The latest adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Witches dropped today on HBO Max. PHOTOGRAPH: DANIEL SMITH/WARNER BROS. PICTURES
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The film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book of the same name “The Witches”  released exclusively on HBO Max on Oct. 22, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Jahzir Burno, Anne Hathaway, and Octavia Spencer. “The Witches” is about the adventures of a young boy trying to save all children in England from the evil witches. Although “The Witches” is a remake of the original version released in 1990 and based on Dahl’s novel, it fails to bring chills to the audience, also none new renovations are added from the previous vision, the aftermath shows “The Witches” has left little to none impression on the audience after watching.  

“The Witches” is a dark fantasy comedy film, full of silliness, playfulness, but also touches on dark humor and horrifying scenes. The story begins with a flash-forward of the older version of the Boy (Jahzir Burno) giving a presentation to children about his story encountering the magical evil creatures. After the death of his parents, the Boy moves in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer), who has a loving and caring personality, and soon after heals from the grief. The first half of the movie was rich and delightful, almost making the audience forget that they are watching a scary movie. But, like every other children’s tale, the good times don’t last forever. 

In their magical world, witches are real, they hate children, and their ultimate goal is for every child to be rubbed out and squashed. Soon, the Boy faces a witch in the grocery store, who tries to tempt him to kiss her snake. Luckily, Grandma appears and saves him. After the encounter, Grandma decides to escape to a hotel to protect the Boy. Coincidently, the annual meeting of the witches from all over the world was being held at the same hotel.

The nightmare begins when The Boy discovers the Grand High Witch’s (Anne Hathway) plan to get rid of all the children by turning them into a mouse with her magic potion. With the help of grandma and the two other mice, who were children before, the Boy tries to save the children and stop the witches’ evil plan.

The most frightening scene is when the Grand High Witch and her minions gather ironically for their annual “International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Children.” In the 1990’s version, the scary scene took over the childishness and haunted the children back then. With the much-advanced technologies, the CGI is expected to be higher in quality and be more realistic. However, Zemeckis decides to take a different approach in presenting his witches, by making them look kids-friendly at first instead of the typical hideous look that would haunt your nightmares. 

The scene where the witches reveal their true form with enormous nostrils, wide-opened mouths, long claws, and ugly toes is supposed to be the highlight of the movie, but it turns out to be poorly animated and cartoonish. Compared to the 1990’s version, the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) transformed into a totally different creature, unhuman-like and disturbing, the other witches were also hideous and sinister looking. Despite Hathaway’s character, the minion witches didn’t frighten the audience, which breaks down the uncanny atmosphere. 

Director Zemeckis, and screenplay writer Guillermo del Toro, touches on many social issues in modern aspects in the movie. By changing the setting from England to Alabama, changing the racial orientation of the protagonists, and the Grand High Witch is now a white European woman with a heavy German accent, the producers want to show the differences between races and social classes. 

In Dahl’s books, he tends to discuss issues with a sense of humor; the witches’ morality was being questioned because they gained happiness from torturing children. Rather than embracing the morality aspect of Dahl’s novel, Zemeckis centers the attention on magical power. The audience may find it hard to determine the theme of the movie whether it is a clash of racial differences or differences in socio-economic class structure? Overall, adding on the already existing theme Dahl had from the book, many ideas of the producers made a movie with unclear focus. 

Although “The Witches” had two amazing Oscar-winning actresses, Hathaway and Spencer with astonishing performances, the rest of the cast appears to be vaguely structured with a lack of personalities due to the excessive amount of comic effects and overall silly tone of the story. For instance, when the Boy was first introduced to the audience, he was monotonous, mindful, and quiet. But after he was turned into a mouse, he accepts his new form, becomes adventurous, and ambitious, with no resemblance to the character previously introduced. 

Another factor that makes the audience roll their eyes is the unnecessary voice-over narration by Chris Rock. A narrator might be crucial to a children’s book but in “The Witches”, Rock did nothing but to tell something the audience already knows. When the Boy discovered he was stuck in a room with witches, based on the descriptions of witches Grandma gave earlier, both the Boy and the audience were able to connect the two. When the narrator said it out loud, it broke the eerie atmosphere and made the scene awkward. 

“The Witches” was one of the highly anticipated movies this year. It’s based on the all-time favorite author Dahl’s novel and the remake of its highly successful predecessor from 1990. The movie is also produced by well-known director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, The Polar Express, etc), and screenplay writer Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water, Hellboy, etc). However, after watching the movie, the spell producers cast on the audience didn’t seem to work well. 

4 out of 10 — poor CGI and uncanny concepts had failed to bring a focus to the film, leaving no memorable points for the audience.

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