Red Riding Hood
The out-of-nowhere success last spring of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (over a $1 billion in worldwide box office receipts) led to a mad rush of studios putting their own reinterpretations of classic fairy tales into production. Right now there are two versions of Snow White in preproduction from competing studios, with other Grimm’s tales being considered as well. Beating all these projects to the punch to attempt to ride the cash-in gravy train is Warner’s Red Riding Hood. Directed by Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke, Riding Hood was released this past spring and aimed to capture much of the same audience that religiously follows the teen vampire franchise. Unfortunately for those involved its critical and commercial reception was rather tepid, leaving this reinterpretation of the folk favourite lost in the woods.
The secluded village of Daggerhorn, which sits on the edge of a dark fairy tale wood, would be an ideal place to live were it not for its small werewolf problem. For generations the town has been besieged by a bloodthirsty supernatural predator. Despite the specter of the werewolf that hangs over the village whenever the moon is full, and the animal sacrifices used to keep the wolf satiated, the residents of Daggerhorn seem to make out alright.
In Daggerhorn, the nubile Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is betrothed to the son of the wealthiest man in the village, Henry (Max Irons). She’s not enthusiastic about the betrothal since she’s in love with the humble woodcutter, Peter (Shilosh Fernandez), and has been since they were children. Valerie’s mother Suzette (Virginia Madesn) had entered into an arranged marriage with Valerie’s father (Billy Burke), also a woodcutter, and sees “marrying up” as the only way for Valerie to have a hope for better life. In preparation for her wedding, Valerie’s folksy, forest-dwelling Grandmother (Julie Christie) has made her a flowing hooded red cape. Her idyllic existence is changed forever the day her sister is slain by the werewolf. In response, the town priest, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), summons Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a renowned wolf slayer, to deal with the beast. Unwilling to wait, the men of the town go out to hunt the wolf. The posse tracks and kills a large wolf, but not before it puts the bite on Henry’s father in the worst way.
When Solomon arrives, he clues the villagers in on what the score really is. Seeing that the wolf’s head trophy hasn’t reverted to its human form, the large wolf they killed was clearly not the one responsible for the loss of life and livestock in Daggerhorn. Reminiscent of The Thing, every resident of the village is now a suspect. During the week of the “blood moon” is the only time a werewolf bite will turn its victim into a werewolf. Just so happens that Solomon’s arrival coincides with the beginning of the blood moon. The village is sealed off for the duration and, despite being under the auspices of the church, the town holds a pagan flavoured, orgy-like feast. During the feast, Valerie tries to make Peter jealous with her bisexual grinding and Peter and Henry mix it up. Valerie and Peter steal away from the festivities for some firelit, but still safely PG-13 rated, making out before being interrupted as the wolf attacks the festival goers. Val is cornered by the beast and she finds out that she is able to psychically communicate with the wolf. It reveals to her its plan to return and turn Val into a wolf as well.
The town imbecile is apprehended on suspicion of wolfery and his sister Roxanne (Shauna Kain) goes to Solomon to barter for his release. When her first offer of money and the use of her body as payment is rejected, she accuses Valerie of being a witch. Valerie is apprehended along with her father and questioned by Solomon. She reveals what the wolf said to her, that he would spare the village if she left with it, so Solomon decides to user her as bait to lure and kill the wolf. A mask is put on Valerie (which is supposed to be a pig’s face, I think, but looks more like an aardvark to me) and she’s tied up in the town square. What she lures is her two blue-balled suitors who pretty much torch the entire town to free her. Their escape plan doesn’t quite go as intended and soon Valerie finds herself on the way to Grandmother’s house, to confront the wolf and find out the secret of its identity.
