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Film Review – Jack The Giant Slayer

Venue: Cine 1, Ster-Kinekor, Maerua Mall
Film: Jack the Giant Slayer
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Darren Lemke; Christopher McQuarrie
Players:  Nicholas Hoult;  Stanley Tucci; Ewan McGregor; Ian McShane; Eleanor Tomlinson; Bill Nighy
Genre: fantasy; children’s story
Rating: **½

Once upon a time, children’s stories were simple affairs, set in a romantic milieu which exhibited the very best of a medieval world, with Nature resplendent in scenes of rolling hills topped with vast pine forests and verdant green pastures. The plotlines were also straightforward: conflict was between the forces of good and evil. The heroes and heroines were usually of humble birth, whose goodness ennobled them and usually propelled them upwards into the aristocracy or the monarchy by the end of the story.  The villains committed horrible deeds and died equally horrible deaths.
There has been a rush of cinematic re-creations of nursery-school stories in the past couple of years. Clever directors have harnessed witty scripts, directed at adults as well as children, with impressive special effects to re-create ‘magical’ deeds and supernatural beings. Some have proved entertaining for the aesthetic brilliance of the special effects alone. The director of this film tried to follow the trend but, in some essential ingredients he unfortunately fails to re-create the magic of the realm of fantasy. The storyline, as a starting point, begins with several embroidered complications of the basic ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ story: Jack (Hoult), our hero, is orphaned and lives in a humble crofter’s cottage with his uncle, who tries his best to teach Jack to follow in his footsteps. Jack’s innate intelligence is slow to assert itself, however. Parallelled with Jack’s difficult circumstances is Princess Isabel, whose mother dies within minutes of the beginning of the story. Both characters are sustained emotionally by the legend of Erik the Great, a former king who beat back the Giants to their rocky realm above the clouds, which is characterised in the film by thundering waterfalls, dropping to infinity.
The legendary background to the story is provided by voice-over at the beginning of the film, narrated by an unseen parent, who is conveying the greatness of Erik and the terror of the Giants by reading a children’s story book aloud to an infantile Jack and Isobel. I venture to say that this is the best part of the film. Jack seems comfortably cosy in his crofter’s cottage and Isobel lies amid billowing pillows in her regal bed, both secure in the emotional warmth and love of their mothers.
So when does one start to be critical of this film? Firstly, the dramatic tension never really builds up successfully, despite the outstanding special effects to show the size differential between ordinary mortals, who scuttle around like ants when the viewer is given an aerial, or giant perspective, of activity on Earth. It is very difficult to find the Giants in any way endearing: they are inarticulate with their northern England accents; they are filthy and mostly semi-naked; they are invariably ugly, particularly their military leader, General Fallon (Nighy) who has two heads both of which are capable of independent speech. They display completely barbaric behaviour and show no signs of sense or sensibility of any kind. The cinematographer was too keen on close-ups of dirty, hairy feet, usually crushing something, like a heap of human skulls, for example.
To say that the screenplay is banale is to do the film a kindness. There is no humour, no cleverness, no hidden message and the dialogue fails to develop either the storyline or the characters. The simplicity of the screenplay forces the actors to overplay their roles so melodramatically as to ridicule or satirise the characters themselves. Ewan McGregor, for example, who has several creditable acting roles to his credit, is forced to turn his character of Elmont into an aristocratic fop.
Children with jaded imaginations whose creativity has been clubbed to death by the excesses of a modern Western lifestyle may have been momentarily amused by this film. Anti-social acts like sticking out a giant tongue (to be speared by a human arrow) or digging a giant finger into a giant nose might be considered mildly amusing by some.  It would definitely not resonate with an adult audience, hoping to see a mature and creative visual spectacle with a meaningful underlying message.

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