Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” did not do very well opening weekend, earning only $28 million of the $200 million they need to break even.
On the other hand, nothing else that weekend did either and “Jack” wound up on top anyway. There have been indications it’s been picking up, perhaps due to word of mouth advertising.
I went to see it with two very uncritical movie reviewers, my six-year-old daughter and her best friend. I was glad it was on the marquee because nothing else looked suitable.
Well that and the fact that I do want my children exposed to fairy tales. When I was growing up we had Andrew Lang’s Red and Blue fairy books in the house (there are 12 in all). These were themselves taken and translated from other collections of European folk tales and edited for children. So they are already at least second hand.
“Jack” is like that, in that it is very loosely based on two stories involving guys named Jack who have a lot to do with giants. There’s “Jack and the Bean Stalk,” first published in 1807, and “Jack the Giant Killer,” earliest published version 1811.
Both of these, though they borrow heavily from mythology and the folk tales of Cornwall, are apparently early 19th century creations possibly written for a market that had already heard all the classical tales and wanted more.
Jack and the Beanstalk was first done on film in 1902, and has since been reinterpreted by Mickey Mouse (1947), Abbot and Costello (1952), Bugs Bunny (1955), The Three Stooges (1962) and Gene Kelly (1966) among others.
In 2001 Jim and Bryan Henson told “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story” in a TV miniseries, revealing for the first time what a rotten scoundrel Jack was.
“Jack the Giant Killer” however appears to have been done on film only once before, in 1962.
In this latest interpretation, farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult) goes to town to sell his uncle’s horse because they are seriously broke. However our Jack is no simpleton and acquires the magic beans from a monk who was doing something or other with them in his laboratory and is on the run from the king’s guard.
Jack also meets the beautiful Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) who is wandering around the marketplace incognito because she wants to get to know the people she’s going to rule.
Isabelle’s father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), loves his daughter deeply, but is nonetheless going to marry her off to Rodrick (Stanley Tucci) the nogoodnik prime minister she doesn’t love to secure the future of the kingdom.
Coincidentally they meet again when the Princess seeks shelter during a rainstorm in Jack’s humble cottage, which is soon whisked off into the sky by the magic beanstalk that grows from one of the beans that’s slipped through a crack in the floor.
Enter the King and his guard, led by stalwart and faithful Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Jack volunteers to join the rescue party going up the beanstalk to the land in the sky where the legendary giants dwell.
Unfortunately Roderick and his henchman (Ewen Bremner) are going too. Roderick it seems has possession of the crown the kings of Albion once used to control the giants the last time they came to the kingdom to serve Man (roasted, toasted, or raw).
Roderick wants to rule the giants and use them to conquer the kingdom. Why would he want to do that? He’s going to get it anyway when he marries Isabelle?
Roderick it seems, has wider ambitions.
The climbers meet the CGI giants. The giants want to know the way down. They find it. That’s how the war starts.
Of course you can guess how it’s going to wind up for Jack and the Princess, but there’s a lot of less predictable twists and turns before then.
Jack does in fact slay some giants. One in a manner right out of the tales, and one in a way which perfectly illustrates Chekov’s principle of hanging the gun on the wall in act one and using it by act four. Which of course I can’t tell you.
There’s something else in the ending I can’t tell you either, and this is truly original. Not to mention pretty funny. Probably even funnier if you’re English.
So hey, it’s really not bad and it doesn’t do serious damage to folklore. You could argue it adequately translates traditional stories into new media, thus showing it’s still a living tradition.
It’s not going to make film history but it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon with the kids.
My junior partner in film criticism summed it up, “It was awesome!”