Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given the task to sell his uncle’s horse. Instead of coming back with money or gold, Jack has accepted beans from a monk (Simon Lowe) who claims that they are holy relics from a very special time. If Jack delivers the beans to an abbey, he will receive payment that is considerably more than what the horse is worth. However, the monk admonishes that Jack must not allow the beans to come in contact with water.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” based on the screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney, takes inspiration from “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” and shows us a world that is exciting and magical. Though it lacks development in terms of the romantic tension and feelings between the title character and a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who craves for adventure, it has enough good action sequences to make up for this shortcoming.
The greatest weapon in its arsenal is the impressive visual effects. Particularly eye-catching is the first time a bean is triggered to grow its stalks up to the heavens. Though obviously generated by a computer, we are shown the details of the plant growing in height and width while crushing everything that gets in the way of its destiny. A thrilling score is utilized and the sound effects are precise in order to keep us transfixed in the moment.
The giants are actually scary. Like the beanstalk, they, too, are computer generated. Although at times they appear somewhat cartoonish, like when they charge in groups, they feel like real threats when one or two share a frame with a human character. The camera gives us enough time to appreciate the look of the giants, from their blotchy, scaly skin as they lumber about to their crooked, rotten yellow teeth when they snarl. One of the more memorable encounters involves a giant taking a bite out of a live sheep and the camera, adopting Jack’s point of view, observes the horror from underwater. Small decisions like this prevents the film from becoming as yet another pedestrian action-adventure.
Tomlinson and Hoult are attractive when together and apart, but their characters’ romance is denied from ripening by the screenplay. Jack and Isabelle share some cute scenes in first half, but the majority of the time they spend together involves running from danger and swinging through collapsing structures. Their interactions start to become repetitive eventually. Would it have been too much for the writers to give these two something interesting to say about their struggles, as a poor farmer and as a future queen, with respect to the teamwork and adventures they are thrusted into?
This is going to sound silly, but it must be mentioned because I kept noticing it. Though Ewan McGregor, playing a knight leader, is a pleasure to watch because he is clearly enjoying his character, most distracting is his hair. In one scene, it is up: very stylish and magazine-ready. The next scene when it is pouring cats and dogs, naturally, it is down. However, when it is no longer raining, his hair is back up–as if the storm had never occurred. The glaring lack of continuity when it comes to the performer’s hair is enough to take me out of the story a few times.
Directed by Bryan Singer, “Jack the Giant Slayer” does not require us to think very hard but it is fun and executed with a lot of energy. I enjoyed its treatment of the villains.