Film Review By: Gordon K. Smith
One thing that any baby boomer movie nut has to remember is that institution known as the Saturday Children’s matinee, where for 50 cents or a boxtop off some local product you could see something deemed kid-friendly, and that was a lot easier to deem in the ’60s. One of the staples of ’60s Children’s Matinee was 1962’s JACK THE GIANT KILLER, a sort of follow-up to the 1957 classic SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, re-teaming that film’s hero (Kerwin Matthews), villain (Torin Thatcher) and director (Nathan Juran), with more stop-motion monsters (although not by the former film’s legendary animator Ray Harryhausen, and it showed). Nevertheless, the film has acquired a small cult following especially among boomers like me, who saw it and loved it as a kid.
Fast forward to 1986 (stay with me here). I had the privilege to have breakfast with the great British director Michael Powell (THIEF OF BAGDAD, THE RED SHOES, PEEPING TOM) during the USA Film Festival. I asked something along the line of what kind of film he’d like to see more of in that era. His surprise answer was “Fairy Tales. The world needs more fairy tales”. I agreed then and now.
Which is why director Bryan Singer’s JACK THE GIANT SLAYER seems a bit of unique in an era wherein, if they’re made at all, fairy tale movies are usually something from Pixar, complete with big-name voice talents spouting snarky wisecracks, or dark reworkings of Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood. And which is why I’m happy to announce that JACK is a genuine fairy tale, not some LORD OF THE RINGS offshoot, and it works most of the way, without winking in-jokes (well, almost), and Oscar-baiting songs. It’s not a remake of the 1962 film, but they do have a two-headed giant in common. In fact, it’s more related to “Jack and the Beanstalk”, which is okay since that tale is related to “Jack The Giant Killer” in English folklore. And even better, Singer’s JACK has a true fairy tale spirit and generally finds the right tone, balancing comedy, real thrills, and a classic Brothers Grimm-illustrations look.
Also hitting the right note is casting, with Nicholas Hault (of the current WARM BODIES and Singer’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS) as farmboy Jack, who loses his uncle’s horse in exchange for a handful of beans from a shady friar (“Don’t get them wet!” – you can guess the rest). The beans launch into a gigantic beanstalk that disappears into the heavens, just as Jack is getting acquainted with Princess-In-Disguise Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson, ALICE IN WONDERLAND), who’s been betrothed to the requisite suave schemer Roderick (a hilarious curly-haired Stanley Tucci, clearly provoking memories of Chris Sarandon’s Prince Humperdinck from THE PRINCESS BRIDE, another distant cousin here). Jack teams up with Roderick and knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor, also having a strange hair day, and like the rest of this cast, enjoying himself immensely) on a mission to rescue the Princess, wherein they must climb the stalk to a cloud-world inhabited by some very icky-looking (and acting) giants. Not only must they battle the giants on their own turf, but again on Earth when the big nasty guys show up there and have fun stormin’ the castle (to reference PRINCESS BRIDE again).
Much more consistent in pace, action and visuals than the recent HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER also features some top-notch FX and palatable 3D, with a classic fairy tale look. Jack’s first encounter with a giant, while he’s hiding underwater, is genuinely creepy. If the film has a major problem it’s that the fun-o-meter does start to head south by the end, in the massive overload of CGI violence and mayhem – no one seems to quite know how to replicate the charm of classic film fantasies anymore, although this one get close at times. Alas, thanks to the scarier moments and some gross-out humor (which seems to be required now for some odd reason), it’s probably not for young kids, but I sure connected with my inner 10-year-old while watching it.