Friday, March 15, 2013

Stalking A Giant-Sized Fable

The CGI-rich Jack the Giantkiller is a fun re-imagining of the well known children's fable that is surprisingly entertaining.


ARTH VADER (AV): It's fable time again, Pontificator. As we get all snuggly-wuggly in our blankies, we want to curl up with a good bedtime story. Enter: Jack and The Beanstalk. The ingenious part of this film is that both a young Jack and the Princess Isabelle are told the original tale by their parents in simulcast at the opening of the film. The story plays out to the audience in a bizarre visual re-telling that is an odd mix of stylized 3D animation and voice over. The story gets an embellishment verbally and visually and sets the tone for the impending war between the Giants and Humanity.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I remember Jack and the Beanstalk as a child. It was one of my favorite childhood stories. It never occurred to me then (or now) that one day a movie would be made about it. It’s not an exact duplicate of the original story (at least the version I heard as a child), but the base elements were enough to weave a story much more entertaining than the one I heard all those years ago.

AV: Certainly a decent cast here, Ponty. Nichalous Holt (aka Beast from X-Men: First Class fame and recent sleeper hit, Warm Bodies) is a perfect Jack. Nerdy, needy and able to deliver a farm-boy innocence, the casting of Holt was spot on. Not so much for Eleanor Tomlinson for me, Ponty. Chemistry was fine but I got a feel for a very submissive victim-like persona from her requiring either Jack or Ewan "Obi-Wan" McGregor, Jack or King/Daddy Ian McShane to come galloping to the rescue. I just think we should be past traditional damsels in long-dressed distress, Hollywood. Regardless, this was a Bryan Singer movie and down the line, a first-rate re-imagining that was visually stunning and well-paced.

TP: There were good performances in this film, but what it really needed were great ones. Nicholas Hoult brought Jack to life adequately as the happenstance hero. He had his moments, but there wasn’t too much opportunity for depth. Eleanor Tomlison played Isabelle, the princess dying to see the real world (and getting more than she bargained for). The role was limited, so it’s no surprise her characterization was also. Truthfully, I was more interested in the noble guardsman, Ewan McGregor and the secretly evil arch-villain, Stanley Tucci. Both had lesser roles than the formers, but their screen presence is just so much more alluring, that I wanted to see more of them instead.


AV: What would today's modern fantasy and Sci-Fi world look like without first rate CGI? This movie reminds us of how well handled SF/X can–and should-–be for movies like this. The Giants are really cool visually but I must call out my favorite visual in this film, Ponty. It's the Beanstalk. I know what you're thinking, "really dude?" Really. Such care and visual complexity was added to the stalk that, to me, it was almost a character in itself. The slithering, snake-like movements of the vines and the earth-ripping root upheavals were so well done it portrayed the coil-like complexity very convincingly. Loved that!

TP: If there was an area for this movie to shine, where it really needed to shine, this was it. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  I agree the stalk scenes were very nice Vader, but with special effects coming such a long way, I was utterly disappointed in the CGI of the giants. They looked liked CGI giants, instead of real people...just a lot larger. The 3D was also just adequate, and that’s NOT a compliment with movies now having 3D on a level of having the crowd react to objects that aren't really there. I never got over the feeling I had that the special effects were rushed, and that with more effort, could have elevated this film far past the mediocrity it settled for.


AV: In an age when Hollywood still seems to struggle to find and share original content, it surprises me that fable re-telling gets as much attention as it does. This movie year will see it's fair share of course but this one was... okay. While I think the Jack The Giant Slayer section of the audience will be quite empty during the 2014 Oscars, the movie was solid. What perplexes is the continuous retelling of children's fables over new stories. Hopefully, Hollywood will treat this like an occasional treat and not an ongoing genre sub section.

TP: If you look to deeply into this film, you’ll end up looking right past it. I applaud the effort of trying to take a children’s story and make a whole world out of it with an expansion from one giant to a whole race of them. I was particularly tickled with the original giants mantra of “Fee, fye, foe, fumm” becoming actual giants named Fee, Fye, Foe and Fumm. It was nice, but didn’t make this film any more interesting to watch. I think the PG13 rating hurt the film as much of the more intense violence was never shown, but simply alluded to. Sure, this worked out great for younger audiences, but the fine line between too young and the target audience was just too thin for this film to elevate itself as a truly great film. It seemed to constantly hover at just “alright”...and could never get itself out of neutral. Much of this had to do with the directing, which had the film plodding along without any real payoff...not even at the climax of the final battle. Armies, swords, princess's and giants should never be anticlimactic.


AV: Normally I would just type a smug "nothing here" response. And while, yes, the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is without direct need for follow-up, there could be something here. This would entail someone using some original brainpower to perpetuate it, but I dare say there could be a revisiting of this tale (something Hollywood seems to love!). To be clear, I'm not advocating a sequel, just that more than other flicks of this nature, is a possibility. 

TP:, but I could see one possible avenue, and I know they won’t take it. At the end of the film they show how the world of man has progressed until today...which had me wondering what would it be like should the giants return today. The giants as seen in the film would be dead in minutes, but giants that have had their technology progress alongside man’s...and with an “R” rating, could be quite...interesting.


ARTH VADER rates Jack the Giant Slayer: visually pleasing, decent acting and all-around fun that's not to be taken too seriously, this movie is worth the ticket price. No one will remember this film two months from now but it is good, solid, Sunday afternoon fun. Leave your fancy-pants expectations at home but this movie chops down six solid, Giant-sized, busted blocks and reminds us that well-handled children's tales can indeed amount to a hill of beans.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Jack the Giant Slayer: A film like this (light on story and substance) really needed to hit a home run on effects to be something special. Instead, it was a foul ball that never fooled anyone into thinking it was going to be a fair hit. It was wanting in every category that counts in film... and basic entertainment. Jack needs new beans because the ones he planted only grew a stalk capable of busting five blocks.

Jack The Giant Slayer: 

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