No one knows what ‘Jack’ wants to be when it grows up

March 10, 2013

There is a seed of a good movie within “Jack the Giant Slayer,” but it seems that its story got tangled as it grew, the result of four writers who each bring a wildly different style that gives the film its fragmented feel.

The core is embellished in all the right places: farm-boy Jack (played by Nicolas Hoult, last seen making zombies loveable in “Warm Bodies”) is now entangled with a spirited princess (played by Eleanor Tomlinson) who gets caught in the sprouting beanstalk, jettisoned to the land of the giants within the clouds; her father (played by Ian McShane) is a just ruler within whose kingdom dwell a noble knight (played by Ewan McGregor) and a duplicitous confidante (played by Stanley Tucci).

They all feel like logical extensions and could give the simplistic fairy tale a more sweeping scope, but all these branches never blossom. Nor, for that matter, does much of the acting talent. Hoult and Tomlinson play amicably off one another and make for attractive, if bland, leads. But McGregor and McShane look as though their minds are miles from the story. The 3-D formatting of the film is the only thing that gives them any dimension.

It seems there is more to each of their characters than what ended up in this final version. For example, when Jack and the princess share an intimate kiss, McGregor’s knight seems to stare longingly, as though he’d wish to serve as more than her protector, yet it's never explored further.

And speaking of untied story strands, the kingdom of the giants appears full of them. We never really buy them as more than CGI-rendered beasties; their rubbery movements and dead eyes are just a few notches above SyFy movies of the week. That could be forgiven if we were able to focus on a particular nemesis or felt that they posed a real threat. They are instead a squabbling bunch of partially developed pixels, both in character and design.

There’s one self-proclaimed ruler, General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy, who gave more effort to his computer-enhanced role as Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Yet there seems to be dissension in the ranks among his fellow ogres, and we are never told why. Plus, there’s a magical “Lord of the Rings”-like crown that causes each and every giant to obediently bow without question the moment it’s displayed, thus rendering them utterly powerless. After taking time to establish them as savage, powerful, primal beasts, to have them cower to puny people because of some glowy crown makes little sense.

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” was a far better example of the fun that can be had with source material such as this (as did the similarly giant-themed Norwegian flick “Trollhunter”). It used its special effects sparingly and created a wicked world all its own from the fable. But "Jack" has writers spread across the map: from "Shrek Forever After" (Darren Lemke), to David Dobkin (director of "Fred Claus"), to director Bryan Singer's stalwart Christopher McQuarrie ("Valkyrie"). None can seem to agree what "Jack" wants to be when it grows up.

In the end, it never does.

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