All of this overcomplicated silliness is set against a backdrop of hazy, dreamlike visuals. Where director Catherine Hardwicke brought steely iciness to the first film in the Twilight franchise, here she and director of photography Mandy Walker (who also shot Baz Luhrmann’s gorgeous Australia) go in the opposite direction: Red Riding Hood is awash in lush, saturated colors. Even when the scenery is predominantly snow-capped mountaintops, she uses Valerie’s distinctive cloak (which seems able to shift in length for greatest impact) as a contrast. The result is a film that is always visually dynamic and arresting. The painterly design of the cinematography actually makes the cut-rate CGI easier to accept. Since the entire film is covered in a layer of artifice the blatant artificiality of the aerial shots of the town, for instance, aren’t as jarring as they would be in a film more grounded in reality.
The idea of reinterpreting the fairy tale of Little Red Cap (or more commonly known as Little Red Riding Hood) as metaphor for a young girl’s sexual awakening by tapping into the sexual undertones inherent in pre-Grimm version of the story was a good idea… when it was done by Neil Jordan in 1985. Red Riding Hood tries to mine a lot of the same ground as In the Company of Wolves but the PG-13, teenybopper lens it filters everything through means it’s not able to deal with neither the horrific elements nor the sexual aspects in a satisfying way. Even the whodunit plot, which comprises the majority of the running time, is slim and underdeveloped. Red Riding Hood doesn’t do nearly as good a job of shifting suspicion between red herrings as The Thing, or even Scream, did. The end result is an occasionally interesting but mostly unfocused movie.
What’s more disappointing is that story is framed largely as your typical class conflict, straight out of Titanic. You have the overbearing mother who is pushing her daughter to marry into a higher caste, despite the fact that she’s in love with a ruggedly handsome, but penniless commoner. The whole movie feels a little too calculated to appeal to teen girls, with allusions or references to Titanic, Twilight and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland hitting all the bases in hopes of catching the same audiences. Yet, when you see Valerie bumping and grinding with another girl in hopes of making Peter jealous, I get the feeling that Catherine Hardwicke has more to say about teen sexuality and gender politics than the tried and true story template of her story will allow her to explore.
If the film doesn’t work, you can’t fault leads Amanda Seyfried or Gary Oldman. Oldman chews the scenery so hard there must’ve been someone standing just off camera ready to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre at a second’s notice. Seyfried is just about perfect in the female lead: with her heaving bosom, breathy voice, dewy eyes and perpetually pouting, bee-stung lips she’s pretty much female libido incarnate. Julie Christie shows what a great actress can do with next to nothing, and hints at story direction that would have worked as both a nod to the original fable and as an interesting plot thread in and of itself. Less successful is Virginia Madsen, well-cast (Madsen herself comments on the resemblance in the special features) as Seyfried’s mother but given little to do, and Billy Burke plays almost exactly the same role he does in the Twilight films: the main heroine’s monosyllabic father.
The AVC transfer does the carefully crafted visuals justice. Valerie’s red cloak is often contrasted against the snowy backdrops and because of the soft filter often employed the result is very occasional slight bleeding of the red. There are a lot of dimly lit scenes, and high a grain level is maintained throughout, but detail rarely suffers. Not surprising, since this is a new film, but the source material is virtually flawless and never suffers from distracting compression issues. This is a fine looking transfer of a visually stunning movie.
The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track is filled with atmospheric effects. Along with the expected echoing wolf howls and snarls, there are a lot of moody ambient noises. Dialogue, score and sound effects are generally well balanced though in a couple of brief moments, all three are laid on a bit too thick and the track turns to aural mud (during the
Red Riding Hood didn’t exactly set the box office alight, so it’s surprising to see that the Blu-ray is pretty loaded with special features. The features, like the film itself, constitute a mixed bag.
The main feature is presented in two versions: the theatrical cut and a slightly extended, alternate cut. Both versions are rated PG-13, and the difference between the two is a mere 34 seconds of slightly lustier lovemaking and a new final shot that ads a minor twist (it also makes Valerie’s final narration the ending make ever so slightly more sense). The alternate cut is minutely better but both versions are essentially the same film.
