IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME:122 min
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the Kingdom of Cloister, both Jack, a young farm boy, and Princess Isabelle, are fascinated by the legend of Erik, an ancient king who defeated an army of invading giants from a realm in the sky. Ten years later, Jack goes into town to sell his horse to support his uncle’s farm and defends Isabelle’s honour from a group of thugs. Isabelle’s father King Brahmwell wants her to marry Roderick against her will. A monk steals some magic beans he stole from Roderick as collateral for Jack’s horse, but Jack’s uncle throws them onto the ground. Yearning for some freedom, Isabelle sneaks out of her father’s castle and seeks shelter from the rain in Jack’s house. As it rains, one of the beans takes root and grows into a massive beanstalk that carries the house and Isabelle into the sky….
When I first heard that they were remaking the 1962 movie Jack The Giant Killer [yes folks, the 1962 movie, which you may not know of considering the number of ignorant reviews that have failed to mention it], I had a good old moan, the moan I have whenever a film I am very fond of is about to be remade. Actually the original film is not quite a classic, though it remains a fun adventure very much in the vein of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad and Greek mythological adventures, though the effects are generally not quite up to the Harryhausen standard. There are actually two reviews of the film on this very website, so check them out if you’re curious.
Anyway, that’s enough of the old so let’s get on with the new, though it seems ages ago when Jack The Giant Slayer began production. The fact that they changed ‘killer’ into ‘giant’ in a typical example of the misguided political correctness that is prevalent in these times was enough to make me want to hate this movie before I’d seen a second of footage from it, and the general opinion seems to be that the film is not as bad as they expected, but actually it’s a great deal better than that, an entertaining, old-fashioned romp, albeit one with a huge gaping flaw it is hard to overlook. Is it better than the original? It’s hard to say, because both films are actually very different. The original movie basically remade The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad in Medieval England, even using the same actors to play hero and villain. This version seems more like an elaborate variant of Jack And The Beanstalk, and if that sounds almost as silly, the fairytales of Jack The Giant Killer and Jack And The Beanstalk both have their basis in the same story.
Jack The Giant Slayer begins decently with both hero and heroine as children being read the same book, though the cheap-looking CGI animation used to visualise this doesn’t really help and seems a bit out of place. Never mind, we fast-forward twenty years and the editing continues to link Jack and Princess Isabelle together in a quite clever though if truth be told slightly forced manner. The two then first see each other in a rather romantic little moment, and the scene soon after where they first talk is really sweet and innocent. One of the most appealing things about this movie is its total lack of cynicism, its charming feel which seems to look back to an earlier time in cinema when movie storytellers believed in the story they were telling and didn’t feel they had to mock it, nor add all this dreary grit and darkness which is too common in fantasy and science-fiction films at the moment. And, by the way, I don’t know why this film has a 12A rating: the tiny bit of bloody violence is negligible, and actually the original film was darker with its fluorescent witches and princess turned into an evil mirror image of herself.
The sequence where the beanstalk smashes through the house and sprouts into the sky is vividly done, even if the special effects are not too great, and it just looks very cool, like something out of a Japanese anime. The tension is considerable as our protagonists climb up and up it, and at this point it seems that Jack The Giant Slayer is going to be very good indeed. The story is simple but involving, the cast all do well, and there is just enough humour without turning everything into a pastiche. Sadly as soon as everyone reaches the land of the giants things drop somewhat when the giants are often laughably unconvincing, with rendering and even motion capture so poor that it sometimes just looks like a ten year old just dropped their Xbox into the film. All the effort to make them convincingly hideous and disgusting [one even swallows his own snot] is for nothing when half the time the giants don’t even look like they’re actually there. This kind of thing would be acceptable in a film from fifteen or even ten years ago, but not now. Though the beanstalk does convincingly collapse later, and the film gets more and more action-packed with more than a whiff of the third The Lord Of The Rings episode about it [there’s even a mission to go and light some beacons], over all it’s hard to say where all the very huge budget for this movie went, though remember it’s from a director who decided to cut a ten million dollar scene from Superman Returns.
It’s a real shame about many of the effects, because there is a lot to like elsewhere in Jack The Giant Slayer. The plot is straight-forward but is all the better for it. The love story, when there’s room for it in-between all those stupid giants, is cute, and unlike in the first film where he only kills one, Jack does actually slay quite a few giants here. The costumes look great with interesting diversity in the armour in particular, and the cast all do very well. The best is Stanley Tucci, one of those performers who would make an awful film worth watching because of his presence. His broad, pantomime villain is just perfect, and the actor manages to project such strength of personality that you are convinced he could order about a load of giants, anyone of whom could actually squish him with one foot. He has a funny double act with Ewen Bremner, who as usual is about as subtle as a brick. Nicholas Hoult is a bit of a bland hero, but it’s often the case with films like this. The hero doesn’t really need to be interesting, just likeable, while it is the stuff going on around him that is the interesting part.
Jack The Giant Slayer ends on a really bizarre and goofy note that would have probably killed off plans for a sequel even if the movie had been a disappointment, but it’s still a decent watch for the whole family like Oz: The Great And Powerful, and is actually more fun than that film, even if I remain unconvinced that Bryan Singer is totally ‘right’ for fantastical material. I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would, even if the 1962 film will still probably be the one I will first turn to for some escapism. That’s may very well be because I just saw it at the right age though. If I was that age now, it’s possible I would feel the same way about this new film. It’s simple desire to entertain without irony is admirable and it has just enough feel of old myths and legends to make it far more likeable than, for instance, the horrible Immortals or the dreary Clash Of The Titans, both of which seem more representative of the way this kind of thing is usually done these days.