Jack the Giant Slayer is a movie about a young boy who climbs a magic bean stalk and fights an army of giants.
It’s simple, doesn’t possess an ounce of complexity, and there are very few, if any, nuances.
In other words it’s a delightful, wonderful movie.
Hollywood in recent years has become addicted to the idea that in order for simple ideas and stories to translate into large-scale action epics, they must be made more complex and more robust, particularly as it relates to re-imaginings of classic fairy tales (i.e. Snow White and the Huntsman or Oz: The Great and Powerful).
Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer is a movie that embraces the fact that the very notion of a young boy scaling a magic bean stalk to fight an army of giants is epic and robust on its own merits, and that’s what makes this a truly enjoyable and memorable.
Nicholas Hoult stars as the titular Jack, a farm boy who becomes the unwitting recipient of the magic beans that will serve as the link between our world and the land of the giants, a place that exists thousands of miles above the kingdom where Jack makes his home.
Meanwhile, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) runs away from her father, who wishes her to marry the devious Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and seeks shelter in Jack’s home during a rain storm, only to be carried into the skies above when the magic beans make contact with the rainwater and an enormous stalk grows from the earth.
The king dispatches Jack, along with a search party led by the heroic Elmont (Ewan McGreggor) to retrieve the princess. However, Roderick is carrying a magic crown that will make him the supreme ruler of the giants and intends to use it to lay waste to the kingdom.
Okay, so it’s a little more complex than the classic tale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ but the beauty is in the way that the movie adds tiny alterations but never allows them to run away with the story. It presents our elements – farm boy, princess, giants, magic crown, sinister plot – and allows them to unfold naturally.
Nothing in this movie seems forced, a credit to both Singer’s direction and the screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney.
The actors are all charming, particularly Hoult and Tomlinson as Jack and the princess, respectively. Hoult is extremely good as the unwitting hero of the story, and Tomlinson takes a simple “damsel in distress” role and injects some real humanity to it.
McGreggor plays Elmont with great wit and sincerity, and is able to show off all of the dashing qualities that were so lacking the last time he played a mythical knight (something about a force and a war in space, if I recall correctly). His attitude toward Jack is initially dismissive, but McGreggor and Hoult command the relationship so well that the arc they go through together seems remarkably real in such an outlandish setting.
Tucci is marvelous as Roderick, simply chewing away at the scenery and creating a villain who seems to take such delight in being utterly and unapologetically evil.
Bill Nighy is great in the movie as well, playing General Fallon, the two-headed leader of the giants. His is the most interesting character in the film. We feel sympathy to some degree for Fallon when Roderick takes away his free will with the crown, and it’s not difficult at all to start hating him all over again when he regains it.
In the end, though, the real star of this film is its director, Bryan Singer. For years, Singer has been praised as a visionary filmmaker, and – to be honest – I’ve never been quite sure why.
Singer’s career has been built on complex narratives with very little levity and no room for casual enjoyment. The Usual Suspects was a wonderfully complex and dark film, as were his entries into the X-Men franchise.
But this is a director who made a Superman movie with very few light moments, and it takes a filmmaker who’s trying way too hard to make Superman a difficult character to enjoy.
Here he seems to be starting all over again, completely reinventing himself. And while I’m sure the Singer who made those other movies will return, it was extremely refreshing to see a guy who revels in complexity take a dip in the kiddie pool.
And ultimately the movie’s structure is a lot of fun as well. It borrows heavily from the Indiana Jones motif of every solution creating new problems – our heroes are constantly jumping out of the oven (literally in one instance) and right into the fire, and most of the fun comes from watching them figure their way out of the perils they find themselves in.
Warner Bros. brings Jack the Giant Slayer to Blu-ray with a beautiful 1080p MPEG-4 AVC-encoding that is every bit as immersive as it is breathtaking. There is a lifelike quality to the appearance of the beanstalk and to the otherworldly environment of the giants that is often very good at tricking the eye into forgetting that, by and large, it is looking at computer-generated images. Color temperature is perfect, textures are lifelike, and the black levels are firm enough to provide a sense of gravity while still permitting fluidity in the images.
The only gripe, visually speaking, is in the conversion from 3D back to 2D (the copy reviewed is NOT the 3D offering of the movie) that occasionally breaks the spell, but all-in-all, this is a gorgeous visual transfer.
In terms of the audio, Warner has done an equally impressive job, presenting the movie with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that takes full advantage of the Blu-ray format. Even watching the movie without surround sound results in a very tactile experience – the lifelike collapse of the beanstalk and the clanging of swords seem to fill the room, and the dialogue is never rendered unintelligible as a result. It’s a terrific technical achievement, both visual and audible.
Beyond the Feature
Jack the Giant Slayer doesn’t feature much in terms of quantity of bonus features, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in originality.
The primary feature of the disc is the Become a Giant Slayer game, in which you, as Jack, have to climb the beanstalk in search of behind-the-scenes featurettes as wind and other elements have to be dodged to prevent you from having to start the journey all over again.
As I said, it’s inventive but ultimately monotonous – particularly when you fail; not only do you have to start all over again, you have to watch features you’ve already seen.
Also included on the disc is a gag reel (about 3 minutes of dull bloopers) and eight minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, all presented in HD.
Additionally, the set includes a DVD and an UltraViolet download of the movie.
Jack the Giant Slayer is a movie I didn’t expect to enjoy but wound up loving a great deal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s enjoyable and timeless, as all fairy tales should be.
It’s to the credit of Singer’s willingness to step outside of his own box and the work of the actors that such a simple story could connect and resonate so well.
The other fairy tale-plunderers in Hollywood would do well to take a lesson or two from this movie.
Shop for Jack the Giant Slayer on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (June 18, 2013 release date).