Sunday, March 03, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer / ** (PG-13)

Jack: Nicholas Hoult
Isabelle: Eleanor Tomlinson
Elmont: Ewan McGreggor
Roderick: Stanley Tucci
Crawe: Eddie Marsan
Wicke: Ewen Bremner
King Brahmwell: Ian McShane
General Entin: Ralph Brown
General Fallon: Bill Nighy
Fumm: Ben Daniels

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney and David Dobkin. Running time: 114 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images, and brief language).

Ever since Pixar opened the eyes of American audiences to the fact that cartoons don’t have to be just for kids there has been a trend in American filmmaking to combine the tales and fantasies that entranced us as children with more adult filmmaking sensibilities. Those fruits have come to ripen in recent years, but not all of them are as tasty as others. “Jack the Giant Slayer” is the most recent of those efforts, retelling the story of “Jack and the Beanstock” in an adult context. The problem is we don’t believe in giants anymore and growing a magical beanstock to a forgotten land above the land isn’t the best way to convince us.

There seems to be a slight disconnect between the child’s fairy tale and the adult presentation of it. It doesn’t follow the fairy tale precisely, but it throws in more than we need and those elements come across as referential rather than necessary. We meet Jack as a young boy in the opening scenes with his father reading a bedtime story known by all the kids throughout the land. In fact, his scenes are intercut with those of the queen telling the same tale to her daughter before bed.

In this bedtime tale, we learn that giants were once discovered when a magical set of beans grew giant beanstocks into the sky. When the men climbed these beanstocks, they discovered a land of giants in the clouds. The giants followed them back down to invade their kingdom. The giants were brought under control with a crown made of the same hard substance as their bones, or something like that. King Eric wore the crown and commanded the giants to return to their land. Once that was done the beanstocks were all chopped down and the kingdom lived in peace for many decades. The stories became legend.

Skip ahead. Jack and the princess Isabelle are now young adults. Jack is sent to the castle by his uncle to sell their horse. He sees a pretty young lady, who turns out to be the princess, during a minstrel show. Is it possible these two will Meet Cute? Jack also gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving the princess’s fiancĂ©, Roderick, and a monk who gives him those magic bean with the warning, “Don’t ever get them wet.” Suddenly, I’m thinking of gremlins rather than giants. Will Jack get them wet? Some answers are just too obvious to bother to reveal.

I could go on about this rather intricate plot, but its obvious nature continues throughout. Jack and the royal guard, led by Elmont, will go up the beanstock to find the princess who somehow ended up at Jack’s house when the things took root. The giants will catch them and try to cook them. They will escape and the giants will follow them down and attack the castle. Can you guess who will win? Or how? If you can’t, I should leave you the pleasure of discovering that for yourself.

The action sequences are well done. What the filmmakers seem to be going for here is “Jack and the Beanstock” via “Lord of the Rings”. I’m just not so sure the two actually go together. These great battle sequences and beautiful set pieces don’t seem deserved by the utter silliness of the story. Director Bryan Singer is able to capture a great sense of awe with the sequence where the beanstock grows and with the production design of the giants’ world, but when the soldiers are climbing the beanstock the movie can’t shed the notion that this is a kids’ story. The fact that the giants put such care into preparing one single person in a pastry in order to feed some 30 to 50 giants is utterly absurd, when the little person would barely serve as a meal for one. And, what is with King Brahmwell’s armor? He looks like a golden Lord Farquaad from “Shrek”.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” will serve to satiate those middling age audiences that want to see something like “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” but don’t quite have the maturity or the patience for eleven hours worth of movie watching in them yet. It’s too intense for younger kids—hence the PG-13 rating—but filled with more fluff than substance for older audiences. This is mild entertainment at best. The audience for this type of fantasy material will be looking for something with a little more bite than Jack has in his heart. I don’t know who else is left for this material.

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