If You Think You Know The Story, You Don’t Know Jack
If Bill Willingham’s comic, Fables, has taught us anything, it’s that all classic fairy tales, folklore and legends can be reworked into something brilliant and challenging for contemporary audiences. Unfortunately, the cinematic adaptations of these tales tend to lean toward crappy, underwhelming cash-ins. Jack The Giant Slayer is no exception.
The film opens with a young farm boy, Jack, being read a story about the giants that live in the clouds. The same story is simultaneously read by the princess of the land, Isabelle. The legend tells of a group of monks who forged magic beans, to grow a mighty stalk so that they might meet God. What they found, however, was a race of giants that descended the beanstalks and pillaged the land. Finally King Erik produced a magic crown that caused the giants to return to their realm and the beanstalk was cut down. Ten years later, Jack [Hoult] is an easily distracted young man who dreams of adventure and the princess [Tomlinson] longs for a life outside the castle walls. With their funds running low, Jack is sent into the town to sell the family’s horse and cart, only to exchange them for magic beans handed to him by a desperate monk. That night, Isabelle sneaks out of the castle but gets lost in the rain, ending up at Jack’s house. Long story short, the beanstalk grows, takes both Isabelle and the house, leaving Jack lying unconscious at the foot of the towering vegetation. The beanstalk naturally draws the attention of the King’s guard and a rescue party is formed – consisting of Jack, Lord Roderick [Tucci] the King’s devious advisor, Elmont [McGregor] the leader of the king’s guard and a handful of men whose sole purpose is to be killed off dramatically. Having scaled the beanstalk, the adventurers are introduced to the realm of the giants and a bunch of nonsense ensues.
The first thing to point out is that this film is horribly ugly. The CGI is terribly disappointing and while there are a few moments of plausibility, the majority is thoroughly unengaging. The giants themselves are uninspired and have the quality of a film produced ten years ago, the backdrops, settings and beanstalk itself are middle-of-the-road and all too often we’re treated to that ever so popular ‘actors walking through an empty green screen set surrounded by dull imagery’. I don’t know why we have to put up with this so much but big budget releases seem to replicate a particular low-angle shot of an actor stumbling about and the lighting never fits, the imagery is ropey at best and the whole effect fails miserably. Yet for some reason, it keeps cropping up in films. Another horrid aspect is the costume work. While Snow White And The Huntsman was a flawed release, at least they had Colleen Atwood on their payroll. The armour is stale, the peasants are over-dressed and I swear Nicholas Hoult was outfitted in a leather hoodie. A LEATHER HOODIE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! To make things worse, this is Joanna Johnston we’re talking about.. or to use her full title, Academy Award Nominee Joanna Johnston. I could happily go on but I’ll simply round it off by saying from almost every technical aspect, this film is a mess.
Even technical nightmares can be salvaged with a decent story and good acting. Unsurprisingly, this film as neither. The acting is shamefully ropey largely due to a bland and unadventurous script. The actors try and push their way through the trite dialogue and terrible narrative developments but this simply comes off as energetic ham. Then there’s the giants, who have little-to-no characterisation outside of being oafish louts with Northern Irish brogues. On top of that, Bill Nighy’s character (General Fallon) has a second head that hasn’t developed fully so speaks in a series of grunts, gurgles and slurs. This slight to anyone with a mental deficiency is played by John Kassir.. presumably because making guttural noises was beneath Nighy. The problem is, the story doesn’t step away from the simple legend enough and in trying to ground it in some sort of reality, only adds to the boring premise.
**Spoiler happy paragraph here. Skip on ahead if you wish**
I’ve chosen to expand on the opening in my highlighted scene below but I wanted to quickly touch on how the film ends – the contents of which may only make sense if you’ve seen the film. Jack and Isabelle are facing the evil General Fallon alone and when certain doom seems near, Jack drops a magic bean into Fallon’s mouth and the mighty plant rips through his body – quite clever actually. So with Fallon in pieces and the other giants storming the castle gates, the crown appears and subdues the attackers. But it’s on Jack’s head. Here’s my problem. If this film perpetrates that anachronistic 90’s female action heroism, at least have the decency to stick to it. Having a female character who craves adventure and independence to simply need rescuing and then relinquish a symbol of great power to a man is a bit counterproductive. On top of that, she somehow manages to marry the commoner and he becomes the king, ruler of all, including her. Dumb! On top of everything, that would be acceptable if this was some sort of mystical kingdom (think The Princess Bride) but as the film closes we learn it’s in fact England and the magical crown has been moulded into the base for St. Edward’s Crown in the Tower of fucking London! The camera then whips up through the clouds, revealing the mystical land of the giants high above blighty… I assume Heathrow has no problem with that.
Had this production been a low-budget indie film with a nobody cast, I might have been impressed, amazed even, by what had been accomplished. But with so many seasoned professionals and a generous, expansive budget, Jack The Giant Slayer is horrifically dismal. Best avoid.
22nd March 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
To explain the backstory of the giants and the magical crown, an opening sequence has been devised. For want of the originality and subtle beauty of Hellboy 2 the best this film can muster is a nasty CGI animated segment that could easily have been a rushed pre-vis sequence. Then there’s the content.. Erik The Great commanded the fealty of the giants, before sending them back into the sky, with the power of the magic crown… made of a giant’s heart… somehow.. at some other point.. by someone. It’s this kind of wishy-washy plot hole that really screw this film. Erik manages to craft a crown out of a giant’s heart; ok, well if I were to believe that I don’t see how it would magically command the giants to do things. And don’t give me that “it’s only a kid’s film, stop overthinking it” crap because children are smarter than that and it’s unchallenging shit like this that keeps them away from the cinema. Kids can follow The Lord Of The Rings for crying out loud, give them a bit of credit.
Of all the lost performances, I actually found myself enjoying Ewan McGregor’s character. A little campy, a little panto but for the most part, strangely amusing and engaging. That’s literally all I can say about that. The rest is a dire slew of rancid ramblings, tired mumbling and phoned in dithering.
“I may not be the hero of this story but at least I’ll get to see the end of it”
In A Few Words:
“Cliched, formulaic and surprisingly ugly, Jack The Giant Slayer is a huge disappointment. What the hell happened, Singer?”