Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hansel and Gretel and Genre

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters currently holds a proud 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you look through critical reviews, you'll see endless iterations of "falls short", "takes itself too seriously", and "not all that dark/gritty". Reviews mainly brush it off as a stupid movie; all gore and no scare.

So, marketing.

In general (in general - obviously you can make arguments for more, but that gets into debatable subgenre) mainstream movies are one of 7 genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Historical, SciFi/Fantasy, Children's, and Horror.

Now, two things.

1) While romance novels are almost uniformly looked down upon, in film, it's horror that by its nature can't be taken seriously. Horror movies are regarded as "second class" in the film world. Much like how you will never see a romance novel (that isn't written by a man and labeled "serious literary fiction") up for a Pulitzer, you will never see a horror movie up for an Academy Award.

2) Hollywood is very good at marketing movies that fit squarely into one of those genres. Indiana Jones? Yessir. The Blind Side? Of course. The Hangover? Got you covered. But when you step a little bit outside of the box, Hollywood basically throws up its hands and says, "PICK ONE, YOU GREEDY JERK; WE DON'T HAVE ALL DAY TO EXPLAIN YOUR HISTORICAL ACTION-ADVENTURE RELATIONSHIP STUDY DRAMA."

All this is to say, when I saw the H&G trailers and their snarky self-awareness mixed with gleeful carnage, I knew exactly what it reminded me of.

Sleepy Hollow has become sort of a retroactive cult classic, in the way that a lot of Tim Burton movies have these days. It, like H&G, was a gritty horror-esque retelling of a legend. And, like H&G, it was marketed as a straight horror. And again, like H&G, it wasn't, although it wasn't really anything else either.

Both H&G and Sleepy Hollow are genre-defying movies with strong comedic, horror, and character elements. When I say character elements, I don't mean that we're seeing "deep" portrayals of the human psyche (although, what does that really mean? Again, it's all marketing - we wait for movies to tell us which ones we should analyze). I just mean that the characters are interesting enough to reward acceptance as something other than simple stock cardboard cut-outs.

I think it's fair to say that at the very least, both Sleepy Hollow and H&G are competently put together movies with cohesive tones that tell a coherent if predictable story, and at least make an effort to be entertaining while doing so.

Whether or not you like them (and I don't actually like Sleepy Hollow), these are movies that some degree of thought and enthusiasm went into. They deserve to exist. I can't say the same for a lot of the phoned-in pandering offerings that I see at the box office these days.

Marketing is so dangerous because it's so powerful. If you market a movie as a horror, moviegoers are expecting a horror movie. And they're judging it by horror standards. That kind of thing can kill a movie that may not deserve the derision it gets.

Plus, genre exists for a reason, and movies like this that dance around the outside of genre often have difficulty finding an audience. Neither H&G or Sleepy Hollow are straight horror; there are definite horror elements, but they're not really trying to scare you. Both movies have funny moments, but they're definitely not comedies. They're both going for a sort of satirical goofy tone, but they're not actually satirizing anything, so they're not parodies. Both movies irritate historical fans, since they're certainly not historically accurate - hell, I don't think H&G is even meant to take place in any particular real world historical period.

These are movies that exist on their own terms. They had a vision that had very little chance of success due to its "low-brow" tone, and went for it anyway. If you like movies that have a very clear idea of what they are and are willing to sit back and enjoy the ride, you'll probably enjoy them. If not, you may easily be frustrated by these movies' unwillingness to pick a single direction and stick with it.

H&G isn't the kind of movie that gets made very often today. It was much more prevalent during the lusher economic times of the late 80s and early to mid 90s. We actually had a fair number of movies back then that played around with genre, with varying degrees of success.

This one was the one that tried the
hardest to aim dead center between
comedic action and serious
drama. It also did the best both
critically and financially.
This one went for a mostly straight
historical drama angle. It did well
enough that I was surprised we didn't
see more like it.
This one was straight comedy. It also did
by FAR the worst. Which I don't really
understand; I actually like this movie
a lot. It's hard to tell whether the blend
of history and comedy is the problem,
or if it's just harder to sell a black
main character. Maybe both.
But none of these movies have really stayed in the public memory or become relevant to film today, and I think a big part of that is because of marketing. We're so used to these movies with hooks - how do we talk about a movie without a simple, succinct hook? What happens when we actually have to discuss it in detail in order to discuss it at all?

In today's extremely homogenous film environment, I'm glad that a movie like H&G got made. I'm extremely glad that it made money; enough to earn a sequel, anyhow. And I hope we'll see more like it.

1 comment:

  1. It's so hard to take horror movies seriously. Very rarely does a movie come along that's legitimately creepy without being overly gross. The last movie I saw that freaked me out a little was The Reaping.

    I haven't seen Hansel & Gretel yet, but I plan to. I did like Sleepy Hollow. It had a nice mixture of creep and humor.

    Ever After was awesome. I really really appreciated the different take on the story.