -- hell-bent on retribution. But as the notorious Blood Moon approaches and a familiar wooded town faces a nightmare for its innocent children, Hansel & Gretel encounter an evil beyond any witch they've ever hunted – an evil that could hold the secret to their frightening past.
Paramount Pictures and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures present a Gary Sanchez production starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. The film is written and directed by Tommy Wirkola. The producers are Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Kevin Messick and Beau Flynn; and the executive producers are Denis L. Stewart, Chris Henchy and Tripp Vinson. Bringing the visually mesmerizing world of Hansel & Gretel to life is a behind-the-scenes team that includes director of photography Michael Bonvillain (Cloverfield), production designer Stephen Scott (Hellboy, Hellboy 2), editor Jim Page (Disturbia), costume designer Marlene Stewart (Real Steel, Tropic Thunder), Music by Atli Orvasson, Executive Music Producer Hans Zimmer and visual effects supervisor Jon Farhat (Book of Eli, Wanted).
WHEN FAIRY TALES GROW UP – AND GET EVEN
Children around the world have long had their bones chilled by the classic fairy tale of Hansel & Gretel, the brother and sister lost in the woods, then ensnared by an icy-hearted witch who cooks and eats children. At the story's end, the duo foil the witch's cannibalistic clutches... but what happened to them next? That's what writer/director Tommy Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters dares to imagine, tackling the question in all its scary, funny and suspenseful potential. Joining their story as the adult siblings emerge as the most lethal witch hunters ever to stalk the woods, the film turns an ancient fable into a no-holds-barred epic of modern action and adventure.
Wirkola, who first came to renown with the eye-popping zombie comedy Dead Snow in his native Norway, has been waiting all his life to revisit a tale that first mortified him as a very young boy. He never could shake its impact, or the lingering image of hungry, hideous, horrifying witches lying in wait for human innocents. Then, one day he began to imagine a "where are they now" scenario for perhaps the most famous siblings in all of fabledom. A vision of Hansel & Gretel – all grown up and irreverently battle-toughened – as vigilantes of the supernatural kind came into his mind.
"The story of Hansel & Gretel has been part of me since I was a young kid," Wirkola explains, "I have a strong memory from my childhood of just how dark and gruesome their tale was and I wondered what would have happened to the two of them when they grew up? They had this dark past and this intense hatred of witches. So as I thought about it, it made sense to me that of course they would be fated to become great witch hunters."
Immediately, Wirkola saw the makings of a visually ferocious, humor-laced and action-packed experience for 21 st Century audiences raised on the tale. As he began writing, he determined he would stay true to the spirit of the original German folk legend -- first published back in 1812 by the famed unearthly tale-collectors, The Brothers Grimm -- but put no limits on his imagination from there.
"I wanted the vibe of the original fairy tale but I also wanted to spice it with all the things I love most in movies – comedy, horror and graphic action." he summarizes. "A gruesome aura was always there in the original tale, but I brought it to the forefront, while injecting humor. And the story is still about this really strong bond between brother and sister – the way Hansel & Gretel are driven to stick together, no matter what it takes, as they confront evil."
When Wirkola pitched the idea to producers Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Kevin Messick and Chris Henchy, they were instantly magnetized. "His pitch was exactly what you'd imagine from the title," recalls Messick. "Hansel & Gretel have come of age with a big beef against witches. Now, they're bounty hunters. So if your town has a witch plague and the kids have gone missing, you call Hansel & Gretel."
A fan of visually intense and boldly playful cinema, Wirkola also began crafting his own original vision of Hansel & Gretel's grown up world – one that still has the timeless look and feel of a medieval fable but fused with the gritty, cutthroat action audiences have come to crave in our times. "We wanted it to feel like this could be happening 300 years ago but at the same time, there is a modern spin on all the action, characters and weaponry," Wirkola explains. "It was a fun way to make a classical world feel fresh. We took things that you have seen in all kinds of fairy tales before – and then put a little bit of a new twist on each of them."
Messick observes: "What's great about the style of the movie is that you don't think ‘I'm in 1850s or 1730s France.' You think, ‘I am completely in a fairy tale universe.'"
That's exactly what Wirkola was after: a fairy tale universe that has shape-shifted into something so fast and furious it grabs 21 st Century filmgoers. "What I hope is that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters gives audiences something that is out of the ordinary, with a wild energy you don't see in most action movies," Wirkola concludes. "Most of all, I wanted it to be exciting and fun."
HANSEL & GRETEL REBOOTED
To take Hansel & Gretel out of the annals of legend and into visceral, contemporary action, Tommy Wirkola knew he would need to find two strong personalities who could morph these characters from legend to real life. The search for a contemporary ideal of how Hansel & Gretel might have turned out – after being raised on dreams of vengeance against the foul wickedness of witches – led to the pairing of Jeremy Renner, Oscar®-nominated for his searing action role as an Iraq War bomb expert in The Hurt Locker and rising British actress Gemma Arterton, whose allure came to the fore when she joined the iconic circle of Bond Girls in Quantum of Solace.
