Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the hot blood of a big hit. Bryan Singer's romantic fairytale, Jack the Giant Slayer, had been much delayed, reportedly because of the extreme digital effects for the fantasy sequences. Delays always make people nervous. But, in the end, the wait was worth it. This big, bold, beautiful movie turns out to be great fun.
Like the classic The Princess Bride -- but without the giddy originality -- this adventure romp blends myth, humour, action, young love, bloodless battles and a romanticized version of the days of yore.
Jack the Giant Slayer blends two familiar versions of the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack the Beanstalk folktales, adding to and exaggerating both to transform Jack's adventure into something new and fresh. Singer worked with his screenwriting pal Christopher McQuarrie after taking over from original director D.J. Caruso. Three others are named in the writing and story credits.
But countless folklorists also have had a hand in shaping the saga, with its roots in Norse legends. Books have been written in several languages -- and the movie pays tribute by having adults read aloud to children as a storytelling tool.
Singer sets his version in an exaggerated and romanticized version of the days of yore. The movie was shot on location in England, including at Norwich Cathedral. Think of a marvellous medieval castle like the one in Camelot. Think of a widowed king surrounded by friends, a loyal warrior (Ewan McGregor) and dastardly villains. Think of a pretty princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who is rebellious, and a humble farmboy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult) who falls in love with the fair maiden.
Too bad the good but unwise king (Ian McShane) has already pledged her to a lord (Stanley Tucci), who is secretly despicable and mad for power. Wild things happen, magic beans fall into Jack's possession, one accidentally sprouts, giant stalks shoot up to the heavens and Jack's house ascends with the princess trapped inside.
Once again, Mother Earth is now connected to the land of the giants. These militant, man-eating monsters are led by the two-headed General Fallon (a marvellous mutant creation with Bill Nighy portraying the big head and body, plus John Kassir as the grunt-head on his right shoulder). Fallon and his horde yearn to get down to the land of humans, wreak their revenge and feed on flesh.
Jack the Giant Slayer is intense entertainment with spectacular visuals. It is not recommended for younger children. There is violence galore -- although not with gore. Even though hundreds of humans and many giants will die, Singer pulls back from blood-letting or gross stuff. For example, when General Fallon is about to gobble down a stalwart warrior who climbed up the beanstalk to try to rescue the princess, Singer's camera cuts away just as Fallon shoves the doomed man's body into his mouth. In the battle sequences, you never see heads and limbs severed. But it is otherwise graphic. There are consequences to fighting giants.
The cast is well chosen. Everyone from McGregor as the heroic soldier, to the young lovers, to the beleaguered king, to Tucci as the villain play this out as the fairytale it is supposed to be -- naively and with a playful spirit. This is not Shakespeare, after all. This is fantasy.
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