The 400-Word Review: Jack the Giant Slayer
By Sean Collier
March 1, 2013
Even though we’re through our Snow Whites, our Red Riding Hoods, our Hansels and our Gretels, it seems that the great identity crisis of the cinematic fairytale trend remains unresolved.
The lure of public-domain source material is apparently too strong for the studios; Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest entry in this movement. Yet for all the dollars poured into them — the budget for Jack was quoted at $190 million or more — no one has ever decided exactly what these flicks are supposed to be.
Are we dealing with sexed-up, adult versions of our favorite bedtime stories? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters thought so, as did Red Riding Hood (to a lesser extent.) Are we attempting to get to the powerful heart of these tales? That was Snow White and the Huntsman’s angle. Or are these kiddie movies with enough added violence (and A-list stars) to draw an adult audience?
That’s Jack, a decently satisfying and well-performed entry desperate to be everything to everyone. Yes, the titular giants gnaw on humans like beef jerky, among other crimes, but director Bryan Singer snatches the camera away before we can get a good look at any of the messy details. And while supporting performances by Stanley Tucci and Ewan McGregor are clearly meant to amuse the adults, the romance between Jack (Nicholas Hoult, currently underwhelming in Warm Bodies) and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is meant for the younger set.
The fact that Jack fares as well as it does is owed primarily to a driven and sometimes clever script by a quartet of writers, Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) among them. It’s refreshing to see a fantasy that actually moves — the Titans, Clashing and Wrathing respectively, had half as much plot in two films — without jumping all over the place (think Hobbit).
While 3-D adds little, the visual effects are engaging and acceptably realistic; a few sequences around the beanstalk manage to dizzy and thrill. Some judicious editing (starting with a groan-inducing epilogue) could’ve helped, and Singer should’ve taken steps to make the giants more menacing; yes, they’ll bite off your head, but they’ll do it between a fart and a pratfall.
So Jack is fine, which is a bit better than it might have been and a step ahead of its storybook brethren. Like the rest of the lot, though, it’s utterly inessential and instantly forgettable.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark