‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ Has Some Fee-Fi-Fo Fun

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – The trend of taking ancient fairy tales – “Hanzel and Gretel” and “Snow White,” for example – and converting them into computer generated mega-pictures is peculiar, and glaringly profitable (no “rights” to buy). The latest, “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” has some fun up the beanstalk again.

This is an okay adaptation, occasionally more interesting than expected, yet the choppy story is presented not for telling-the-tale purposes, but more for the indulgent use of the eye-popping computer creations. The word “computer” is used as a descriptive, only because the human cast is so much smaller against it all, both physically next to the pixel-rendered giants and metaphorically as their role seems secondary to the showier landscape of see-what-we-can-do-now. Even though everything seems to be happening spectacularly on screen, the film is oddly flat in several places, which points toward its reliance of green screen effects over the connective intimacy that the best fairy tales have. Luckily the actors have a good time, and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) begins the story as a child, a motherless boy whose father regales him with stories of the land of the giants above them (“fee, fi, fo, fum”). This is paired with Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) hearing the same story as a child, as her mother reads it to her. When Princess Isabelle grows up, she becomes heir to the throne of her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), and they both mourn the death of her mother, his wife. Jack, meanwhile, has lost his father, and is being raised by a angry uncle.

Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Nicholas Hoult
Ewan McGregor (Elmont), Eleanor Tomlinson (Isabelle) and Nicholas Hoult (Jack) in ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Jack is charged with going into the kingdom to sell a horse and carriage. He stops in a theater where a performance of his favorite story is taking place. The princess is there too, incognito, and the couple have their first encounter. An errant monk convinces Jack to sell his horse for some beans, and the familiar story begins anew. Jack is joined in his adventure with Elmont the King’s guard (Ewan McGregor), Roderick the King’s advisor (Stanley Tucci) and the blessing of King B., for now in the circumstance of the new beanstalk, his daughter is trapped in the upper world of the giants.

There were a lot of story gymnastics to get Jack on his way, as the description implies, and there were plenty of moments when explanations got in the way of Jack just being Jack. Although within the fairy tale there was a slyness, harkening back to the classic “The Princess Bride,” but there was those pesky giants to meet, and they came courtesy of computer generated effects.

The special effects were seamless and quite spectacular, but cold. Creating reality still has not caught up with the fantastic animation renderings in movies today, and toss in the optional 3D and the atmosphere acts as more of a analogous carnival ride than a movie. Yes, it was brilliant to see the beanstalk rise, and the pockmarked forms of the unnecessarily overdone giants, but so much of a fairy tale is imagination. A little more warmth from the human actors, and less of the literal views of the giant world and giant wars might have been more welcoming.

The actors were game, though, and across the board had some fun. The idea is to sell the premise like magic beans, and Nicholas Hoult (of the recent “Warm Bodies”) is the perfect go-to male ingenue. Eleanor Tomlinson may be poised for a breakout, her Princess Isabelle is both beautiful and empowered. Ewan McGregor adds the gravitas as the village protector, and Stanley Tucci gets to chew on some scenery as the duplicitous Roderick. The only bummer is his villain does not come to a more interesting end, and is again shuffled aside for more effects plotting.

Bill Nighy
General Fallon (foreground) is Voice by Bill Nighy in ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

There was more light comedy than expected as well. Bill Nighy voices one of the giants, General Fallon, a two-headed beast with a dominant and supplicant yin/yang. It’s both funny and odd. Much of the adventure in giant land involves saving the Princess and McGregor’s character from a baker behemoth, which allowed for nice visual puns. The film is basically a romp, and any reaction will be gauged through the special effects and the shoehorned story within them.

So the next time someone comes up to you and offers “magic beans,” beware of the stalks that may lead you astray. What may be an adventurous climb could end up as a bone grinding spin in the amazon version of a Cusinart. And if you haven’t met Jack, you might not know Jack.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” opens everywhere on March 1st. See local listings for 3D theaters and showtimes. Featuring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Eleanor Tomlinson and Bill Nighy. Screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney. Directed by Bryan Singer. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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