Pros: Rollicking High Adventure! Hoult and Tucci.
Cons: Gatling Ballistae? Really?
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) Directed by Bryan Singer
Fee Fye Fo Fum, Ask not whence the thunder comes,
Ask not where the flocks have gone,
Or why the birds have ceased their song.
On your way home, tarry not over long….
In the kingdom of Cloister, two children grow up on the same tales; one is a boy, Jack, who is the son of farmer, who loves books and stories, and his father, who reads them to him with the thunder roles. The girl is Isobel, and her mother does the same things; she just happens to be the queen.
Years pass, and stories have passed into childhood, remembered fondly by Jack (Nicholas Hoult) as a link to his father, dead long years from the plague. Isobel (Eleanor Tomlinson) remembers her mother fondly as well, more for the freedom she offered her daughter. Her father, the king (Ian McShane) is overprotective. The job of overprotecting falls to Elmont (Ewan McGregor).
The story is well known; Jack obtains magic beans, they lead to a cloud castle, where fabulous wealth, and incredible danger awaits. Everyone knows the tale, so how to make it different? How to make it fresh? How to raise it above a mere plot of the hero’s journey? What marks this tale as different is the details.
There is politics in the faery tale; there are beans, yes, but they are not just for trading for cows; they are holy relics, and treated like they are nuclear weapons. There are beans, yes, but there is a crown to control giants as well. There are not simply the giants to contend with, but greedy men like Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the King’s Steward. There is not merely fortune to be found, but a princess to be rescued, and there is not merely one miserly giant, but a nation, ruled by their General, Fallon (Bill Nighy), a two headed monstrosity. It is not about stealing and reprisals, it is about invasion, and the battle for resources, like food. And to giants, that’s us. There are beans, yes, and they are what will allow the giants to get us.
The heart of the story is Jack. Jack was the hero of many stories, and he is always a simple man, of low birth, good heart, and quick wits. He is named Jack because at the time the faery tales were told every other boy child was named John, which is the root of the nick name Jack. Thus, in a literal sense, Jack is everyman.
Nicholas Hoult makes a wonderful Jack. He does seem like an everyman; good-looking without being beautiful, but instead exuding an honesty and innocence that makes you like him. Eleanor Tomlinson is a flawless match. She is pretty, without being gorgeous, but instead seems to project character and strength of will. Together, they make a very believable couple; you can see why they would fall for each other.
Ewan McGregor can do anything he sets his mind to, and Elmont is one of those characters he does so well, where the silences say as much as when he is speaking. I love the glib bluntness of the man. This is deliciously illustrated by one of their conversations while traversing the beanstalk:
Elmont: Fear of heights?
Jack: Fear of FALLING!
Elmont: Well then don't fall!
Stanley Tucci is, well, Stanley Tucci. If you want someone over the top without chewing on the scenery, he’s your man. Of course, he can chew the scenery if asked to, but the point is the man has an innate sense of how much is just enough, when less is more, and flawless comedic timing.
Of course, the giants make or break the movie. You know they are CGI; the question is, how good a CGI and is the concept a workable one. The Giants work. You can practically smell their breathe. General Fallon is voiced by Bill Nighy, another actor of incredible range. He has fun with this role, and yes, there is a bit of chewing done.
The visuals are stunning, the 3D probably makes it even better; I was quite content with just plain old two dimensions. I can only imagine the windmill chucking scene in 3D. Probably best that way.
There is an innate flaw here; if they manage to infuse this with a "true spark of originality" then it will no longer be true to the story...it is a flaw innate to all faery tale adaptations. Do you do the story, with the comfortable feel that is the POINT of faery tales (why do you think kids ask for the same ones over and over?) or do you make a movie that was "Inspired by" and run the risk of it failing, and being viewed as a betrayal of the story? It is a dilemna; Singer went for true to the tale.
Taken all together, and it is fantastic movie, one that the entire family can enjoy. Remember, it is PG-13, and it might be a bit much for sensitive little ones. Remember, back when it was first told, this was what they had instead of horror movies.
Fee Fye Fo Fum, ask not whence the thunder come,
For between heaven and earth it's a perilous place,
Home to a fearsome giant race,
Who hunger to conquer the mortals below,
Waiting for the seeds of revenge to grow...