Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE WITCHES (2020 remake, HBO MAX)

I know the exact moment I uttered “Stick to the original” while watching the new Roald Dahl’s The Witches remake. It was about 30 minutes in when Anne Hathaway opened her mouth to speak for the first time and she was too over-the-top and sounded like Russian Borat. I know the exact moment I moaned “oh…no…” twice, once when it showed how jarringly awful the CGI animals and rodents looked and then when the witches reveal themselves for the first time in their overabundance of CGI glory and none of the practical effects from the 1990 classic. But…at least it wasn’t as offensive to me as watching the Rebecca remake that debuted on Netflix yesterday, certainly making everybody involved in that 1940 classic rolling over in their graves, Hitchcock probably a dozen times on repeat. Still, there are plenty of eye rolls to be had in this forgettable adaptation. This remake was originally supposed to come out this holiday season in theaters before being delayed to April 2021, but then HBO Max just last month, since they really don’t have that many original movies or new content in general, surprised announced that they were dumping it onto their streaming platform today so families could enjoy something in the comfort of their own homes. But again, why are we even remaking a film that is considered a classic by many in the first place? This film is completely unnecessary. And why did they get Robert Zemeckis to direct it? He adds literally none of his stylistic visual flare to this movie (it’s so standard point and shoot anyone could’ve directed it), and instead puts together a film that feels like it is just Tim Burton doing the same monotonous remake/adaptation crap on autopilot. Unfortunately this movie just proves my theory…that everything that was supposed to be released in theaters during the pandemic, if put on a streaming service for no extra charge (or an overcharge in the case of Mulan), is a giant waste of space and the studio didn’t have any confidence in the movie in the first place. I want to coin a two or three word phrase that explains exactly what I just said without having to spell it out in a run-on sentence everytime…maybe P.M.F? Pandemic Movie Formula.

Instead of candy that Hathaway and her coven offer to children in this movie, you’ll instead be craving three things by the end credits: 1. Angelica Huston 2. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Special Effects 3. The witches claws coming through your television screen, gouging your eyes out so you don’t have to ever endure watching this again. Almost forgot to give IMDB’s description of the film in case those of you living in your dumb pandemic bubbles have never heard of any iterations of this story: “Based on Roald Dahl’s 1983 classic book ‘The Witches’, the story tells the scary, funny and imaginative tale set in 1960s Alabama, an orphaned young boy stumbles across a conference of witches, while staying with his grandmother at a hotel, and gets transformed into a mouse by the Grand High Witch.” The descriptive words scary, funny, and imaginative I would use to describe the original novel (which I’ve read) and the 1990 film (which I’ve seen), but not this film. The three words I would use to describe are unimaginative, unnecessary, and uninspired. This is just another almost shot by shot remake with a couple of added things here and there to make it a small piece of cheese crumb worth of a difference. Roald Dahl has famously said that he doesn’t like the 1990 version of the film because they completely botch his darker and more bittersweet book ending (which they did, I’m not going to lie). One of the differences here is yet again the ending, but I don’t think Roald Dahl would be pleased with this one either. In fact, he’d probably would think it’s worse than 30 years ago. After watching the movie I’ve read a couple of the reviews of major well known critics and they keep repeating one after the other that this movie is too dark and scary for children. Pfffft, this wasn’t even close. The novel and 1990 film easily tell this film to hold their beers. This was laughably silly, and not in a fun or charming way either.

Another one of the differences from this adaptation to the rest is a race switch of the young boy and his grandmother (white to black), which explains why Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has a screenplay credit. But if you are going to do that, which I didn’t mind (in fact it’s the only part of this remake that works, I enjoyed the young actor and Octavia Spencer’s performances), why not have also something to say with it…even subtly, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT TAKES PLACE IN 1960s ALABAMA!!! But there are absolutely no racial identity messages in this and the movie has absolutely nothing to say about racism and how bad it is. This is where the movie could’ve stood out from the rest of the pack! If you are going to do a remake to something and hire someone like Kenya Barris to co-write the damn screenplay…YOU. MAKE. IT. DIFFERENT. ENOUGH. TO. REMEMBER. I’m not saying to bonk the audience on the head with “DO YOU GET IT?!” racial morals every five seconds, but I mean you got the creator of Black-ish to do a draft, where he created and once was the show runner to a television comedy, that in its prime, was filled with racial wit and subtlety (I’ve only seen a couple of early episodes). But no, it seems like he just re-wrote some of the dialogue and that’s about it. And how the fuck did Guillermo Del Toro get a screenplay credit in this? I’m betting he was simply attached to direct at some point, stepped down, and was just given a credit for his two second involvement before the production started filming. The third and last screenplay credit goes to director Robert Zemeckis himself, and based on his dull directing here, probably took the dull way out screenplay wise as well and just had a copy of the book and of the first adaptation’s screenplay and copied it almost word for word.

I hate to repeat another conclusive paragraph with another “I told you so” statement, but yet, my reviews wouldn’t be zany if I didn’t. Remakes, especially of classics or other beloved films, DO…NOT…WORK. Not only do they not work, they are unnecessary and the studios’ obvious cash grab intentions are exposed in direct sunlight. They already don’t look good right now, keep on keepin’ on delaying major theatrical releases, saying that their true intentions are to release them when they are “safe,” when we all fucking know that it’s because they are greedy and selfish. (**RANT WARNING** Someone needs to get it into their heads that if they keep delaying the releases, that there won’t be any theaters left to play their movies on when the dust settles. WE HAVE GOT TO START LIVING OUR LIVES, ALBEIT SAFELY. We can do it. It’s called compromise. At some point some movie, a more established franchise or series, MUST BE THE GUINEA PIG to see how they can get butts back in seats. It couldn’t be Tenet, an original film that makes modern movie audiences scratch their heads because they are too fucking on the spectrum to follow along. It’s gotta be something simple and easy going such as Wonder Woman or James Bond or Black Widow or Ghostbusters 3. ADAPT OR DIE movie studios, ADAPT OR DIE. **END OF RANT**) Instead these studios, letting some of their flicks go direct to streaming, avoiding theaters and thinking that they are doing us all a favor watching it at home…what they are really doing is just slapping us in the face even harder because their movies are mediocre or abysmal. But to try and bewitch us and “surprise” release forgettable, inferior REMAKES of all things, is more of a sledgehammer to the face than it is a hard slap.

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