THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"RED RIDING HOOD"
"Red Riding Hood" was always one of the more disturbing fairy tales to me. The whole thing is about a wolf trying to eat a girl, and the story is open to myriad thematic interpretations, from the basic to the complex. Actually, a lot of classic fairy tales have a decidedly adult quality to them, which is why occasionally Hollywood gives us a "mature" retelling of one. The most recent was Red Riding Hood, which comes to Blu-Ray on June 14 in its original theatrical cut, as well as an alternate cut containing footage not seen in theaters.
Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a young villager in the town of Daggerhorn. Valerie's parents (Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke) are forcing her into an arranged marriage with Henry (Max Irons), although her heart belongs to a poor woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). A plan to run away with Peter is interrupted when a werewolf, who comes to the village every full moon, ignores the animal sacrifice typically left for it and chomps on a human instead. Daggerhorn suddenly goes into a panic. Noted werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) is called in to kill the beast. He puts forth the shocking idea that the werewolf hides within the community as one of its residents, taking the form of a human during times when the moon is not full. Valerie, it turns out, may be in a position to help locate the culprit, given that the wolf seems to have a particular interest in her.
Red Riding Hood was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, a filmmaker who I think has a great deal of unrealized potential. Her stronger films (Thirteen, the underrated Lords of Dogtown) display a willingness to explore the inner lives of edgy young people. Her lesser efforts (The Nativity Story and that movie about the sparkly vampire) at least show off a strong visual style and an ability to generate mood. These qualities are fully on display in RRH too. Hardwicke uses camera technique, editing, and music to create a gloomy atmosphere befitting a fairy tale about the fear of death by wolf ingestion.
Amanda Seyfried was a good choice for the title role. With her long blonde hair, full lips, and doe eyes, Seyfried, in all her films, projects an unlikely mixture of innocence and sensuality. You're never quite sure if the wolf is after her for sexual reasons or if he's just tormenting her before eating her. Then you've got Gary Oldman as a werewolf hunter. How can you go wrong with that? The actor seems to know he's in a pseudo-campy movie, so he obliges with an amusingly over-the-top performance.
Those things I liked; for me, they made Red Riding Hood a decent-enough home video watch. But there are some flaws that prevent it from fully becoming the kind of hip, gritty adult fairy tale it seems like it wants to be. One problem is that you probably won't have much difficulty figuring out who the wolf is, for two reasons: 1.) It's kind of a cliché; and 2.) the performer in question invests the character with a shady look at me! quality you couldn't miss if you were blind. I'm surprised it took the citizens of Daggerhorn as long as it did to solve the mystery. In one scene, they are all herded into the yard of a church, since the werewolf can't enter holy ground. You'd think they would simply look around to see who's missing. They don't.
I also didn't care for the whole Twilight-ization of the story. The love triangle between Valerie, Henry, and Peter is just a watered down version of the already-dopey Bella/Edward/Jacob thing. You can kind of tell that Hardwicke wanted to appeal to the same crowd that made her previous film a box office smash. The romantic melodrama simply isn't as interesting as the wolf/girl thing.
Red Riding Hood has some things going in its favor, and it held my attention. But it also could have been a lot more memorable than it ultimately ends up being. Final word: mildly diverting and worth a look if you're curious, but don't expect to be blown away.
( 1/2 out of four)
Red Riding Hood will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray Combo Pack on June 14. The Blu-Ray includes an alternate cut featuring footage not seen in theaters. It will also be for rent on demand via digital cable, satellite TV, and IPTV. You can purchase it for permanent download or rented through iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles.
The bonus features are extensive and impressively assembled, no matter what you think about the main feature. They begin with "Secrets Behind the Red Cloak," a picture-in-picture visual commentary that reunites Hardwicke, Seyfried, Fernandez, and Irons. They discuss the making of the film and engage in genial banter.
"Reinvention of Red Riding Hood" is a five-minute segment in which the filmmakers discuss the rather interesting origins of the fairy tale, as well as their strategy in updating it for the big screen. Additional sections of behind-the-scenes material focus on the casting of Irons and Fernandez (geared toward young, swooning female viewers), the creation of the CGI wolf, and the making of the film's instrumental score. On a related note, there are two music videos tied into the movie.
In another section of the bonus material, you'll find casting audition tapes of the two male leads, plus several cuts of rehearsal footage for some of the story's more intricate scenes (the wolf attack, a festival, and a dance). A gag reel is surprisingly amusing, although the small selection of deleted scenes don't add a whole lot beyond giving some exposition about Valerie's sister, a minor character in the story. The remaining two bonus features are kind of odd. "Red Riding Hood in 73 Seconds" shows you the movie on fast-forward, with occasional pauses for a brief line of dialogue. I'm not sure why they'd want to emphasize the fact that you can save yourself 99 minutes and still follow the entire plot, but whatever. Then there's an Easter Egg in which a guy in a wolf costume auditions for Hamlet.
As for the alternate cut, the most notable change is in the ending. A brief, not-particularly-graphic sex scene has been added. The final image of the movie has also been changed to throw in one final plot twist; since that particular twist has, in one form or another, been done in dozens of other pictures, I think it's safe to say that the theatrical ending is preferable.
Red Riding Hood is rated PG-13 for some strong sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.