March 7, 2013

Jack the Giant Failure

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Following the recent trend of fairy tale revivals, Jack the Giant Slayer is a half-hearted attempt to breathe life into one of the Brother Grimm’s simpler tales, “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Hollywood’s interpretation of this tale begins with two children eagerly listening to a bedtime story about the giants of legend, who waged war on medieval England after descending down a magical beanstalk. One of the children is Jack, a simple farm boy who dreams of adventure as an escape from his otherwise dreary life. The other child is Isabelle, a princess of the kingdom of Cloister. Her mother encourages her to go on adventures so that she can become a better person and a better queen. But neither child nor parent can dream of the adventure the two children will later encounter.

The story then jumps forward 10 years. The young boy listening to bedtime stories becomes Jack, a noble but naïve young lad, played by Nicholas Hoult, who has matured well since his About A Boy days. Isabelle, played by Eleanor Tomlinson, is a sheltered princess who gets her kicks sneaking out of the castle to watch children’s plays. On one of these excursions, Jack attempts to defend the princess from a group of dirty peasants, but she is saved by the arrival of her guardian Elmont, an enthusiastic Ewan McGregor. But do not fret: Jack and Isabelle get another chance at star-crossed teenage romance when fate and an unusually large beanstalk conspire to bring them together once more. Jack the Giant Slayer attempts to be a thoroughly modern remake of an old classic, but never quite makes it. While the extras wear period costumes, Jack runs around in a leather hoodie that looks too much like something off the rack from Abercrombie. Isabelle’s character is set up to be a feminist heroine, a young woman in a position of power who is unafraid of adventure and mixing with the common folk. But as the story gives Jack more and more opportunities to be heroic, Isabelle recedes into the background until she is no longer important to the story as more than the damsel in distress. There are touches of offbeat humor that seem to nod to films like The Princess Bride — puns abound. But the humor contrasts with the senseless violence. Some men fall to their deaths from great heights, some are eaten alive and more than one head is bitten off. Since this is a PG-13 movie targeted to kids who have to drag their parents to the theaters with them, most of the gruesome stuff happens off screen. The film uses these deaths to swing the audience into more somber moods, but the moments of reflection are too infrequent for a truly serious theme to emerge. The specter of death, along with several clunky references to God and religion, put a drag on some otherwise lighthearted plotlines. The slick graphics redeem some of the poor plot execution. The giants Jack and Isabelle encounter at the top of the beanstalk and the giant realm of Gantua are fantastically rendered, from every gaping pore to yellowing toenail. The 3D supplies nice effect, adding depth to the wistful expanse of stars that the young lovers are treated to as they make out in the beanstalk. The movie does eventually succumb to the temptation to throw things at the audience during the later action sequences, a temptation 3D can rarely resist, but it never becomes annoying. The greatest flaw of Jack is that the natural end to the plot comes a good half-hour before the credits roll. The princess is saved, a magic crown is traded around like Harry Potter’s  Elder Wand and many die but the important characters make it down the beanstalk. Sure, Jack and Isabelle are disappointed that their Taylor Swift love story has to end, but haven’t the adults been telling them all along that they have to grow up and accept their soul-crushing duties? Luckily for the lovebirds, the obligatory fantasy battle scene hasn’t happened yet. With almost no build-up, what is supposed to be an epic battle to save humankind from the scourge of the giants quickly devolves into an exercise in Siege Warfare 101 that is hardly entertaining. While Jack and Isabelle take a tour of the castle’s catacombs and Elmont efficiently dispatches some giants with his crossbow, the audience has an opportunity to ask, “What is the point of all this?” It seems nearly impossible that the humans will win, even though they must, and in the end, Jack wins the battle and subdues the giants not because of his great skill, physical prowess or “humanity,” but because he manages to exploit a patriarchal vein of dark magic. The film ends on that oddly depressing note, making Jack the Giant Slayer an adventure story that lacks any spirit of adventure.

Original Author: Laura Boland