Movie review: Jack the Giant Slayer
There's been somewhat of a trend of late to retell children's fables for a modern audience; in 2011 there was Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood and earlier this year there was the gun-toting Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Giving their tales a modern twist didn't really go all that well with audiences however.
Bryan Singer's take on Jack on the Beanstalk however, is far more traditional as it sticks very much to its roots, as it were.
As a boy, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) was told tales of his land that was once roamed by dangerous giants. But they were just bedtime stories told to him by his father.
With his father now gone, Jack works on the modest farm with his uncle. Times are hard, as the land of Albion is in a bit of a recession, so his uncle sends him to the kingdom of Cloister to sell their one and only horse.
Whilst there, Jack helps protect a young woman from harm, who he later learns is none other than Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). He's also approached by a monk, who has need of his horse, to make a quick exit. Unfortunately he doesn't have cash on him (isn't that what they all say?), but he does have some beans to give as part payment. These aren't ordinary beans however, but holy relics. He should look after them carefully, and what he does, he shouldn't get them wet. Jack agrees to the transaction and the monk departs.
Later on, back at the farm, his uncle, still in a state of disbelief that his nephew allowed to sell their horse for handful of measly beans, heads off to the monastery to give a certain monk what for. In his absence, just as a storm is brewing, Jack is visited by Isabelle. She's just popped in to thank him for saving her the other day.
Inside the small house, Jack accidently loses one of the beans he was given in payment, as it falls through a crack in the floor. With the torrential rain it soon gets wet in the soil and...it sprouts into an incredible stalk, sending the house spiralling upwards in its branches, with Jack and Isabelle still inside. As they continue their journey skywards, Jack tumbles to the ground.
Back on terra firma, he pleads with the king (Ian McShane) to climb the stalk with the party of his men, led by his most loyal soldier Elmont (Ewan Mcgregor), in the hope of returning Isabelle safely, and the king agrees. One of their party by the name of Roderick (Stanley Tucci) however, appears to have a hidden agenda.
As their journey to the top of the stalk ends, they are presented by the stuff of legend in what appears to be a land of giants. And they don't seem none too friendly.
Singer hasn't directed in five years, since the Tom Cruise thriller Valkyrie in 2008. Having directed three comic capers previously however (X-Men, x2 and Superman Returns), this fantasy adventure is a perfect match for his talents.
One of its strengths is that it is a faithful re-telling of the children's classic. Some would say that it's also a weakness, as there's not much in the way of surprises in terms of the story. However, sometimes it's just the way a story is told that can win an audience over and Singer pulls out quite a few stops.
Unquestionably the stars of the show are the giants themselves. Sure, the fact that the two-headed general giant sounds like an Ulster unionist is a little disconcerting, but the weighty presence of these creatures is a sight to behold.
Their incredible stature is reminiscent of the king of stop-motion model animation Ray Harryhausen, and serves as homage to not only the creatures he created, but their integral part in the fantasy story telling process.
It's also great to see a virtually all British cast involved in such a Hollywood blockbuster. Hoult copes admirably in the lead role, although it does lack a certain edginess that it could have benefitted from. Tomlinson is radiant in her royal role, if a little on the stiff side. Thankfully they get a lot of support from the likes of McGregor, who appears to be having a veritable ball with his RAF squadron leader impersonation throughout. Tucci, the token American, also seems to enjoy playing the baddie, despite his recent rants regarding his hatred for green screen work and 3D films as a whole.
There is some nice dialogue to be had along the way, but there's a sense it could have been tightened up further and made even funnier with a little bit more elbow grease.
Granted, the film does take a dip two thirds in, when it appears seemingly ready to tie its story up with a nice red bow, but it catches its breathe for its final third finale.
Ultimately Singer proves that there's nothing wrong with going the traditional route, as long as you can do something with it, and with his XL serving of fun and fantasy, he does exactly that.
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