Ginger Snaps III: The Beginning Review
A little over five months ago, when reviewing Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, I berated it for its weak screenplay and meandering pace, giving it an overall 6 out of 10. Perhaps it's those wonderful new rose-tinted spectacles talking, but Volume 2 no longer seems half as bad after experiencing the lethargic, pseudo-historical drivel that is Ginger Snaps III: The Beginning (or Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, as the on-screen title calls it). This third instalment in the werewolf horror saga is an odd affair, since rather than continuing the story established with the first two films, or acting as a true prequel, it instead takes the two lead characters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her younger sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins), and places them in a 19th century setting. Essentially, it uses the same characters to tell a completely different story that ignores the canon of Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. While an odd idea, it could have worked if it had been handled in the right way. Sadly, producer/director Grant Harvey and screenwriters Christina Ray and Stephen Massicotte have managed to squander this perfect opportunity to enrich the already strong concept and characters.
The tale opens with Ginger and Bridgitte traversing the snowy woodlands on horseback. The horse bolts, and Bridgitte is injured in a wolf-snare. Forced to seek shelter in a nearby army outpost, they soon find that the wolves of the surrounding area are no ordinary animals, and that the resident soldiers have a number of secrets to hide. When Ginger is bitten by one of the wolves, the two girls must conceal this from their hosts, who have been ordered to kill anyone wounded by the creatures before they turn into werewolves themselves.
Director Grant Harvey previously served as second unit director on the original Ginger Snaps, as well as producing its sequel. As a result, therefore, one would have assumed that he would be extremely familiar with the concept and its own particular brand of dark humour. Sadly, Ginger Snaps III is played almost entirely straight, which is a major problem because it makes the film ripe for mockery. Those involved seem to have had absolutely no idea of how ridiculous a film they were making, with its anachronistic dialogue ("These people are fucked" observes the 19th century Ginger), unconvincing werewolves (provided by Kill Bill and Scream gore manufacturers KNB EFX) and pantomime-like military men. This results in the film coming across as silly and out of place in what has otherwise been a series that knew its limitations and was aware or the inherently camp nature of the source material. It's difficult enough to accept the idea of featuring the same characters in a different time frame, but when expected to swallow ludicrous dialogue and daft histrionics, my suspension of disbelief is completely blown.
One element which this instalment is blessed with that was missing from Unleashed is the interplay between Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Both are very talented young actors, and the relationship between Ginger and Brigitte was the lynchpin that held the original Ginger Snaps together. Plot developments at the end of the first film dictated that, in the second, Ginger's role was reduced to that of a ghost/dream figure who occasionally appeared before Brigitte to berate her, meaning that a crucial element of the concept was completely absent. In Ginger Snaps III, the two sisters' relationship, while nothing like as well-realized as in the original film, does at least provide an incentive to keep watching, and occasionally reminds us that the franchise started out as something better than what it has become. Michael Marshall's glossy cinematography, with its cold hues, deep focus and expert staging, give the film a superficial look of quality that belies the poor screenplay. Likewise, the production design by Todd Cherniawsky (a veteran of all three films in the series) results in a convincingly believable 19th century Canadian army fort, and Alex Khashkin's score is suitably rich. All of this come across as pointless, however, when one considers that all it really does is attempt to prop up a dreadful screenplay that appears to be a rather weak idea padded out to last an hour and a half.
This Canadian release presents the film in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio (the film was always intended to be a straight to video release), but without anamorphic enhancement. I'm not sure whether or not the US release, by Lions Gate, suffers from the same problem, but given that both the US and Canadian versions of Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed were anamorphic, this situation seems a little strange. The quality is reasonable, but detail is obviously reduced because of the lower available resolution. The attractive cinematography is certainly not done justice here, although there are no obvious problems with brightness or compression.
A serviceable but unremarkable Dolby Digital 5.1 English soundtrack is the primary listening option. English stereo and French 5.1 and stereo dubs are also provided. There are no subtitles at all on this disc - pressing the "subtitle" button on a DVD remote would seem to suggest that French subtitles should be present, but the stream is blank.
A fairly lavish array of bonus materials are provided, starting with a Commentary featuring producer/director Grant Harvey, editor Ken Filewych and co-writer Stephen Massicotte. The three speakers are all lucid enough and do a decent job of explaining many of the choices they made in the movie, but one gets the impression that their opinions of the film do not match its quality.
Three Deleted scenes are up next, all with optional commentary by Harvey. In actual fact, all of these are extensions of scenes that remain in the finished cut, including a much longer version of the dinner scene. While none of them would have hurt the movie (any more) had they been included, it is fairly obvious that they were not particularly necessary.
Grant Harvey's video diary is a 10-minute feature charting various stages of the production process, beginning with the mad rush in the days before production began and continuing into principal photogaphy.
A multitude of featurettes are also included, but none of them are particularly lengthy or go into much depth. Fun on set is, as its title suggests, a montage of clips of various actors and crew members goofing around for the camera, while the other featurettes focus on Costum design, the creation of the make-up for Wolfboy, Blood & guts & fire and Production designs respectively. A Photo slide show is also included, featuring various behind the scenes and promotional shots, as well as the rather effective Theatrical trailer.
It seems to me that the time to bury this franchise is long past. What started out as a clever horror/black comedy is now a shambolic mess, and rumours of a proposed TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer style (this from the mouth of Emily Perkins herself), fill me with dread. The original Ginger Snaps stood out as an answer to Hollywood and its many banal horror franchises, but the series has now come to stand for the very thing that it set out to oppose. If you are still interested in seeing this film, it might be worth waiting to see if it is released elsewhere with an anamorphic transfer, because the decision to hold back on the 16x9 enhancement for this release is baffling and annoying to say the least.