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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 9
Jack the Giant Slayer: More than just a hill of beans
Arts & Entertainment
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Jack the Giant Slayer: More than just a hill of beans

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Opens March 1


To steal a line from Disney, it's a tale as old as time. Young kid - farmer's son - forced to go into town to sell the family's favorite horse, comes back with a handful of 'magic' beans instead of cash, gets berated for his stupidity, discovers the beans really are magical when a massive beanstalk grows from the earth into the heavens, climbs up, discovers a race of man-eating giants, rescues a princess, gets everything he ever dreamed of and more - like I said, it's a familiar story.

But that didn't stop X-Men and The Usual Suspects filmmaker Bryan Singer from wanting to bring it to life. Working from a story from Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) and David Dobkin (Fred Claus), crafting a screenplay alongside Lemke, frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Valkyrie), and television veteran Dan Studney ('Weird Science'), the filmmaker has attempted to rework the fairytale for modern audiences while still staying true to its classical roots, using the latest in CG and motion-capture technology to help him do it.

The result is Jack the Giant Slayer, originally slated to open last summer but pushed to early this year to avoid comparisons to Snow White and the Huntsman and to get out of the way of Marvel's The Avengers, all of which was probably a good decision on the part of Warner Bros. Happily, unlike many movies delayed to later dates this one is a rollicking good time sure to put a smile on the majority of the faces it plays for. Unhappily, there is something a little tired about the film, something a little rudimentary and routine, and as beautifully as much of it can play and as handsome as the production is there is a slight been-there-done-that aura that's sadly omnipresent.

Still, Singer know how to orchestrate stuff like this with breathless confidence, setting up his version of the story effortlessly, introducing us to our hero, Jack (Nicholas Hoult), and our heroine, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), with dexterous simplicity. He and his team also get their pieces strategically placed on the board, giving us all we need to know about the Princess's stubborn father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), her supposed protector, Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and her duplicitous betrothed, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), with magnetic grace.

PREDICTABLE BUT POLISHED
From there events move forward with a speedy charm that's somewhat unusual for most Hollywood blockbusters of this size and scope, Singer jovially bouncing toward the preordained events concerning pint-sized Jack facing off against towering giants with giddy enthusiasm. Sure, the plot points concerning a magic crown, Roderick's trickery, and the desire of the leader of the giants (dimwitted, two-headed monster General Fallon, voiced and portrayed by Bill Nighy, with John Kassir as his unnamed smaller head) to suck on Isabelle's bones gets a tad silly at times, but the story itself still works and is constantly compelling, never once belittling the intelligence of the audience for the sake of a cheap joke or a supercilious thrill.

But as nice as all of this is, as fetching as the production might be, as fun as certain elements are and as glorious as the chemistry between Hoult - as quick a rising star as there is right now - and Tomlinson proves to be, the forgone nature of all of this coupled with the aftereffects of the likes of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, ABC's 'Once Upon a Time,' and other various fairytale adaptations is difficult to dismiss. While the movie hits all its beats and goes through its motions with energetic aplomb, I can't say I was continually engaged every step of the way, and as fun as it is on the whole, the movie suffers from current fairytale overload (some would say hysteria).

Not that this is Singer and company's fault. By and large they've staged a gorgeously refined epic filled with interesting characters (I think this is the best McShane has been utilized in years, while McGregor is obviously having a blast filling the shoes of the courageous, self-sacrificing knight not above a sarcastic putdown or two) and dynamic moments that kept me more often than not happily entertained. While it's somewhat apparent the director would have liked to have taken some darker turns, what he has in fact delivered is a family-friendly adaptation of the timeless tale kids and adults should enjoy equally, and for that fact alone I find Jack the Giant Slayer to be a towering success that's sure to grow on me.

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