9 April 2013

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER- Review

Long-time collaborators Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie have come to this project, which started out as a remake of the stop-motion-tastic 1962 film Jack The Giant Killer, and put their own spin on it, and so like so many recent films in its sub-genre, Jack The Giant Slayer seems like a film that is stricken by seriousness. While the so-called new seriousness has stretched as far as Batman and Bond, it seldom feels less at home than in a fairytale film, and we're all left flabbergasted at how over-explaining something can be just as bad as under-thinking it.

In this version, a whole bunch of giant beings live a resentful existence, imprisoned in a land between heaven and Earth by a mystical curse. Meanwhile, down below, well-meaning farm boy Jack winds up exchanging a horse for a pouch of magic beans. During an unlikely encounter with the errant princess Isabelle, a massive beanstalk erupts from below Jack's house, carrying both it and Isabelle off to the airborne land of the giants. Jack bravely volunteers to help rescue the princess, but there's a traitor amongst the King's allies, and the giants now have a passage to Albion.

Singer has described the film as an exploration of "the story that inspired the story that you read to your kids". There's a cute early scene to establish this, in which the backstory of the giants in the film is conveyed to a younger Jack and Isabelle by their respective parents, in the form of a bedtime story. At the beginning of this story, the adults don't believe in giants any more than we would, in the real world. It's an interesting starting point, but the surprise that giants do exist in their world never really seems to have as big an impact as their implausibly massive footprints should.

The weird conflict is that it's an ostensibly straight-faced take on the fairytale that seems to be populated with characters from many different realms of fantasy. Nicholas Hoult's Jack is a Luke Skywalker-type, affably hopping through the hero's journey without ever putting a foot out of line, Ian McShane's solemn king seems to have come from the same mould as Bernard Hill in The Lord of the Rings, and Stanley Tucci gives us a pantomime villain who's slightly reminiscent of Blackadder's slimier incarnations. This could have worked beauitfully if it were a Rashomon-style tale about different interpretations of the legend, but it always aspires to be somewhat credible, ignorant to its own conflicts of characterisation.

The biggest shame in this is that Ewan McGregor, whose Elmont is perpetually primed to go full Westley, like the iconic swashbuckler from The Princess Bride, never really gets the chance to make the most of his character. There's still plenty of action and violence- the body count sky-rockets past that of most family movies by the end of the first hour, but then there's less scope for exciting duels when the main adversaries are about twelve feet taller than your hero. Most of the carnage takes place on a suitably massive scale, leaving little time for character moments with Elmont, or even Jack.

There's also a disconnect in the quality of the special effects- despite some nifty character design, the giants are dwarved next to the standard of other motion-captured characters and gribblies in recent movies, and it's enough to make you wonder what they were doing in all that time that the film's release was delayed, since last summer. But finally, the idea of the story being real, and misinterpreted as it was passed down over the centuries to the present day, is revisited at the end in an unexpected fashion. I haven't decided if this ending is an overwrought sequel hook, or an endearingly dumb gag, but ultimately, I'd quite like to see them follow through on the challenge they're setting themselves.

Jack The Giant Slayer is all over the place, but that just means that some of its parts are less enjoyable than others. Ewan McGregor is the highlight, but he's never allowed to outshine the reliably likeable Nicholas Hoult in the lead role. Stanley Tucci makes a good villain, but more time is dedicated to an unconvincingly rendered Bill Nighy, as the leader of the giants. At its worst, it's still way better than the arse-clenchingly solemn Snow White & The Huntsman, and the misjudged Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but there's a sense that it's shrinking away from really enjoyable flights of fancy, when it should be a toweringly fun adventure.

Jack The Giant Slayer is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Jack The Giant Slayer, why not share your comments below? So, one day, if we wish really hard, this fairytale boom will eventually yield a modern-day Princess Bride, right?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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