As a critic, I obviously see a lot of movies, and a drawback to that is I sometimes suffer from a certain fatigue of PG-13 acceptable cinema. Aiming to get as wide an audience as possible, studios try to make so-called "edgy" movies that won't rile the MPAA into an R-rating that could hurt commercial appeal. Look at almost every superhero movie, and even Fast& Furious 6. Of course, you don't need an R-rating to make a great or deeply thrilling movie (again, look at Fast & Furious 6). Still, there's a special illicit joy I feel when watching a movie that proudly proclaims, "This is for adults only, FUCK yeah!"
This bawdy boldness was just one of the reasons I enjoyed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Written and directed by Norwegian horror auteur Tommy Wirkola, this R-rated horror-comedy took the fairy tale we knew as kids and made it something so dark and demented it's just for adults. Having escaped the cannibalistic witch and her candy house, brother-sister team Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) make it their life's work to track down and destroy every witch they can find. While the critic community of which I am a part largely sneered at this pic, audiences turned out worldwide to the tune of $225 million, spurring plans for a sequel.
As one of the film's fans/defenders, I was eager to revisit it on Blu-ray, and talk with the flick's producer Adam McKay, who also happens to be Will Ferrell's partner in Gary Sanchez Productions. In a phone interview, he and I discussed how Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters came together, what's in store for its sequel, and how this midnight movie might be remembered.
Adam, I got to start off by telling you I really love this movie.
Adam McKay: Isn't it fun, man? It's a blast.
It really is! In my review, I described it as "the honey badger of movies" because this movie doesn't give a shit if you get it or not. It just does what it's doing.
(Adam laughs hard.)
What drew you and Gary Sanchez Productions to this project?
You know it was really just Tommy Wirkola. After we saw Dead Snow—one of our producers Kevin Messick turned us on to the movie—we brought Tommy in (for a meeting). Kevin really found this project from the beginning, and then I sat down with Tommy. The second I heard the premise (for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and having seen his work before, and knowing how he was going to filter that premise, it was immediately one of the more exciting ideas I had heard. And then Tommy let us look at the first draft. And Will and I thought it was one of the best first drafts we'd ever read in our producing career. So, yeah. It was really Tommy.
Tommy is just a pure, pure film-lover sort in that same category as Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi and those types of guys who just love movies and the fun of movies, and have just nurtured their 12-year-old self and not let it slip away, always remembering what kind of knocks you back in your seat when you're 11 or 12 years old. So that was it. We kind of followed his lead. And then Adam Goodman over here at Paramount was perceptive enough to see the same thing and got behind it as well.
Yeah, there's definitely an element in this movie of taking things that got us excited as kids—like fairy tales—and then knocking it up a few notches to make it just for adults.
Exactly, exactly. That darkness to it was also the trickiest element of the movie too, because there is a constant balancing act. Because obviously Tommy—if you've seen Dead Snow you know—can go pretty far. So we were always trying to find that line where we could play but it still kept its edge and kind of walking on the razor's edge with that. But you know ultimately, what Tommy ended up doing was even more than we had hoped for, making a movie that would play for like the whole world, which was so cool. Well, not the whole world, but a chunk of the world let's say.
There was a report at one point claiming that a PG-13 rated version of the film was screened for test audiences. Is that true?
No. We never did that. We did a version where we cut out all the unnecessary violence cursing to kind of see what a stripped down version would look like, a kind of cleaner version. But we never did a PG-13 (cut). I always give Adam Goodman a lot of credit here at Paramount. He made that promise (to commit to R); he stuck with it and that's how he's got the allegiance of Tommy Wirkola now. Because a lot of people would have seen dollar signs and said, "forget it, we're going PG-13." But the promise was made. He stuck with it, and I actually think because he stuck with it, the movie ended up being better than it would have been had we stripped it clean.
What's your favorite part of the movie?
I love details. That's probably what we all love about movies, but I love the things like the fact that Hansel is diabetic, the missing children (flyers) on the milk bottles, I even love the nose Band-Aid the sheriff's wearing that's sort of oddly strapped around his face, and the weapons and how specific the weapons are. Probably my favorite scene is the stone circle when all the witches show up because you get to see Wirkola's imagination on full display and all these specific witches he designed. And when they are all flying and landing, that specific moment in the stone circle where all the witches arrive I love just visually how they all look and how specific they are.