Sunday, April 07, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

I guess that eventually I'd end up seeing one of the current crop of fairy tale based films or TV series.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Snow White and the Huntsman
Red Riding Hood
Beauty and the Beast
The Brothers Grimm
Once Upon a Time (currently on TV2)
Beauty and the Beast (currently on Prime)
Jack the Giant Slayer is a fairly straight telling of the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk (with less theft and more heroism). The growing of the beanstalk and fight scenes are made for 3D viewing, though have plenty of impact in 2D. While the second line of the poem no longer mentions the blood of an Englishman, the actors are British and the setting of the film is unmistakably a fairy tale version of Britain.
Fee-fo-fi-fum, ask not where this idea came from.
The fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, is a story with repeated tension as Jack's curiosity and greed put him in danger again and again. Twice he is saved from the blood sniffing Mr Giant by the kindly Mrs Giant, and the third time he escapes by luck. On each occasion Jack steals from the Giants. After an exciting chase Jack and his mother chop down the beanstalk killing Mr Giant and live happily ever after on the proceeds of crime.

The film is less repetitive and introduces a Disney style princess to be rescued and married and an evil Bond style scheming villain to be stopped. This removes the dubious morality of making a hero out of a recidivist thief and pads out an otherwise trivial plot giving more opportunity for dialogue and extra characters.

Feminists might object to the cutting of both the original female characters and their replacement by nubile eye candy (Eleanor Tomlinson playing Princess Isabelle). While I can't see an obvious reason why the script writer replaced Jack's mother with an uncle, nor why there are no female giants in the film, but I can see that Isobelle serves an essential function as the central character that brings all the others together. To be lusted after and rescued by Jack and Elmont, to be a pawn in Roderick's schemes, to be captured by the giants, to be doted on by her indulgent father (played by Ian McShane) and finally to be part of the happy ending.

To be picky, the mythical kingdom of Cloister makes the perfectionist in me cringe, realistically who'd name a kingdom after an architectural feature? Kingdom of Courtyard or Kingdom of Porch anyone? As we get to see more of the (often CGI) royal palace it looks less like Hampton Court Palace (where some bits were filmed) and more like a cathedral (other bits were filmed in Wells and Norwich Cathedrals). So are we looking at kingdom that has re-purposed religious buildings? Or possibly where monarchy has supplanted religion or merged with the church?

The film is aimed at both kids and adults. It seems to have relatively modest aims of entertaining kids, parents and others with a familiar fairy tale augmented with other familiar themes and populated with characters that are easy to understand. Seen in that light I think Jack the Giant Slayer is entertaining, well paced and acted without being spectacular, challenging or memorable.

Ian's rating 2/5 Anne's rating 3/5

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