JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Jack the Giant Slayer gave all appearance of being a production that the studio didnt care about. Trailers went out in 2012 and looked terrible. The film was yanked from release schedule in mid-2012 and ping-ponged around various dates. Just prior to release, the title was suddenly changed from Jack the Giant Killer to Jack the Giant Slayer for reasons that probably only make a difference to the publicity department. The thing it was almost impossible to realise until the most recent trailer went out is that Jack the Giant Slayer is a version of the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, which was first written down in 1807 by Benjamin Tabart. Going by its original title, one made the assumption that the film was actually a remake of Jack the Giant Killer (1962), which in itself was based on a similar Old English folk tale about a giant-slaying peasant boy that is thought to be the original basis of the more familiar version. We have had a spate of big serious fairytale adaptations over the last few years Beastly (2011), Red Riding Hood (2011), Blancanieves (2012), Mirror Mirror (2012), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Beauty and the Beast (2014), Into the Woods (2014), Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), as well as modernised tv series such as Grimm (2011-7), Once Upon a Time (2011-8) and Beauty and the Beast (2012-6). Jack the Giant Slayer could have easily capitalised on this but it seems as though the Jack and the Beanstalk connection was something that the publicity machine seemed embarrassed about.
There have been a number of screen adaptations of Jack and the Beanstalk before. These range from comedies the Abbott and Costello Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), modernised childrens films Beanstalk (1994), animated childrens films Jack and the Beanstalk (1997), and a valiant but failed effort to retell the story from the giants point-of-view the tv mini-series Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), not to mention an episode of Disneys Fun & Fancy Free (1947) where the tale is replayed by Donald Duck and Goofy and Jack the Giant Killer (2013), The Asylum's bizarre copy of this film that featured no giants. What should be noted about all of these is that they are either childrens films or do not take the telling seriously. This seems to be the conceptual problem that Jack the Giant Slayer is stuck with how to make an overly retold childrens story about a boy climbing a beanstalk and fighting giants interesting. Other fairytales such as Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White have found popularity among the retellers because the filmmakers are able to bring out something that lends itself to an adult interpretation. There is not much of that in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Bryan Singer has an interesting assemblage of talents on his script. These range from Christopher McQuarrie, Singers writer on The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, the excellent Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and more impressively a director in his own right with Jack Reacher (2012) and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015); Dan Studney, a writer/producer on such tv series as Weird Science (1994-7) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1997-8); Darren Lemke, writer of Shrek Forever After (2010), Goosebumps (2015) and director of the modest thriller Lost (2004); and David Dobkin, director of efforts such as Clay Pigeons (1998), Wedding Crashers (2005), Fred Claus (2007) and The Change-Up (2011).
The surprise about a script from so many writers of divergent backgrounds and a publicity department that does everything to downplay that the film is an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk is just how traditional a version of the fairytale that the film ends up being. There is Jack, the simple-minded peasant boy who naively trades the horse for beans; the journey up the beanstalk; the giants chanting fee fi fo fum and so on. Certainly, the film pads out and expands some of this. There are knights accompanying Jack up the beanstalk; there is a human villain added to the piece; there is a princess that needs rescuing (something that has been added in several other film versions); the fantasy McGuffin of a magic crown that can control the giants; and the extended climax of the film has the giants coming down the beanstalk and mounting an attack on the kings castle. Much of this seems principally there in order to pad Jack and the Beanstalk out as an epic fantasy in much the same way that Snow White and the Huntsman expanded the basics of the original fairytale out into a fantasy adventure akin to The Lord of the Rings. The surprise though is, when boiled down to it, how traditional a telling of Jack and the Beanstalk the film ends up being. There is not anything that subverts, substantially rewrites, gives alternate explanation to or darkens the fairytale as we have had in the abovementioned and other modern fairytale retellings.
I was disappointed with Jack the Giant Slayer. This is a film from Bryan Singer who was once seen as the great white hope of fanboy cinema. Instead, Singer delivers a film that is exactly what we expect it to be. There are no unexpected surprises, no hidden depths everything unfolds exactly as we expect it would when we sat down to watch the film the villain gets his comeuppance, Jack singlehandedly defeats the giants, saves the kingdom and gets the girl. The production is lavish and dramatic in all the places it should be. There is a dash of humour and a smidgen of romance. Singer mounts a dramatic and spectacular special effects-driven climax as the giants attack the castle. It is just that Jack the Giant Slayer is never anything more than that. It feels exactly like an effort that could have been handled by a novice journeyman hired by the studio and kept on a tight leash with everything in the script massaged to suit middle-of-the-road focus group tastes. Though Bryan Singer has shown great creativity, visual flair and intelligence in his other films, he never allows any of that to emerge here.
The films release has cannily coincided with the rise of star Nicholas Hoult, now suddenly a hot name as a result of the modest hit of Warm Bodies (2013). (It is surprising how much of a ringer that Nicholas Hoult is for Bryan Singer cast Singer with someone twenty-five years younger and Hoult would bear an uncanny resemblance). The unknown Eleanor Tomlinson looks pretty especially when she manages to change into a suit of gold armour in the thirty seconds it takes Nicholas Hoult to walk out of a tent but never gets to do a great deal. The rest of the cast is filled out with a great many names from British equity, most of whom you dont immediately recognise behind absurdly unconvincing wigs or pieces of facial hair.
Bryan Singer has also executive produced the tv mini-series The Triangle (2005) about the Bermuda Triangle, and produced the horror anthology Trick R Treat (2008), the horror films My Eleventh (2014) and The Taking (2014), and the tv series Legion (2017 ).