By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on Movies: Jack the Giant Slayer
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Bryan Singer, 2013
Money talks, especially in movies. Kajillions of dollars, for example have been spent on Jack the Giant Slayer — a new Bryan Singer-directed version of the oft-told fairy-tale about a boy and his beanstalk — in order to make it the most fantastically spectacular and expensively outlandish version of Jack and the Beanstalk you could possibly imagine — a Jack and the Beanstalk with all the scope and none of the sense of a classic war epic like “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” (“For Whom the Beans Sprout.”)
And that money has bought a lot of towering castles, awesome mountain scenery, jaw-dropping effects, star character actors keeping a straight face (the best of them are Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy and Ian McShane), and lots of maniacally elaborate special effects — of which the most maniacal are the movie’s CGI-engendered giants (CGIants, we should maybe call them). It’s all designed to remind you of a fairytale Die Hard, or perhaps Ivanhoe and the Living Dead, and in a way it does.
. But, in the end, the whole thing often doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Jack and the Giant Slayer has some entertaining stuff – stunning scenery, action, costumes and castles — and occasionally some good writing or acting. But what all that money ( reportedly somewhere around $190 million), hasn’t bought is an idea worth having or a script worth filming. The story is shallow and predictable — even though four writers, including Singer’s old Usual Suspects partner-in-crime Christopher McQuarrie, as well as David Dobkin of Wedding Crashers — labored over it.
The story, which you’ve heard before, is treated with an odd respect, as if it were “Beowulf “ or “Le Morte d‘Arthur.” It begins with Jack catching sight in town of a beautiful princess and defending her from boors, then trading his white horse for some beans, which are dropped to the ground, sprout and send up that humungous beanstalk, whooshing up to the sky and, past the clouds, to Giant Land (or Gantua), a vast mountainous landscape filled with great stone heads spitting out waterfalls, and huge, slovenly, heavy-muscled, tooth-challenged giants.
Since the stalk took the princess up to Gantua, her disturbed father, King Brahmwell (McShane) sends some knights — and Jack — on an expedition to bring her back: and the troupe includes the good knight Elmont (McGregor), the bad smarmy knight Roderick (Tucci), our boy Jack and some hapless carriers. Soon good guys are battling bad guys, expendable cast members are hurtling to their deaths, a magical crown is passing from hand to hand, the Giants are getting set to wage war and gobble the losers, and the beanstalk may come crashing down any moment on the Castle of Cloister.
The movie’s budget does give us a hellishly exciting, physically sumptuous movie spectacle. But it doesn’t give us a hero and heroine who are interesting, at least here, for any other reasons than their extraordinary good looks, and the fact that they were hired as the leads for a movie that cost $190 million. The two leads are plucky farmhand and bean-councter Jack, as played by Nicholas Hoult and adventurous Princess Isabelle, as played by Eleanor Tomlinson. They do look good. But their emotions are minimal, even when the whole kingdom is crashing down around them or when the scary giant team of Gen. Fallon and Gen. Fallon’s Small Head (voiced by Bill Nighy, with the extra head supplied by John Kissir), show up to look ugly and bite off human body parts like bon bons, or when more beanstalks start shooting up to the clouds.
In the midst of all this fabulously expensive brouhaha, one watches these two perfectly nice youngsters making moony eyes at each other and the camera, and gamely clambering up the enormous, twisty-stalked, green beanstalk that is the story’s central image, and one feels sorry for them. What a drag it must be to have movie star looks, but not to have dialogue worthy of a star to say. The beanstalk has better lines than these two. And the beans were more animated. Perhaps being at the center of a movie like this may be like trying to play an intimate love scene or virtuoso dramatic moment with a two-headed giant who looks at you as if you were like a talking filet mignon.
In any case, I found Jack and the Princess massively uninteresting characters despite every good thing they may have done in the past. I would have been happy to see them rep1aced with the lively stars of Walt Disney’s Mickey and the Beanstalk, Mickey Mouse (as the Giant Killer), Donald Duck and Goofy — and perhaps Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck added, as Princesses. Casting Minnie and Daisy would give Mickey’s version one more big female part than Singer and his writers have in their movie. here.
There’s more to this movie than my smart-assery suggests. It is physically beautiful, thanks to Singer, as well as cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel and production designer Gavin Boquet, and thanks also, I guess, to that 190 million dollars. Every once in a while McGregor or Tucci or McShane remind you how good they can be. But it’s difficult to watch Jack, the Giant Slayer without noting what strikes me as the absurdity of making a 190 million dollar show based on Jack and the Beanstalk. Of course this show could use more jokes — but in a way the movie is a joke itself. A Shaggy Giant Joke.