JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. Starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane. Directed by Bryan Singer. 114 minutes. Rated M (Fantasy violence).
After Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, and Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters, what were we to expect of this version of Jack the Giant Slayer. According to Wikipedia, it is a British fairytale about King Arthur’s time but does not appear in print until the 18th century. But ‘Fie, Fie, Foe, Fum’ are in Shakespeare’s King Lear. They are repeated in the film but not with, ‘I smell the blood of an Englishman’, rather,’ I know where the thunder comes’. And then there is Jack and the Beanstalk! Which also appears here. However, the modern screenwriters have taken some of the elements from both stories – and left a great deal out.
Be that as it may, this is a very straightforward telling of its tale, and all the better for that.
It is directed by Bryan Singer, who began with small-budget films and then made some of the X-Men films as well as Batman Begins, so he knows what he is doing with spectacle. This one abounds in action and fine special effects and can be seen in 3D.
The look is medieval, a castle with turrets and moats, a surrounding town and farmlands. Immediately, the story and its verse are told to Jack by his farmer father and to the Princess Isabelle by her mother. It tells of the vanquishing of the giants, back to their home above the clouds and peace reigning while the crown that governs humans and giants remains on earth. So far, so good.
One day, Jack (a gangly, nice Nichlas Hoult) encounters the Princess (a feisty Eleanor Tomlinson) and saves her from some yokels. She is promised to Duke Roderick (a bewigged, English-accented Stanley Tucci, oozing dastardliness) but runs away. That day a monk who had taken the magic beans gives them to Jack in payment for a horse. Don’t lose them – and don’t let them get wet! Of course, he does lose one, not his fault, and it rains and Jack finds that a monstrously gigantic beanstalk sprouts, taking his house and the princess way up to the land of the giants. So far, even better.
As might be guessed, the king (Ian McShane) is unhappy. He sends his captains, Ewan McGregor and Eddie Marsan, to climb the stalk and recover the Princess. Jack’s help is acknowledged and he is commissioned to go as well. It is a love story too. And Duke Roderick volunteers.
There is quite some excitement as they climb the tree – except for Ewan McGregor who plays his part, with attitudes and lines like those of Dirk Bogarde or John Gregson in those stiff upper-lip war stories of the 1950s, and does it entertainingly. He is prepared for every opportunity.
The giants are an ugly lot and led by Bill Nighy. They like eating humans (and there is a scene where Ewan McGregor as well as two pigs are rolled in pastry for the oven) and are generally very repulsive to look at and in the way they behave. At this stage, we realise that, though it is a fairytale, the giants and their violence as well as the many deaths, especially from the swishing and swirling stalk as it is cut down, would be too much for many of the under 12s.
For the rest of us, there is more excitement, Roderick getting the crown and commanding the giants, his fight on the cliff’s edge, getting down the stalk and the king, fearing for his kingdom, getting it cut down. But, there is more. The giants find the remaining beans and grow more stalks, down to earth. A right royal pursuit ensues, a huge siege of the castle, even with burning moats, while Isabelle and Jack try to warn neighbouring towns.
You may guess how it ends. But, we can all be glad it is happy ever after.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out: March 21, 2013.