Warner Bros. // 2011 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 14th, 2011
The tale of Red Riding Hood is a strange little beast. On one level it's a totally absurd story, I mean who could possibly mistake a wolf for their grandmother? And what's with the variations where the woodsman gets eaten by the wolf and then cuts his way out? It never made any sense to me. On another level the story is a good cautionary tale for keeping young children from wandering around on their own. More recently the story has taken a feminist turn and been made into an empowering story of a young woman standing up for herself against the big bad wolf. For Red Riding Hood, the story is really a backdrop for a romance-mystery, with only a few hints of the original tale for sharp-eyed fans to catch. Those looking for an update of the traditional tale for the twenty-first century will likely be disappointed, while those looking for a period romance mashed up with a murder mystery might find a bit more to love. Fans get slightly more with Red Riding Hood (Blu-ray) Alternate Cut.
Valerie (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) lives in a medieval village that is plagued by a werewolf, but she has bigger problems. She's in love with orphan woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, Deadgirl), but betrothed to the wealthy Henry (Max Irons, Dorian Gray). When the werewolf kills Valerie's older sister, the town calls in Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, The Professional) to deal with the werewolf. He tells the village that the wolf takes human form, and as the bodies pile up everyone becomes a suspect, including Valerie, who has a special connection to the wolf.
I did not enjoy a single frame of Twilight (and I doubt I was supposed to, being as far outside of the target demographic as it is possible to be), but whatever its faults, Red Riding Hood is seriously pretty to look at. I didn't get any whiff of distinction from Twilight, but Red Riding Hood is positively brimming with interesting images. The whole village setting is well conceived, and then director Catherine Hardwicke consistently chooses interesting images within it. Given the central role color plays in the title, it's no surprise that Hardwicke utilizes color effectively throughout the film, especially with the infamous hood. Even when I was not completely immersed in the overlong drama of the film, I was never less than fascinated by the visual style.
In addition to effective cinematography, Hardwicke seems to know how to cast. Getting Gary Oldman for Father Solomon was a bit of a coup, and his performance here does an excellent job riding the line between his most sincere work and his sometimes over-the-top roles. He takes the role of Father Solomon seriously, which makes me take the whole movie a little more seriously as well. Amanda Seyfried is similarly well cast as Valerie. She brings a smart, contemporary feel to the period piece without seeming out of place. It certainly doesn't hurt that she also fills out the red riding hood for some of her steamy scenes with Peter. Not all of the cast is up to the level of Oldman and Seyfried, but with stars like Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Virginia Madsen, and Billy Burke, the acting is consistent enough to keep the material from dragging.
Although I'm sure the film is partially being sold on the basis of the love triangle, it's not nearly as strong an element as the murder mystery at the center of the film. The fact that the werewolf is a human, and one who lives in this isolated village provides the film with some much needed tension. The fact that Father Solomon and his men act as inquisitors gives a kind of witch hunt vibe, and opens the film up to having some actual dramatic themes rather than just another love story. I found the mystery pretty satisfying. There are lots of red herrings and the question lasts up until the final scenes, but it's wrapped up in a fairly satisfying way by the end.
On Blu-ray, Red Riding Hood looks stunning. Hardwicke's elaborate visual design is well supported by an AVC transfer with near-perfect detail, beautiful color saturation, and black levels that sumptuously deep. There are some moments where noise enters the frame (like some of the wider shots in the opening), but overall this is a very strong transfer. The DTS-HD track is similarly strong. Most of it remains up front for the dialogue-driven scenes, but when the werewolf mayhem begins the low end and surrounds ramp up. The track may even be too clear at points, showing the seams when some of the dialogue sounds like it was looped.
Extras start with an "alternate cut" of the film (exclusive to Blu-ray) that seems to be only a minute longer and is largely the result of a slightly altered concluding scene. Then we get a truly weird picture-in-picture commentary that intersperses behind-the-scenes material (like storyboards and concept sketches) with commentary from Hardwicke, Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandex, and Max Irons. Their comments are awkward and do very little to illuminate the film or how it was made. After that come seven slightly more informative featurettes that cover everything from casting, the effects, the adaptation of the original story, and "Red Riding Hood in 73 Seconds." Four minutes of deleted scenes and a 3-minute gag reel followed, along with some music videos. Finally, there's a second disc that includes DVD and digital copies of the film.
Red Riding Hood isn't much of a Red Riding Hood story. The cloak plays no great part in the story, nor does a trip through the woods, and only the occasional reference (like "What big eyes you have, Grandmother") hints at the tale's origins. The whole love triangle feels totally underbaked and tacked on to give the film a Edward/Jacob kind of rivalry that the rest of the film just can't support. Although I was intrigued by the murder mystery aspects of the film, they're really nothing new, and the film takes way too long to reach its conclusion, however satisfying it may be.
Red Riding Hood is a truly mixed experience. As a period murder mystery, it works pretty well thanks to Hardwicke's excellent eye and her cast's commitment to the material. However, it's still too long by 20 minutes and its romantic element flounders completely. The Blu-ray offers amazing picture and sound, but the extras feel a bit slim.
I wouldn't want to be alone in the woods with it for a night, but Red Riding Hood is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Cut
* Video Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Music Videos
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy