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A review of Jack the Giant Slayer

Following the recent trend of Hollywood-style souped-up fairytales, Jack the Giant Slayer brings old English folklore to life, but in a very strange way!

You might not have noticed, but giants are really in right now. From the Norwegian indie film Trollhunter to the marvellously famous anime Attack on Titan, the rule these days seems to be ‘the bigger the better’. And this offering, from director Bryan Singer in 2013, is the latest to come to the table.

Jack the Giant Slayer is actually a combination of two Old English fairytales: Jack the Giant Killer, and the more well-known Jack and the Beanstalk. Combined, the stories chronicle the adventures of Jack (which is really just the Old English name assigned to any mischievous lad who happens to be the main character of a fairytale) as he obtains the magic beans, gains access to the giants’ kingdom in the clouds, then attracts their attention back down on Earth leading to castle sieges and giant battles galore.

This movie is a strange one. It feels a bit B-movie at first, with slightly questionable CG effects and slightly hokey acting, but it’s almost like it has been designed that way. I watched it initially thinking that, had I not known about its box office ratings, its cast, and its intensive marketing campaign (those giant images on the side of Wimbledon buses will forever be imprinted in my mind), I would have placed it for a straight-to-video release.

But for all that, it is actually very enjoyable. It made me feel at times like I was watching The Princess Bride, or Labyrinth. It’s definitely within the scope of an Eighties fantasy film, and if you’ve grown up with that, then you’ll probably find it vaguely familiar as well. And the CG is not particularly terrible, but it is weird, giving you the sense that you are in a very alien world, where everything is just ever so slightly wrong. Which sort of works.

I would recommend it greatly as a family film.

Nicholas Hoult as Jack
Nicholas Hoult as Jack

In terms of cast we have Nicholas Hoult, a fresh-faced young actor who has previously starred in X-Men:First Class and Clash of the Titans. He plays the titular Jack, and Eleanor Tomlinson (who had a role in Tim Burton’s reboot of Alice in Wonderland) played Princess Isabelle, his love interest. We also have Ewan McGregor as the Captain of the Guard, and Bill Nighy in what I consider to be the best role as the giants’ leader, General Fallon. Now, Fallon himself is a sort of watered-down creation, a mishmash of the leading giants of Old English folklore – Cormoran, Thunderdell and Galligantua – sporting a vicious temper and two heads upon his shoulders (although it seems the scriptwriters could not resist  the temptation to make the second head more mentally deficient than the first, for laughs that really aren’t that hilarious except to maybe any four-year-olds watching). But Fallon is probably the best thing about this film, because there’s nothing better than hearing a ragey Bill Nighy monologuing at the screen. Nothing better.

There’s also a few folklore-laughs to be had in the re-imagining of the rhyme ‘Fee, Fi, Fo Fum,’ as being the names of four of the giant army lieutenants. And a nice twist at the end involving the Tower of London and the origins of the Crown Jewels, which I won’t ruin for you, but basically brings the story into modern times a little more (as well as reaffirming my desire to revisit the Tower).

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum!
Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum! I smell a very inventive pun!

I know I may have said the CG effects were a little strange, but nonetheless I loved the giants’ home in the clouds. It was very well done, and the scenes of scaling the beanstalk and heading ever upward through surreal cloudscapes were a delight to watch.

The story is simplistic at best, in that way that old fairytales are, so at least it resisted the temptation to up the complexity of the tale as in some other recent remakes (The Brothers Grimm, Maleficent). In addition it managed to avoid sexing up the story or adding guns (like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, or the 2004 film Van Helsing did). Yet, it followed suit from Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Snow White and the Hunstman (2012) in turning the ‘damsel in distress’ trope around and having the main female character don armour and wield a sword. So for these reasons, I applaud it. However, definitely do not approach it with too many expectations.

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