Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fee-fi-fo-fum, Jack the Giant Slayer Is Full of Fun

In 1962, when I saw Jack the Giant Killer with Kerwin Matthews, I was ten years old, and I enthusiastically embraced this film’s low-quality stop-motion animation of giants and beasts, and all its elements of high adventure. For a while after seeing it, everything I set up at home with my box of plastic figures was Jack the Giant Killer. So, tell me how I could stay away from this year’s Jack the Giant Slayer?

I have to admit, as a preview, Jack the Giant Slayer looked like the worst of overblown CGI silliness, but it’s not! Jack the Giant Slayer is an imaginative, thoroughly delightful fantasy-adventure with the accent on adventure. The film starts out with a poor farmer reading a bedtime story to his son, and a king reading a bedtime story to his daughter, and here animated sequenes provide the backstory on how a magic crown controls the giants and banished them to the land “where the thunder comes.”

The action gets started without any nonsense, or lengthy scenes involving dwarves endlessly stuffing their faces. Jack (Nicholas Hoult) trades his horse for the magic beans, the bean stalk grows, Jack climbs the bean stalk to rescue the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), and the film proceeds expeditiously from thrill to thrill: the bean stalk growing, later falling; the arrival in the land of the giants; a humorous scene in which Jack saves Lord Elmont (Ewan McGregor) from getting turned into a baked pig in a blanket; and the culminating battle in which the giants assault the castle of the King (Ian McShane). When the CGI ultimately gets going, there’s nothing dizzying or hard to follow, like hobbits tumbling from mountainsides or jumping through the treetop to treetop. In addition, the art direction provides a lot to look at. Blending in picturesque location shots with the CGI, the look of the film establishes substantial, memorable atmosphere.

The acting is more than serviceable. Nicholas Hoult is the perfect Jack, the poor farmer’s son who falls in love with Isabelle, the fair princess, played well by Tomlinson. And any film is made delightful by the presence of Ewan McGregor, who gets to intone, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Worthy of praise, as well, are the giants. Substantially rendered by well-developed CGI, these oversized characters are suitably obtuse but scary and imposing in their size and hunger for human meat. The leader of the giants is accompanied by a second head, cackling like the imbecilic hyena in The Lion King; the grimy, nose-picking cook is the most sinister as he obliviously rolls McGregor in pie dough and starts to bake him; and the head of the soldier giants provides tension as he leads the thrilling assault on the castle.

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