Editor’s Notes: Jack the Giant Slayer opens in wide release this Friday. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below.
It doesn’t sound kosher to smack a fantasy film for being unrealistic. I fully understand that Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy epic – one based on a child’s fairy tale, to boot. But watching the finished product, with its transparently fake landscapes and B-level effects and harsh green screen over-lighting, has the effect of watching a well-meaning but horribly produced high school play. Respected actors walk around playing dress-up and swinging daggers at discomforting fake stone creatures while surrounded by a giant beanstalk that looks like a slightly more sophisticated replica of a Sid and Marty Krofft practical effect. By the end, I was disappointed that H.R. Pufnstuf didn’t show up.
…watching the finished product, with its transparently fake landscapes and B-level effects and harsh green screen over-lighting, has the effect of watching a well-meaning but horribly produced high school play.
We’re all familiar with the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story: magic beans, soaring beanstalk, land of giants, “fee-fi-fo-fum.” That children’s story is based on the Cornish folk tale titled “Jack the Giant Killer,” which is decidedly not for children…it involves a young farm boy cutting off the legs and slicing open the stomachs of various giants during King Arthur’s reign. This supercharged film adaptation, directed by Bryan Singer, attempts to bridge the gap between the two dichotomous versions of the classic story, crafting a story that is simple and innocent enough for children with action violence that is gooey and gory enough to push right up to the edge of PG-13. I’m not opposed to pushing boundaries and making an edgier family film – to that end, Singer’s vision is at least valid and interesting. On the screenplay level, however, the film is bland, obvious, and old-fashioned. And on the craft level, it’s an ugly mess.
The story sets up two explicitly linked characters—young farmer’s son Jack and feisty princess Isabelle. As children, Jack and Isabelle are separated by class structure but psychically linked by their love for the legend of the giants, who are said to live in a land “between heaven and earth.” The only link between our world and the giants’ is a massive beanstalk grown from mystical beans…but it was long ago cut down, ridding the earth of imminent threat from the marauding giants. As they grow into young adults, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a lowly farmhand and Isabella (Eleanor Tomlinson) is heir to the British throne. But gender roles trump societal roles as the film unfolds, as Jack becomes the hero with the magic beans who must save the young princess who is tangled in a web of vines.
Such a predictable premise underlines one of the film’s central problems – Singer is aiming to revolutionize a classic fairy tale, but this screenplay feels older than Grimm. Especially on the heels of the rampant dissection of Seth MacFarlane’s sexism at the Oscars, it’s awkward that this first wide release since the Oscar telecast is inherently traditional in its gender representations. Jack is a humble, awkward errand boy and Isabella is a defiant princess with a desire for independence, but once the story hits its stride, Jack transforms into a swashbuckler and Isabella becomes window dressing. She is the damsel and Jack is the knight in shining armor. I guess the princess only yearns for independence until she’s swallowed up in a twist of sky-high beanstalk vines—at that point, her ass needs saved.
Singer focuses all his energy on the film’s action, which is bluntly violent and increasingly intense, especially in the third act. The action is constructed with a lot of creativity…
Since he was able to reserve his ingenuity in terms of storytelling, Singer focuses all his energy on the film’s action, which is bluntly violent and increasingly intense, especially in the third act. The action is constructed with a lot of creativity, so all script issues aside, Jack the Giant Slayer might have generated some dumb thrills…if only it looked good. But it doesn’t; it looks ugly. The dominant color in the film’s palette is mud. The giants are crudely animated by current VFX standards. The landscapes are marred with practical effects that look like they’re made of some sort of foam/papier-mâché combo. The CG beanstalk isn’t much prettier. The effects work is less glaring as the film progresses, since the camera moves at a faster pace as the action ramps up. But a decent third act can only mildly make up for a screenplay that not only wastes the bright young talents, but also some respected character actors, from Ewan McGregor and Stanly Tucci to Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan. Jack the Giant Slayer does indeed slay a great many in its path – unfortunately, that includes the great cast and an unsuspecting audience.
[notification type=”star”]47/100 ~ BAD. It’s hard to determine which is uglier: Jack the Giant Slayer’s effects or its screenplay…[/notification]