The ancient war between humans and a race of giants is reignited when Jack, a young farmhand fighting for a kingdom and the love of a princess, opens a gateway between the two worlds.
The story of “Jack & the Beanstalk” is one of the most fabled of all fairy tales but it’s been awhile since Hollywood tackled it and it’s never seen a production as epic as director Bryan Singer’s latest film “Jack the Giant Slayer”. But is a case of much ado about nothing? Or is it more than the sum of it’s parts? I for one wasn’t too enthused when it was first announced and the subsequent trailers did very little to make me want to shell out some hard earned cash to find out if I was wrong. Luckily for New Line cinema I have a young son who (I must assume) is the target audience for this film & he really wanted to see it…in 3D no less. So $30 dollars later (The price of a 3D ticket is absolutely outrageous nowadays), has Singer created a film I felt was worth the money?
As you already know (Seriously…someone doesn’t know this story)? Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a peasant farmer living with his uncle under the benevolent rule of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) & his daughter, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Times are hard for young Jack & his uncle so he’s been sent into the kingdom to sell their horse. While in town Jack leaves his horse (& it’s cart) unattended as he watches a play taking place inside of a tent. Among the audience is Princess Isabelle who’s wearing a cape & cowl so as not to be recognized. She wants to be able to experience life outside of the castle where she’s watched over intensely by not only her father but her husband to be, Roderick (A terrifically slimy Stanley Tucci). She wants no part of any marriage to him but she has been promised to him by her father despite the age difference between the two. Some thugs take notice of the beautiful princess & (Not recognizing her immediately) begin to harass her. Jack tries to defend her honor but is knocked to the ground and about to be pummeled when Guardian Wicke (Ewan McGregor) arrives on horseback to save both the princess & the rest of Jack’s face. In the meanwhile, we discover that Roderick has a plan to take over the kingdom & quite possibly the world using a magical crown that was designed to control a mystical race of giants that live in a land located miles above the earth. For reasons too happenstance to repeat, Jack ends up selling the horse to a monk fleeing from Roderick for a bag of magic beans. Of course his uncle is highly upset at what Jack returns with and takes the beans and tosses them to the ground, never noticing the one bean that falls through a crack in the floor. And then it rains….
The resulting beanstalk takes Jack, his home & the princess (She got lost while wandering outside of the palace and ended up at Jack’s place) up to the land where the giants dwell. King Brahmwell orders guardians Wicke, Crawe (Eddie Marsan) and a cadre of soldiers to climb the beanstalk & rescue the princess. Sensing an opportunity to set his plan into motion, Roderick accompanies them with the intention of enslaving the giants and forcing them to do his bidding. Again, all of you pretty much knows how this all ends up with Jack & company outwitting said giants and escaping down the beanstalk before chopping it down to prevent the giants from following them. But the two headed leader of the giants, General Fallon (Bill Nighy/John Kassir) finds a way for them to get to earth & begin the final war between man & giant.
The film starts slowly & threatened to lose me in the early going. Understandably this was for some character development that isn’t usually part and parcel for this type of film but I figure that everyone in attendance is already well versed with the story and the small twists featured here in the script by Darren Lemke, Dan Studney & Christopher McQuarrie aren’t original enough to warrant a wholesale retelling of the story to open the film. It feels & looks uninspired and the small audience I saw it with was visibly restless as it plodded along. Once everyone meets the giants the film livens up some and there are some pretty great vistas on display as the giants stalk (& in some cases eat) the cast one by one.
But the film really turns into something awesome during it’s last third! Once Fallon & company make landfall and lay siege to Brahmwell’s castle “Jack The Giant Killer” turns into a thrilling action/adventure with effects that really make it all feel real & genuine. The whole battle begins with Jack & the others on horseback travelling back to the castle when the giants emerge, running & screaming, from out of the woods behind them and the race is afoot. It is epic both visually & aurally and really helps to sell the whole idea of giants actually existing. The ensuing battle to get past the castle defenses is scary, funny & exciting with echoes of “The Alamo” & “Braveheart”.
I did have thoughts that it was a mistake to create the giants with CGI although they did win me over in the end. While they are extremely detailed & well voiced they still have a digital sheen to them that looks fake. I thought that they might have done better with actual humans acting as the giants instead of the digital simulacrum’s featured here though. If they can realistically shrink normal sized men into dwarfs in the “Lord Of The Rings” & “The Hobbit” films then why can’t they do the same in reverse? Either way the giants are effective and feel menacing enough to convince the younger crowd that they might just be real.
I found the cast to be solid but (Aside from McGregor, McShane & Tucci) uninspired. Hoult (Currently on the big screen in “Warm Bodies”) is bland & came off a bit cold as well. Tomlinson is lovely to look at but a bit too theatrical here, as if she was acting on a stage and not in front of a camera. Singer’s heart is definitely in the right place though and his exuberance for the material is evident throughout, sadly the script doesn’t really pick up until it’s final third. And while it’s not an especially violent film the giants do have a predilection for biting the heads off of captured humans and that might make smaller kids upset so you might want to take that into account before you take younger kids to see this.
All in all, “Jack The Giant Slayer” isn’t the worst film I’ve seen this year. I fully expected to hate it completely and came away from it fairly entertained as did my son. It starts out as a slog but wow…that final battle is really something to see! By the way, the 3D isn’t particularly special so you don’t need to spend any extra if you don’t want to. I’m not sure what audience the film is aimed at either, if you’re too young you’ll fall asleep before it kicks into overdrive & some scenes might be too disturbing as well. But it feels too corny for a teen audience as well and seeing as it’s pretty much the opening salvo in the “Summer Movie” war of 2013 that’s the audience it’s aimed at. It had a disappointing opening weekend which doesn’t bode well for it’s prospects and it really should be seen on a big screen so if you have ANY interest then see it soon!
“Jack The Giant Slayer” – 2.5 out of 5 shrouds.
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)