February 28, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Jack the Giant Slayer

FANTASY/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-03-01

Running Length:

1:54

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy

Director:

Bryan Singer

Screenplay:

Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney

Cinematography:

Newton Thomas Sigel

Music:

John Ottman

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Jack the Giant Slayer is an enjoyable fantasy/adventure whose magic is partially undermined by marginal 3-D. Once again, the ugliest aspects of this format rear their heads: dim and fuzzy images, lackluster colors, and poor definition. Everything is bland and "soft" and the occasional pop that 3-D can offer is largely missing. The 3-D presents minimal benefit while diminishing the film's visual attributes. It's difficult to comment on the special effects work because it is frequently undermined by the 3-D. As with far too many productions subjected to unnecessary 3-D, 2-D is the way to go.

From time-to-time, Hollywood becomes obsessed with trends. For a while, it was new adaptations of Shakespeare. Then it was a rush of Jane Austen-inspired films. Now it appears there's an infatuation of re-imagining fables/folklore as fantasy adventures. Jack and the Giant Slayer, a re-telling of "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giantkiller," follows in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman, and other movies seeking to bring a more adult spin to tales associated with childhood.

Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, a hapless farm boy who comes into possession of a pouch of magic seeds and inadvertently grows a gargantuan beanstalk the pierces the clouds and extends all the way up to a sky world populated by giants. While it's unclear what these creatures eat on a regular basis, they view humans as a delicacy. When the beanstalk grows, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the heir to the realm of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), is in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is caught in the vines and carried into the sky. Jack, along with the princess' protectors, Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Crawe (Eddie Marsan), and her would-be groom, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), head off in pursuit. Unfortunately, Roderick has an agenda that doesn't involve rescuing Isabelle. He bears with him a legendary crown that imparts control over the giants to the wearer and, upon reaching the top of the beanstalk, he immediately subjugates the fearsome General Fallon (Bill Nighy) and hundreds of his minions. Roderick then plots a return to the world below and a takeover of all the human kingdoms. While he's enjoying his power trip, Jack locates and frees the trapped Isabelle.

Although most of the story follows a predictable trajectory, there are a few surprises along the way. The giants, especially the vicious General Fallon, are suitably menacing (except the few that are intended as comic relief). Jack follows his expected character arc from clueless farm boy to hero. Isabelle is a fetching sidekick/love interest. The CGI-heavy battle scenes, heavily influenced by The Lord of the Rings, are about as violent as one can find in a PG-13 movie. The visuals, to the extent that they can be divorced from the 3-D, stray into the realm of overkill. There's a little too much CGI. Some sequences feel like video game extracts with a too-high level of artificiality. There are times when the human actors are left adrift in a sea of special effects.

3-D and CGI issues aside, I'll admit to enjoying Jack the Giant Slayer. It's fast paced, energetic, and enormously likeable. I wasn't strongly reminded of the fable I read as a child; director Bryan Singer has given this a heavy epic fantasy vibe that transforms the story into something a little different. Outside of an almost Monty Pythonesque penchant for offbeat humor (mostly from giants named Fee, Fye, Fo, and Fumm), Jack the Giant Slayer is played seriously. Death is real (and sometimes gruesome). The giants aren't cuddly (they're a little like the trolls in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). This really isn't a children's movie - the appeal skews older and young kids may have nightmares as a result of this. Ultimately, I felt about Jack and the Giant Slayer much as I felt about last year's John Carter: it's an entertaining diversion but not something that will gain significant traction at the box office. There's a reason it's being released in early March instead of June - it lacks the muscle to compete against bigger, more highly anticipated productions. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth seeing.

(By the way, Ian McKellen's wonderfully poetic voiceover, as featured in the trailer, is not in the film.)

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