We’re now well into Hollywood’s fairytale revival period, which has already seen the likes of Snow White And The Huntsman and Mirror Mirror twinkle onto our screens, while adaptations of Beauty And The Beast and Disney’s Maleficent wait in the wings.
As they’re passed through the moviemaking filter, these age-old tales generally altered in the process. Snow White And The Huntsman gave the age-old story an epic spin, and imagined the normally genteel heroine as an armour clad warrior. Hansel & Grettel: Witch Hunters used its fairytale inspiration as a basis for a gory action yarn. Meanwhile, the Wachowskis are working on yet another retelling of the story; called Jupiter, it will reportedly send Snow White into space.
Director Bryan Singer, on the other hand, has resisted the temptation to present a darker or modernised take on the Jack and the Beanstalk or Jack the Giant Killer fairytales on which it’s based. Although it takes liberties with both stories, conflating the two and adding entirely new plot elements of its own devising, its tone is light and surprisingly lacking in post-modern cynicism.
Nicholas Hoult stars as Jack, an 18-year-old farmer’s son living in a fantastical version of the Middle Ages. Years before he was born, a race of man-eating giants was banished to an island in the sky, and with the war over, the earthly realm is now ruled peacefully by the benevolent King Brahmwell (Ian McShane).
A series of chance encounters leave Jack hopelessly in love with the king’s spirited daughter, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), and also in possession of a handful of magic beans. One rainstorm later, and a rapidly-growing beanstalk sends the princess rocketing up into the sky, and straight into the gnarled hands of the evil giants.Along with Ewan McGregor’s waxen-moustached man-at-arms Elmont (who speaks with the same crisps British syllables as Obi Wan Kenobi), Jack clambers up the beanstalk to rescue the princess – while another member of the party, the conniving Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) plans to take command of the giants, and use them to seize control of the kingdom below.
Evidently inspired by the structure and atmosphere of The Princess Bride, if not sharing its aptitude for comedy, Jack The Giant Slayer plays out as a broad, big-budget adventure movie, with lots of bravery, and mild peril, while Tucci and Ewen Bremner clearly enjoy themselves as a pair of boo-hiss villains. Although the movie once shared the same name as Jack the Giant Killer, there’s considerably less violence and gore in Singer’s movie than there was in the folk tale, with Jack cast as a plucky yet rudderless teenager rather than the pick-axe wielding warrior described in some versions of the text.
The giants, meanwhile, are imagined as a colossal, flatulent underclass. Although their introduction is quite atmospheric – taking place as it does in a rain-swept bog, with the monster partly obscured by trees – the giants are disappointingly lacking in wonder or menace. Lacking the majestic, unnerving presence of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, or even the oddly disturbing undercurrents of the hulking creatures from Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are, this race of giants is more to be pitied than feared.
Although the sometimes uneven special effects are partly to blame, the oddly unimaginative production design that prevents the giants from being the awe-inspiring presence they could have been. Presenting the giants as a motley crew of bad haircuts and bodily functions may illicit a few chortles from younger audience members, but doing so also robs the film of much-need tension.
With a plot that meanders rather than builds, and a series of action sequences which are diverting rather than breathtaking, you might think that Jack The Giant Killer is a film to avoid – Singer, a director perfectly capable of both drama and action, really doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders here. But the proceedings are elevated greatly by its star-laden cast; Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson are charming, pleasantly understated leads, while the likes of Warwick Davis, Ralph Brown and the aforementioned pairing of Tucci and Bremner provide entertaining support.
Jack The Giant Killer brings with it the breezy, family-friendly air of a pantomime, which is relatively unusual in today’s blockbusters. Adult audience members may be slightly bemused by the possible subtexts lurking beneath the surface – including one pro-monarchist undercurrent, which leads to a hilariously silly pay-off – but it’s hard not to be at least partly won over by the film’s light-hearted enthusiasm.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here