2013 Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor. Screenplay by Dareen Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney. Directed by Bryan Singer.
Following in the footsteps of other recent big screen treatments of classic fairy tales, Jack the Giant Slayer has a lot going for it – Ewan McGregor for one. Then there’s the kid in the title role of Jack, Nicholas Hoult of Warm Bodies, who is now definitely on my list of Young Upcoming Actors to Keep An Eye On. He was fantastic as the not-quite-undead teen zombie who managed to hang on to his last vestiges of humanity with a lot of help from a pretty teen girl. Think Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending for fans of comedy horror, specifically the zombie sub-genre. The movie is better than those last two sentences would have you believe – trust me.
And now back to the current review…
Everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. E V E R Y O N E. So how do you turn such a well-known fable into an exciting, visually rich movie experience? Simple: lots and lots and lots of CG. (For you non-geeks, that’s computer graphics, digital special effects. Movies are full of ’em these days.) It was done so well, the CG giants in this film are the real stars. They are numerous, hideous, menacing, murderous, and they have well-developed individual personalities. There’s one that even has double the personality of the rest. (Don’t worry, you’ll know what I mean when you see the film.)
The human actors did a very nice job, too. Considering that this version is extremely kid-friendly, each of the actors gave a spot-on performance for the target audience. Hoult’s Jack is a sweet, earnest farm boy, McGregor’s Sir Elmont is a handsome, courageous, selfless knight, Tucci’s villainous Roderick was humorously cunning and foul, Ian McShane’s thoughtful king was appropriately consumed with concern for his only daughter the Princess. Together they make a nice cast performing slightly stereotypical fairy tale roles, but that’s okay. This is, after all, a fairy tale.
With all of the daring escapes, villainous plotting, swordplay, double-crosses, and battle scenes, there is plenty of action to keep the young ones on the edge of their seats. My quibble is that I didn’t find it as engaging for adults as some animated films such as Cars, How to Train Your Dragon, or Wreck-It Ralph. Frankly, the giants were more interesting characters than the actual humans. I don’t know if my reaction is due to seeing live humans acting as cartoon characters or if this movie was never meant to appeal to adults. As a modern cinematic treatment of an ageless fable, Jack the Giant Slayer has more in common with Mirror, Mirror than Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s light and a little fluffy, quite funny in places, but not nearly as frightening as the original tale. Those old fairy tales were stories meant to scare the bejeezus out of children so they would behave and not wander far from home. Jack the Giant Slayer probably won’t have any lasting impact on anyone.