Fe Fi Ho Hum
Giant fable rescued by giant jokes
By Tim Pompey 03/07/2013
Jack the Giant Slayer
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor
Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language
1 hr. 54 mins.
How often is it that a mediocre film is saved by its special effects? More often than you think, if you count movie series like The Transformers. But most of these mechanical knock-offs rely on lots of boom and bang to keep you distracted.
While there is some of that here, what’s unusual about Jack the Giant Slayer is that its salvation is brought about by a nasty tribe of computer-animated giants. Funny how, in this case, you actually root for the bad guys, mainly because they’re the only really interesting part of this story.
In the film industry, a trend discovered is a trend copied. Lo and behold, it seems producers and directors have finally discovered (or rediscovered) fairy tales and myths. For example, recent releases like Snow White and the Huntsman and the newly jacked-up version of Hansel and Gretel.
By comparison, Jack seems like a tame choice for a big market production, but when everyone is competing for the same ideas, sometimes you just have to throw whatever you can at the wall and hope it sticks.
In this story, Jack, who has been raised on the dramatic tale of ancient King Erik’s battle in the heavens with a group of warring giants, is an orphaned farm boy who wants desperately to have his own adventure. But that’s unlikely, since he and his uncle are dirt poor and in need of money to buy food.
The uncle sends Jack to town to sell their horse and wagon. Instead, Jack loses the wagon and trades the horse to a monk for a small bag of beans,which the monk has promised can be sold for a good price at the local monastery. Needless to say, uncle is not happy with his naive nephew.
Meanwhile, in the royal castle at Cloister, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has promised Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) to a much older Roderick (Stanley Tucci), one of his close advisers. Isabelle, a young royal feminist, chafes against her father’s orders and sneaks out of the castle to escape her predetermined fate.
Seeking shelter at Jack’s shack during a driving rainstorm, she discovers that they have both been raised on the same tales about King Erik and that they both want an adventurous life. Unfortunately, while talking to the princess, Jack accidentally drops one of his beans through a floorboard into the wet mud underneath.
Of course, these are magic beans that, like Furbys, should not get wet. So when the bean gets soaked, it starts growing. The princess is trapped in the house and thrown up into the heavens by the airborne vines. Jack and Isabelle wanted adventure. Be careful what you wish for.
This film is unusual in that it uses unknown actors for its leads and relegates its marquee stars, such as a spiky-haired Ewan McGregor and a rotund Ian McShane, to supporting roles.
The story is as predictable as English rain, but director Bryan Singer (from the X-Men series) pulls a rabbit out of his hat by putting the film’s CG effects to good use. He creates an amazing beanstalk and makes giants like General Fallon (Bill Nighy) and his small-headed shoulder brother big, ugly and amusing.
You probably wouldn’t put this film high on your bucket list but perhaps your kids might ask you to take them. I wouldn’t blame you for wincing, but fear not. It ain’t classic Grimm or Aesop, but if your kids like the Goosebumps books, this is right up their alley.
And all those little tongue-in-cheek giant jokes? They make the difference between boredom and laughter. And since this film is a two-hour children’s fairy tale, you better believe that’s a big difference.