Renner could not resist the sheer fun of the concept. "When I read the script, my first thought was ‘I can't believe this hasn't been done yet.' It's such a great idea with so much potential," he says. "I loved that what Tommy wrote left so much room for character and I thought it would be exciting to explore an amazing brother and sister bond inside a fantastical world."
He also found himself wrapped up in what becomes Hansel's guiding philosophy. "He and Gretel have gone through an amazing tragedy," Renner observes. "They don't have parents, witches have tried to eat them and what Hansel has taken away is that you've got to take your personal anger and pain and do something good with it."
That philosophy has left Hansel with a dry wit and a devastating way with the weapons needed to go after hard-to-kill witches. For Renner, that meant preparing for some of the most intensive action he's done yet, and he especially enjoyed Wirkola's take on how hard-fought and harrowing each of Hansel & Gretel's battle is against such magically empowered enemies.
"There's a lot of really arduous action in the film," Renner notes. "One of the big difference in this movie is that while usually heroes win all their battles, Hansel & Gretel get their butts kicked numerous times. So in a way we had to face getting beat up every day! But we also had a great time. Tommy brought an incredible tone to the whole thing, a mix of serious and funny that I think gives the film the quality of a real adventure."
Arterton, too, was drawn to the twists of the story. "I love the original fairy tale and this starts there, then makes a real departure," she says. "The film joins up with Hansel & Gretel in the midst of their fame as witch hunters. But it's also a time when they're starting to wonder who they are and why these terrible things happened to them – which leads them into a very tense situation."
Amid all the snowballing tension, Arterton loved the brother-sister dynamic that always stays at the heart of the action, no matter how extreme things get. "The sibling relationship is such a great one to explore," ayes Arterton. "Hansel & Gretel have this unstoppable bond but they're also so different from each other. She's the brains of the operation. He's the brawn. He's the joker and the show-off. She's more the watcher, the researcher, the one who tries to really understand witchcraft. They have to each play to their strengths."
On set, Renner and Arterton uncovered a natural rapport that made the sibling closeness – and rivalry – feel real. Says Arterton of Renner: "Jeremy is so amazing at action, but at the same time he also has a lot of sensitivity when needed. He brings a lot of fun to their relationship."
In turn, Renner says of Arterton: "Gemma is a real gem. We were lucky to find her because not only do she and I look a bit alike, but she brings a wonderful depth to Gretel."
Both Renner and Arterton worked closely with stunt coordinator (and second unit director) David Leitch to train for roles that draw on the whole pantheon of modern action-comedies as well the ages-old fairy tale tradition. Notes Leitch: "The action in the film is hard, fast and, above all, fun. I love that kind of Jackie Chan hybrid of comedy and action. Tommy gave us a completely open door to find our action style --- so it became about finding humor and defining these characters."
Hansel and Gretel each display their individuality in their unique fighting styles. "Hansel is the kind of guy who leaps before he looks," Leitch explains, "but Gretel's has more of a plan."
While game for anything, Arterton did not arrive a rough-and-tumble kind of gal. "When we started she said ‘I don't really see myself as a tough chick.' But she worked hard and got very strong," says Leitch. Arterton threw herself into the training. "I came in before anybody else and worked with the stunt team in a kind of intensive boot camp," she explains. "It was great because it really rooted me and made me more present in the action scenes. There's so much Gretel goes through!"
For Wirkola, the duo was perfectly matched to his ink-black but lively vision. "Jeremy has that leading man quality that can carry an action movie but he also has this darkness to him and an unpredictability that I love. When we brought in Gemma, she connected to him straight away, but she also proved that she can be just as funny and badass. I wanted Gretel to kick ass just as much as Hansel and Gemma does. They both had so much fun with their roles."
Adds producer Kevin Messick: "Jeremy has that Han Solo kind of quality. To have such a great actor play Hansel in this fantasy world really helps ground the movie. And Gemma creates the perfect brother-sister balance with him. She's very sexy and tough but she also brings you into their sibling relationship. They have that love-hate relationship of two people who grew up going through an incredible ordeal together; it's just that their ordeal was witches."
One of the greatest threats to Hansel & Getel is Muriel, the shape-shifting villainess played former Bond Girl and X-Men series star Famke Janssen. "Muriel rules over all the other crazy witches," explains Janssen, who transforms throughout the film from a ravishing, raven-haired beauty into a decaying, blood-curdling creature. "And she's literally after Gretel's heart."
Muriel might have a vendetta against the infamous witch hunters, but she is an equal opportunity tormentor. "It's not just Hansel and Gretel I'm horrible to. I'm horrible to all the other witches as well, even my sidekicks," Janssen muses.
While witches lurk in the shadows, one of more potent villains in Hansel & Gretel's world is perfectly human: Berringer, the power-hungry Sheriff of Augsburg, portrayed by Peter Stormare, known for his roster of screen villains. Says Stormare: "One of the ideas of the movie is that humans can be just as dangerous as ghosts and goblins and that idea blossoms with my character."
A friendlier face in town is Ben, a kind of fairy tale fan-boy obsessed with Hansel & Gretel as the rock stars of their realm, played by the young American actor Thomas Mann. Says Gemma Arterton of Mann: "Among all the crazy carnage, he brings more comedy."
