Once upon a time when Hollywood couldn’t come up with good ideas for movies, it resorted to sequels and remakes. OK, it still does. But recently the entertainment industry discovered an almost limitless and largely untapped source of ideas it doesn’t need to actually have itself in order to make big bucks off them and that, of course, is the fairy tale.
In just a couple of years the phenomenon has cast its spell on both the small and big screen with shows like Once Upon A Time and Grimm working their magic on television audiences and moviegoers shelling out for tweaked takes on childhood staples like Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and two, count ‘em, two variations on Snow White.
What’s next-two more variations on Snow White, a Cinderella starring Cate Blanchette and more reimaginings of Pinocchio than you can shake a stick at? Um, yeah. No sign of a fairy tale ending to this trend anytime soon.
And so to its latest contribution to the culture, Bryan Singer’s $200 million 3D Jack the Giant Slayer. Speaking of classic stories-Singer’s a prime example of the filmmaker whose indie success (Public Access, The Usual Suspects) is rewarded with the opportunity to get rich making less significant mainstream fare (X-Men, Superman Returns). This is his least significant effort to date. Chalk another one up for the system.
Except for the fact that a farm boy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult), giants, magic beans and mutant vegetation are involved, the story has virtually zero connection to either Jack and the Beanstalk or Jack the Giant Killer. The production’s four screen writers (never a good sign) merely appropriate the familiar fables as a jumping off point for their attempt at the year’s first spectacle-heavy tentpole.
To make a way too long (115 minutes) story short: Jack’s adventure begins when he ventures into town to sell not a cow but a horse and is traded the legendary legumes for it by a monk on urgent business for which a Guernsey just won’t do. Along the way he bumps into Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), they fall in love and wind up one rainy night improbably alone in his leaky hovel when, wouldn’t you know it, one of those beans gets wet and explodes into a tower of twisting tendrils which lifts the place with her still inside above the clouds to a land occupied by Homo sapien-hating giants.
The king (Ian McShane) rounds up a royal posse which includes Isabelle’s scheming fiancé, Roderick (Stanley Tucci doing his best to spin a one-joke role into comedy gold), Elmont (Ewan McGregor channeling Russell Crowe as head of the elite guard) and, naturally, Jack. Rescuing the princess is complicated by all those computer generated giants and their appetite for human destruction. The blood of many an Englishman is spilled in the process, which is deafening, gruesome and probably too violent for the usual family film crowd.
Its damsel in distress plot is pure boilerplate so the picture stands or falls on the merit of its CGIs and all I can say is $200 million sure doesn’t buy what it used to. The stars of the show in particular are a, well, big disappointment. Singer’s latest was originally slated for release last June but the director convinced Warner Bros. he needed more time to get the giants right. Guess what: He needed even more.
Talk about fee fi ho hum. They’re clunky and cartoony, a colossal bore. One can’t help but wonder what someone like Guillermo del Toro might’ve done with those millions. And whether things might have turned out differently had the filmmakers strayed less far from the original story. With marketing costs, the tab for this 3D dud tops $300 million so it’s safe to say that, while the fabled goose never made an appearance, one hell of a giant egg got laid.