Bad CGI and a Fear of Violence Reduce "Jack the Giant Slayer" to Garbage Review

The creative reimagining of classic fairy tales is a trend that deserves more encouragement in spite of the recent atrocity Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Bryan Singer’s well-intentioned Jack the Giant Slayer came close enough to getting it right that it’s pretty clear there’s potential in the idea if it could just be refined a little bit more. Why didn’t Singer’s vision for a new take on Jack the Giant Slayer pan out? It wasn’t because of the cast; Nicholas Hoult held his own as the titular protagonist and he was elevated by a brilliant supporting cast of Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane. Nor did it fall flat because the story was wanting for action or adventure, as it delivered pretty sizably on both fronts. Nope, the film’s weakness was in its incredibly heavy reliance on special effects, which felt second-rate, and it’s attempt to cater to family audiences to such an extreme that the action was neutered to a point where the film’s PG-13 rating felt more like a marketing decision than an actual commentary on the film having anything too shocking for a rough PG.

Jack the Giant Slayer takes your basic story of Jack and the Beanstalk and imparts it with a bit of mythology surrounding the legendary land of giants that live at the top of a stalk borne of magical beans, and then imagines a medieval realm in which the legends of those giants and the men who battled them in the past have become larger-than-life fairy tales, passed down as children’s stories. And in the lore they stayed until one day when a peasant named Jack (Hoult) takes seemingly innocuous beans in exchange for a horse, only to have them sprout into the fabled ladder to the heavens just as he’s getting a rare shot at intimacy with the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) whose desire to have a few adventures before her father (McShane) marries her off to Sir Roderick (Tucci) sees her run away and in the need of shelter from the rain. The princess gets more adventure than she bargained for, though, and the beanstalk carries her to the land of the giants, leaving Jack, Roderick, and the king’s trusted vassal Elmont (McGregor) to scale the stalk and rescue her, and thus giving the giants an opportunity for revenge and to take the kingdom of men for their own.

The reinvention of the classic story could easily translate to a fantastic action and adventure movie, but this isn’t it thanks to Director Bryan Singer shying away from the violence that would give the film appropriate stakes and steers full-speed into an overuse of subpar special effects that make the whole thing feel entirely inconsequential. When it comes to action, it’s next to impossible to strike a level that won’t frighten children but still has enough of the good stuff to please the key PG-13 demographic of teens and up. Jack the Giant Slayer couldn’t find it, and what it gives us instead are cuts away from violence at key moments only to cut back seconds later to show the aftermath. The action we do get is polluted with special effects (like flaming trees) with distinct CGI outlines and giants that have plenty of detail, but look like fake computerized monstrosities all the same.

If 95% of your film’s antagonists (as well as a number of the biggest set pieces) are made from low-rate  special effects, the story and everything else suffers. Not that the story was really perfect as is, thanks to some of the key plot points having paper-thin rationalization. While the story necessitates Jack going up to the land of the giants because he is after all the main character, he’s thrown into the party for no other reason than he saw the stalk grow. That hardly makes him an expert witness or anyone of value, but the characters don’t really care. The king says he should go, so he does. It just happens. It wouldn’t be so bad if the film just included him and didn’t make anything of it, but a three minute conversation emphasizes just how silly it is that Jack is included at all.

Bad special effects, neutered action, and a weak story make Jack the Giant Slayer a hard film to recommend to any but the most desperate in need of some fantasy-based action.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo pack includes the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and as an Ultraviolet digital copy. Deleted scenes and a gag reel pad out the disc’s offerings, with a featurette led by Nicholas Hoult that guides the viewer through the film’s creation in a series of topical videos (aka basic production featurettes hosted by Nicholas Hoult).

"Jack the Giant Slayer" is on sale June 18, 2013 and is rated PG13. Action, Adventure, Children & Family, Fantasy. Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie. Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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