THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"JACK THE GIANT SLAYER"
One thing is for sure about Hollywood: if the studios think you like something, they'll give you more and more of it. After Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland became a $300 million hit, a slew of fairy tale projects were put into development. We've already had two Snow White films (Mirror Mirror and Snow White & the Huntsman) and Red Riding Hood, and now comes Jack the Giant Slayer. This one actually makes some sense, since modern CGI can easily create gnarly giants and beanstalks that reach into the sky.
Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) plays Jack, a young peasant lad who trades his horse for some magic beans. He's given a warning not to get them wet (what are they, Gremlins?), but of course one of them does. Subsequently, a massive beanstalk emerges from the ground and grows straight up into the clouds. There is a place between Heaven and Earth to which a band of malevolent giants has been banished. Because the beanstalk carried away the kingdom's princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), Jack must climb it and rescue her from the hands of those giants on the other end. Aiding him in this task are a valiant knight, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and Isabelle's fiance, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), whom King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has insisted she marry. Roderick is devious, though, and after discovering the giants, he makes a power play to control them. Soon, humans and giants are engaged in all-out war.
Jack the Giant Slayer was directed by Bryan Singer, the filmmaker behind The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men movies. You might expect him to put his own distinct spin on things, and you'd be right. However, I'm not sure how much of his spin made it into the final cut. There are a number of moments where the movie seems primed to go to some dark places, only to abruptly shift course. It has been reported that the studio retooled Jack to make it a little more family friendly and, at times, that shows. A lack of character development is also a noticeable deviation from Singer's other works. The humans here are largely archetypes rather than fleshed-out individuals. Jack is the Unlikely Hero, Isabelle is the Damsel in Distress, Elmont is the Brave Warrior, etc. The giants themselves have more personality than the people.
If you can get past those flaws – and I could - Jack the Giant Slayer is a lot of fun. This is due in large part to the giants themselves. The creatures are delightfully (if grotesquely) designed. Singer seems to enjoy them, which makes us enjoy them too. There is a sequence in which the camera zooms into a giant's eye, then moves to his nose, so that it seems as though he is sniffing the audience, then down to his rotting teeth-filled, halitosis-spewing mouth. And it's all in 3D. I love the humor in that. Actually, much of Jack is very funny. There is a hilarious bit in which Jack and Elmont ambush a giant with a beehive, and another in which an especially disgusting giant prepares a meal in his kitchen. I can now say I've seen a giant pick a booger out of his nose and eat it in 3D. So I've got that going for me.
Speaking of 3D, it's pretty good here. The scenes with only humans feel a little flat, but the CGI stuff is fantastic. Sequences set on the beanstalk are dizzying, and all the battle scenes deliver a nice sense of scale. You can really feel the height difference between the warring factions. I tend to like 3D, although I'm not always satisfied with how movies use it. While not exactly Life of Pi or Avatar, I did find the 3D generally effective here.
Despite not being given much chance to develop their characters, the actors are all likeable, with the scenery-chewing Stanley Tucci being a standout. (Then again, when is Tucci ever not a standout?) Still, this is the giants' show. An admirably warped sense of humor in regard to the creatures, some truly cool action scenes, and a visually impressive beanstalk added up to a movie I quite frankly had a blast with. No, it's not perfect, but Jack the Giant Slayer delivers some primo giant-y goodness, which I found irresistible.
( out of four)
Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!