The major centerpiece of the supplemental features is Secrets Behind the Red Cloak, a feature-length, picture-in-picture commentary featuring Catherine Hardwicke and stars Amanda Seyfried, Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez. If you’ve watched a Warner Blu-ray with the In Movie Experience, you’ll be familiar with the interface. Secrets is only available on the theatrical version of the film, so if you’re hoping for insight into the changes made between the theatrical and alternate cuts, you’re SOL.
From the pop up menu, you can access the Behind the Story features, a collection of short, behind-the-scenes vignettes.
The Reinvention of Red Riding Hood (5:25) presents a bit of historical background on the classic fable and compares the different versions of the story with the film. It’s nice that they touch on this subject, but they don’t go very deep and spend a bit too much time patting themselves on the back for how clever their reinterpretation is.
Red’s Men (3:18) is clearly aimed at the film’s tween/teenage audience and is really nothing more than a Teen Beat photo spread in video form. If you talk in text-speak and have ever been heard to say “OMG, Edward is soooo hot,” then you’ll probably eat this up. Otherwise, skip it.
In Red Riding Hood: The Making of the Score (10:59) music supervisor & co-composer Brian Reitzell, co-composer Alex Heffes and Catherine Hardwicke talk about the concept for the sound design. This potentially interesting feature doesn’t come off as well as intended. Unforgivably, at one point Hardwicke’s cell starts ringing while Heffes is speaking and, oddly, this feature about how minutely the sound design was crafted is plagued by a faint, and utterly annoying, clicking noise while the participants speak.
Before the Fur…Making the CGI Wolf (0:40) is a quick breakdown of a single shot during the second wolf attack. Been there, done that about a billion times by now.
Constituting a failed attempt at a joke, Red Riding Hood in 73 Seconds (1:28) is just the film on fast forward with the occasional stop on a few random scenes. I don’t doubt, however, that this will be many people’s preferred way to watch Red Riding Hood.
The Casting Tapes section contains audition footage for Shiloh Fernandez (5:30), Max Irons (1:22) and then 31 seconds of the pair screen testing together. These clips are exactly what you would expect and are for fans of the actors only.
There are also clips of rehearsals for The Dance (1:46), The Festival (0:55) and The Wolf Attack (3:11). About as interesting as the audition footage, but could help you win a bet with a friend who doesn’t think the pagan festival scene could look more ridiculous than it does in the movie. Oh, and given her wardrobe in these scenes, I’m convinced Seyfried would look hot wearing anything.
Four deleted scenes (running an aggregate 4:18) add a few brief character moments but don’t contribute to overall the story, except for establishing Roxanne’s brother at the beginning of the film which is helpful, but not essential.
There’s also another one of those dreadful Gag Reel (2:37) that studios seem convinced we love so much. When it comes to gag reels for Amanda Seyfried movies, well, that joke writes itself.
Lastly are a couple of music videos. The first is for the song The Wolf (2:20) by Fever Ray, a band I’d never heard of and, hopefully, never will again. The second is Just a Fragment of You (3:07) by Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Reitzel. The videos aren’t music videos in the traditional sense, but sizzle reels set to music. Boring.
Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood borrows from many classic wolf-inspired tales: Little Red Cap, The Wolf and the Seven Children and even the Russian opera Peter and the Wolf. Despite this impressive pedigree, however, the film itself is a mutt. It’s choppy and unfocused and leaves its best ideas wholly unexplored in favor of shopworn plot conceits. One thing I never found it to be, however, was boring. Even when I was just appreciating the visuals there was always something on the screen to hold my attention, even if it wasn’t holding it in a vise-like grip. I can’t recommend the film as anything beyond a visual experience, and even then it’s the slightest of recommends. If you’re looking for a modern reinterpretation of the classic tale, your time would be better spent watching In the Company of Wolves again (and if you haven’t seen it, then go see it right now!).
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
One of the few horror movies I couldn't finish due to boredom.
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