We’ve had another coronavirus-related change to Hollywood’s schedule, but this one is resulting in the immediate release of a big new film. Robert Zemeckis‘ The Witches – a reimagining of the Roald Dahl book that was previously scheduled for a 2020 theatrical release – will now go directly to HBO Max later this month. On top of that, the first trailer has been released, too.
The film will be available on the nascent streaming service Thursday, October 22. The film follows a young boy who stumbles upon a secret coven of witches while vacationing with his grandmother, with whom he must work to stop their evil plan to turn the world’s children into mice.
You may remember Nicolas Roeg‘s 1990 adaptation, which starred Anjelica Huston in nightmare-inducing makeup. This new version has a few differences, including the setting being altered to 1960s Alabama, while the young boy and his grandmother are now Black. Octavia Spencer plays the grandmother, with Anne Hathaway playing the Grand High Witch and Stanley Tucci as hotel manager Mr. Stringer.
However, judging by the trailer above, there might be a reason The Witches is skipping its theatrical release. It’s garish and sort of Disney-fied with a lot of actors, but especially Hathaway, chewing as much scenery as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean the film is bad, but there’s definitely a possibility this could be a trainwreck Warner Bros. was happy to dump on a streaming platform.
If that is indeed the case, it would unfortunately be par for the course for Zemeckis’ later career. After helming Americana classics such as Back To The Future and Forrest Gump, he toiled in wonky CGI for much of the 2000s before making the absurd and maligned Welcome To Marwen a few years ago. The Witches could be the latest in Zemeckis’ weird career of CGI-heavy experiments.
Still, there’s some hope. For example, Zemeckis has written the film alongside Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro. Alfonso Cuaron is also on board as a producer. And while this is obviously a far more family-friendly film than its 90s predecessor, that doesn’t mean it can’t be spooky fun right in time for a socially-distanced Halloween.
The film also stars Chris Rock as the narrator – which makes the trailer feel like a bizarro Everybody Hates Chris episode – newcomer Jahzir Bruno as the young boy, as well as Kristen Chenowith. We’ll see how well The Witches is received when it arrives in a few weeks. At least it’s not going to cost anyone an extra $30 á la Mulan.