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'Jack & The Beanstalk... on Steroids'

I can only imagine the pitch meetings for Jack the Giant Slayer...

The Royal Family, Their Trusted Ewan, and Jack the Farmboy

It's like 'Jack and the Beanstalk' on steroids. not one giant but hundreds, not a farm to save but an entire kingdom, not just treasure but a princess's heart to win. Oh, and minus the golden harp since harps are for sissies!"

Okay, yes, the harp does make a cameo appearance but the story has been greatly altered in an attempt to reach today's kids boys. Which is fine. Fairy tales are always morphing with the times and in this case why the hell not? There's a reason that Jack & The Beanstalk is a second tier fairy tale. [more...]

The creators of the new film seem to know this and there's a lack of confidence throughout as if they couldn't quite commit to any one approach. Take the beginning of the picture: the cross-cut bedtime storytelling switches between Jack the farmer boy and the royal princess. It's functioning as legend-making backstory and immediate prologue to introduce our heroes (yes, plural) in a clear stab at gender equity and cross-quadrant appeal. The princess fancies herself a Merida or a Belle -- she wants adventure in the great wide somewhere, she wants it more than she can say ♪ -- but she doesn't have an ounce of their chutzpah or brainpower. She's the most boring kind of princess, only there to be rescued. Indeed, at no point in her interminably long adventure does she even think of even attempting to rescue herself.

But the movie's heart is not in this double protagonist first impression, anyway. This is not Jack & the Princess & the Beanstalk. This one is squarely aimed at eight year-old boys. Cue: fart & booger & swear-word jokes, courtesy of the CG giants, who appear to be an inbred male-only species.

Beans? The special beans, I let him go I didn't know he'd stolen my beans! ♫

All of the best moments come early on before the fx takes over, like the scene when Jack watches dwarf actors (Hi, "Willow" Warwick Davis! Long time no see) performing the Giants legend in a big tent and guilelessly comes to the rescue of the princess in disguise, his whole character arc laid bare: dimwitted farmboy now, lionhearted kind hero soon. Or, the humorous shots of Jack's orange tabby sensing something is just not right with those beans. It's the little things that make a film memorable, particularly a film that is so much bigger and longer than its imagination can fill.

Do I sound angry? I don't mean to. Jack The Giant Slayer is too harmless to hate, just as its too generic to love. The only angry-making element is that the movie keeps not ending. The last straw was the present tense epilogue. The consistently lazy period anachronisms made that cash grab decision not just crass but redundant. Yes, yes, major corporation who funded this. We know this is for modern audiences and that you want it to be a franchise. Duh!

Best in Show: None of the actors come out of this particularly well, especially Stanley Tucci who needs to say "no" to these one-dimensional villain roles as he's not adept at shading them (see also his sole Oscar nomination for an uncharacteristically bad performance in The Lovely Bones). He and his henchmen would be a better fit if they were dropped into a Disney cartoon feature of this same story, where lack of nuance and moustache twirling glee would be a better fit. Best in Show is easily The Beanstalk, even though it was demoted, since it's totally the movie's best CG character. But what of the giants? Well, when you're less compelling then a plant it's time to rethink.
Oscar?: Bryan Singer lands further and further away from his original "hot new director" launching pad a dozen years ago. Only his first film The Usual Suspects was a hit with the Academy (2 nominations, both winning) and Jack is neither memorable enough to fight for technical citations nor "prestige" enough to win them by default without a fight. 

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Reader Comments (9)

So, not his worst film? The guy who decided that "dark, moody & distanced Superman" was a suitable mainstream product isn't (ever) going to dig that hole any deeper.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm sorry but wasn't Superman Returns considered super light and silly, specially compared to the super "serious and dark" Batman Begins which opened a year before and changed how the mainstram public percieved comics adaptations?

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterremy

remy -- god. how batman ruined everything. One look need not apply to all pictures in a genre! what's right for batman is definitely not right for superman and it looks like they're making the same mistake again with Man of Steel.

March 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Exactly, another example is the Spider-Man reboot, as "darker" as it tries to get the dumber it is.
I don't think Superman Returns works very well (Kate Boswugh and Superman baby), but at least, Bryan Singer was trying for something that felt its own creature.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterremy

Jack and the Bean Stalk might be a 2nd tier fairy tale (is there such a thing) but it gave us one of Sondheim's best songs with "Giants in the Sky" so it's okay by me.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Speaking of fairy tales, today I saw a sneak peek of Oz, the Great and Powerful. I'm curious to see what you think of that Nat, since it is by Sam Raimi (and I remember you love his Spider-Man films, though I continue to think they're incredibly melodramatic and Tobey Maguire looks awkward as the title hero). Oz is gorgeous to look at, has some really goos 3-D and the story manages to play lip service to the 1939 movie while creating plenty of wonder of its own (the scene where we finally see Oz as "the Wizard" is quite fantastic). I'm not sure I can judge the acting, since I unfortunately saw it dubbed, but it is a triumph of CGI in its creation of characters and worlds and offers up a great twist on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (even if it's hard to get Wicked out of my mind when I see anything Oz-related nowadays, so I had to remind myself this is not Elphaba).

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

remy: See, I don't have (as much) of a problem with Spider-Man going in that general direction. It could easily be interpreted that, in the comics, Spider-Man is reacting to the physical and psychological pain around him with cocky, snarky flippancy to avoid the development of mental health issues. Thus, I can accept the dim lighting. With Superman, there's two problems: 1. He's POWERED BY THE SUN. When that's your superhero's power source, justifying a dingy aesthetic becomes almost impossible. 2. He's never exactly been portrayed as a character who's draped in shadow and moral shades of grey. For a general idea of how he should look and read in comparison to Batman, check out Batman: Noel.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

My eager anticipation for the film immediately morphed into disappointment when the trailers began displaying the giants in their entirety. Since then I've suspected that it would be mediocre at best.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I really like this movie.

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