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Jack the Giant Slayer
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by Jay Seaver

"A fairy-tale movie of average stature."
3 stars

Here's a fun thought experiment - what if you took the cast and design work for "Jack the Giant Slayer", and instead of shooting a live-action 3D movie, you did a little work on the script with the idea of moving the rating down a notch and had Disney animate it? You would not necessarily get a classic, but you'd maybe get something about as good that might be looked upon a little more fondly.

As in every version of the fairy tale, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a farmboy who winds up with a handful of magic beans instead of a farm animal, which grow into a beanstalk that leads to a land of giants, taking his house and runaway princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) with it. King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), naturally, dispatches top knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to retrieve her, with Jack and Isabelle's fiance Roderick (Stanley Tucci - it's an arranged marriage) in tow.

Traditionally, the hero of Jack and the Beanstalk is kind of a jerk - making a foolish trade, trespassing, stealing, and ultimately killing the giant when his crimes are discovered. Not exactly a fitting protagonist or plot for a family movie, so the four credited writers have added some backstory and a brace of other characters, which all conspire to cast Jack in a rather more heroic light. It brings the story to the modernized fairy-tale template, with the princess who bristles at her fate and what seems like the occasional anachronism, but it's a style that's tried and true; director Bryan Singer and the rest play it straight enough for it to be comfortable while still giving the characters enough room to be funny and individual.

More so as they get further from the center, admittedly. Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson are a likable-enough pair of leads, especially when Hoult's Jack arrives in the city and shows both a tendency to get in over his head and drop a quip (between this and Warm Bodies, he's building a nice reputation a sneaky-funny), but Ewan McGregor's casually confident Sir Elmont is the one audiences might like to see a little more of. Stanley Tucci, meanwhile, is an entertaining ball of smarm as Roderick, and Ewen Bremner give his sidekick Wicke a nasty goofiness that wouldn't play in a lot of more conventional movies.

Bill Nighy is okay as the voice of the giants' General Fallon, and that's kind of symptomatic of how the movie really has a villain problem. It's one thing to have a bad guy and a worse guy, or go the route where the threat from without (giants) is not as dangerous as the threat from within (Roderick), but between Fallon, Roderick, and Fumm (another giant who resents Fallon), there's a sort of lack of focus during the climactic battles. There's also signs that the multiple writers may have been working at cross-purposes: Early indications are that Elmont has his own crush on Isabelle, but the writers decided having him and Jack banter was more fun than a love triangle; there's also the sense that the writers know that a crown that literally commands obedience is problematic, but they can't quite figure out the right way to attack it.

The big draw is the visual effects and action, and they're pretty decent. The giants aren't just scaled-up humans, and very much look like CGI constructs, but they move smoothly and interact well enough with the human-scale characters. There are a few good 3D effects, but the format isn't as great at showing great height as you might expect (especially with the widescreen picture). Most of the harsher violence and gore takes place off-screen - giants eat people, but not with the blood, guts, and crunching sounds that would lead to screaming children - and ingenuity is necessarily emphasized over brute force; it's probably okay for kids of about eight or so. The kingdom of Cloister and the beanstalks have a pretty, unapologetic storybook look to them.

The more I look at "Jack", the more I think that it could have been a fun cartoon - Cloister Castle might look more at home there, and some of the characters' features are exaggerated in that way to begin with. It's a fun live-action film with moments that rise above average, and it's both more kid-friendly and sincere than some other recent efforts to bring fairy tales to the big screen, so one might as well enjoy it - a decent movie that actually exists beats a great one that's just imaginary.

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originally posted: 03/04/13 06:36:21
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User Comments

2/25/18 Dr. Lao Could have been great, if it could decide how dark it wanted to be 4 stars
6/14/13 Stephanie Grant Really enjoyed it! Once again another epic twist to a classic fairytale! 4 stars
3/11/13 Juan Sam I think seeing the cast work together is worth it even if the movie disappoints! 3 stars
3/04/13 KingNeutron Lagged in parts and a little unexpected, but worth seeing for McGregor and McShane- 3.5 *'s 3 stars
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  01-Mar-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Jun-2013


  DVD: 18-Jun-2013

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