HANSEL & GRETEL'S WORLD: THE PRODUCTION
One of the most thrilling challenges for Tommy Wirkola was getting the chance to create a whole new world for Hansel & Gretel to live in – and in so doing, let his audacious visual imagination run truly wild. He only had one inviolable rule: "It all had to look and feel like a fairy-tale," says Wirkola. "We needed those rich, saturated colors, the kind of colors that grab you -- the green of the forest, the red of the blood and the blackness of the witches."
All the standard details of fairy tale lore were re-engineered to meld with modern action and effects. "Everything was a distinct choice," notes producer Kevin Messick. "Each element of the Hansel & Gretel tale was re-invented by Tommy and his team."
To up the adrenaline another notch, Wirkola made the decision to shoot the film utilizing 3D. "When you're make a movie like this, you really want audiences to be completely immersed in it and 3D is all about that," Wirkola explains. "It widens everything to the point that you feel like you are in this fairy tale land."
A team headed by special effects make-up artist Mike Elizalde, founder of the renowned make-up effects company Spectral Motion (Hell Boy, Hell Boy 2), designed Edward the troll and took on bringing the witches to life -- then Wirkola brought in the Berlin-based special effects makeup studio Twilight Creations (Inglorious Basterds, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) to design the Stone Circle witches. But the real fun was in watching the actors take these roles into action sequences. "Each of the performers suddenly became their characters," says Elizalde. "The actors brought that jolt of electricity."
Another essential for the witches in Wirkola's vision was that they had to really, truly fly -- furiously fast – in visceral chase scenes. "I always felt the witches had to have brooms, but I wanted to use them in a new way, so that they are speedsters," says Wirkola, who worked with visual effects supervisor Jon Farhart, utilizing wires and green screens to launch the witches through the forest.
Helping to turn more of Wirkola's imaginings into reality was production designer Stephen Scott -- who also worked on Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Hellboy 2. Like Wirkola, Scott was mesmerized by the chance to create sets ranging from cottages to caves and underground chambers. "Stephen has one of the richest imaginations of anyone I've ever met," comments producer Messick.
Heading for Germany – to the very landscapes that first inspired Hansel & Gretel – Scott was especially thrilled to create sets in one of the haunting natural environments on earth: dark, virgin forests... the kind with full of twisting branches that reach out as if to grab you,. "We founds forests with a real medieval feel -- and also with trees that have a scary side," Scott explains.
In addition to the forest sets, Scott and his team had fun building Muriel's lair (which glows with the dying embers of children's souls), the mouth-watering but malevolent Candy House and the set they called "Stone Circle," scene of the film's climactic showdown.
One of Wirkola's favorite sets became the Candy House. "Everyone has their own idea of what that house might look like," notes the director. "But the important thing was that it needed to look so tempting that a couple of young kids would ignore their skepticism."
"We see it first in the moonlight," continues Scott, "with all its gooey, melting chocolate, gingerbread on the walls and sparkling sweeties. But it also has a hidden side because inside is the Candy Witch, and the house and the witch are one and the same: an evil and nasty piece of work."
Perhaps the most ambitious set of all is the Stone Circle, where a daring rescue unfolds amidst bloodthirsty witches. The scene involved hundreds of cast and crew, multiple cameras, cranes and buckets of blood. "I love a big action finale," says Wirkola. "It's a fun mix of witches, machine guns and a personal battle."
Creative fun also fueled the film's costumes, designed by Marlene Stewart (Terminator 2), who designed and created nearly 100 costumes from scratch. She wanted Hansel & Gretel to look like they belonged in a fairy tale world but also look like they could be badass bounty hunters of any era. Their costumes might be made from traditional leather and linen – but there's nothing antique about them. "We turned all the traditions around by giving them a tough edge," Stewart explains.
The actors were grateful for the inspiration the costumes provided. Says Gemma Arterton: "Everybody went crazy for her costumes. My costume was both a little tomboyish and very sexy. She did such a great job; honestly, I would wear that costume down the street, I loved it so much."
While their clothing is timeless, Hansel & Gretel's witch-hunting arsenal is as deadly as any from our times. Simon Boucherie, a weapons designer from Berlin collaborated with Wirkola on all the weaponry in the film. For the weaponry, Wirkola had a kind of "steampunk" vision of retro-futuristic guns and bows that draw on century-old styles yet feature thoroughly modern firepower. "We had this rule that all the weapons should look like they hand-made them," he explains. "We had a lot of fun coming up with crazy designs."
Wirkola also made brother and sister's choices of weaponry personal. "Hansel is the guy who bursts in and tries to take everybody out with a shotgun, but Gretel is more about subtle precision, so she has a double-barrel crossbow that speaks to her character, yet does what she needs."
From the weapons to the effects to the action, that irreverent mix of the fantastical and the fearsome became the guiding principle for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Tommy Wirkola summarizes: "The film has a lot of action, but it was equally important that it have an adventurous feel and a fun feeling to it. It's still a fairy tale, but a very intense one."