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Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

| March 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer is rousing adventure; exciting, adventurous and just plain fun.  After the disaster of super-sized fairy tale adaptations like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, this is the one that gets it right.  It uses great special effects at the service of a story that, while not completely airtight, at least has enough surprises to give you your money’s worth.

That might seem somewhat surprising given the material.  Jack the Giant Slayer was never the most gripping of the old English fairy tales: A kid with buyer’s remorse accidentally plants a beanstalk and climbs his newly acquired foliage to a magic castle occupied by a grump with a severe case of gigantism and low social skills.  Not much to build a movie on.

Screenwriters Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney do the material a service by changing it up and expanding the story in order to give it some energy.  Their expanded story contains only the framework of the original.  It begins in the kingdom of Cloister with the reading of an ancient legend being told to two children, one is a royal, the other is a peasant.  Jack, a farm boy, practically has the story memorized.  While at the castle a little princess named Isabel is being read the same story and it places in her heart a spirit of adventure.  This framing device pays off in a really beautiful way.

Jump forward a decade and Jack (Nicolas Hoult from Warm Bodies) is a strapping young buck without a penny to his name.  He goes to the town market to sell his uncle’s horse (horses are more interesting than cows) and meets a friar that, at first, offers him money but then offers him a handful of beans that he claims hold the fate of the world.  He’s right because high above the earth lays the kingdom of the giants.  Yes, giants, more than one.  In fact, more than you might imagine although curiously no females.  Maybe there’s a reason they’re so grumpy.

Later an accident causes one of Jack’s magic beans to seep into the grown and what is produced is a beanstalk that doesn’t grow overnight, but actually grows right before Jack’s eyes.  The problem: the stalk has taken away not only the kid’s house but also the King’s daughter Isabel who was passing by.  The King (Ian McShane) learns of his daughter’s dilemma and summons his best men, including Elmont (Ewan McGregor) the leader of the king’s elite guard, and Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the king’s adviser, who has a plan for usurping the king using the giants (long story), to climb up and retrieve his beloved daughter.

What follows is difficult to describe without spoilers but what can be reported is that the screenplay is open enough to new ideas.  It doesn’t follow a simplistic slog from beginning to the inevitable conclusion, but contains set pieces that are short works of genius, like a scene in which Jack and Elmont attack a giant with a bee hive; or a bit in a giant’s kitchen with the chef who, literally, makes pigs-in-a- blanket.  And, of course, the breathtaking moment when the beanstalk comes crashing down.

The story told here is a good one.  Yes, the characters could use a little more definition but you’re having so much fun along the way that you hardly notice.  Elmont might easily be the hero of this adventure but since Isabel’s eyes are so glued to Jack, he gives hints that he might feel a bit left out.

Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t a perfect movie but it is better than you might expect.  Its fun where other CG adventures are merely exercises in special effects.  The effects give the giants personality.  Yes, they’re nasty but you can tell them apart.  They are more than just the sum of their pixels, and so is the screenplay which has time for perfect little moments of ingenuity.  This is a fun movie.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Kids, Sci-Fi/Fantasty