Jack the Giant Slayer
It may seem that Jack the Giant Slayer is a bit much as an adaptation of the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, unless you remember that it was itself an outgrowth of earlier Welsh and Cornish legends about “Jack the Giant Killer”; the film draws slightly more from this source. And while its far from the greatest fantasy or fairy-tale adventure movie out there, it’s actually a pretty solid piece of entertainment.
Folk tales abound that tell of the monks who bred magic beans in an attempt to reach heaven, only to find instead a land of giants. These giants climbed down and went on a rampage, only to be stopped when a magic crown was forged that the great King Erik could use to control them, driving them back into the skies, and bringing peace back to Albion. Long ages have passed and Albion has fallen apart into many local kingdoms as the stories of King Erik have fallen into legends told to all children, including the princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the farm-boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult).
Both of them hunger for adventure, and they get more than they’d bargained for. Isabelle sneaks away from the castle and ends up lost at Jack’s doorstep, just after Jack has been conned into transporting some beans to a nearby abbey. He’s been told not to get the beans wet — no word on exposure to bright lights or feeding them after midnight — so of course they do. A giant beanstalk springs up, taking Jack’s house and the princess with it.
Jack wakes the next morning under the pointed stares of the king (Ian McShane) and his entourage. After an explanation, the king sends up a search party led by the captain of the guard (Ewan McGregor), accompanied by Jack and the princess’ fiancé, Roderick (Stanley Tucci). Unbeknownst to everyone else, Roderick has located Erik’s crown, and means to use it to lead a giant invasion of Albion.
It’s hard to pin down a tone here. On the one hand, as a fairy-tale adaptation it seems like it should be aimed at kids. It’s not nearly so “gritty” as Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and by and large the story is simple and sexless enough for a PG rating. On the other hand, it’s pretty brutal as far as the violence goes — it clearly deserves its PG-13 — and I could see it being a problem for younger children. So if its too gory for the usual fairy-tale crowd and too corny for the usual action crowd, who is it for?
Tone aside, the script is no cheap excuse here. Simple as the story may be, it still manages to satisfy. It helps that there is no shortage of little details that point to the care that went into the script. You might not remember that “Albion” is an ancient name for the island of Great Britain, but screenwriters Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney certainly do. And while “Entin” — reminiscent of “ettin” — may apply better to the two-headed leader of the giants (Bill Nighy) than to the head of the king’s army, it’s still a nice touch.
The big disappointment — other than some of the CGI close-ups of the giants — is in Isabelle’s arc. The story of the princess breaking free from her royal constraints may not be the most original one, but it can work well enough. You know what’s an older and more boring story? the princess who runs away, gets kidnapped, and is then rescued — repeatedly — by the hero.
So yeah, Jack the Giant Slayer can and should be dinged on feminist grounds. But if that doesn’t kill your interest, it still makes for a decent way to kill two hours this weekend.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.