Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dream Factory: Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer
Directed by Bryan Singer
Warner Brothers Pictures 2013
Rated PG-13

We all know the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk:" Jack sells the family cow in exchange for magic beans that cause a beanstalk to grow, leading to the realms of the giants.  Jack climbs the beanstalk, steals a golden egg and magic harp, and has a bit of an adventure, coming home a rich man.  While there are numerous Jack tales, this is probably the most famous and most adapted.  Thankfully, the screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Darren Lemke, and Dan Studney do a significant amount of world-building, breathing fresh life into what could have been a tired retread.

In an animated opening sequence, we learn that centuries ago, the giants came down their beanstalks and pillaged Albion until King Erik was given a magic crown that could control the giants.  This story is passed down as a rhyming ballad, and no one believes it to be true, save for young Jack.

An orphan living with an uncle, Jack is asked to sell as horse and cart in town, but is intrigued by a performance of the giant legend.  A girl his age is also in attendance, and when she is accosted by a group of men, he attempts to stop them, though it is the royal guards who deter the men and reveal the girl's identity as Princess Isabelle.  When Jack leaves the theatre, he finds his cart has been stolen.  Approached by a monk who seems desperate to leave the city, he trades the horse for so-called magic beans and claims if Jack comes to his monastery he will give him gold as payment.

Returning home empty-handed save for the beans, Jack's uncle scolds him and leaves.  That night during a storm, Isabelle arrives at his stoop, having fled from her arranged marriage.  While the two are talking, one of the beans falls through a crack in the floor and sprouts into a beanstalk, savaging the house.  Jack and Isabelle try to escape, but Isabelle remains trapped inside, leading to the main phase of our adventure wherein Jack and the king's guards climb up the beanstalk to save her.

Of course, it would be a rather dull film if they just climbed up, found the princess, and returned home again. Instead, there are two subplots involving the legendary crown: one involves Roderick, Isabelle's betrothed, and the other Fallon, the leader of the giants.  Both want to use the crown to gain power for themselves.

Aside from the world-building, what I found particularly enjoyable was Jack's reliance on wit to save the day, rather than strength or bravery.  While he does slay giants, it's usually by tricking them, including one incident involving a bee's nest.  It was also wonderful that he didn't fulfill some prophecy or traditional heroic mold; he was just some quirky kid who happened to have a life-changing adventure.  To me, clever heroes who take brave or noble actions simply because it's the right thing to do will always be the best kind of heroes.

While I don't think the film fulfilled its goal of becoming a fantasy classic like The Princess Bride or Labyrinth, only time can really tell, as those films became ingrained in the minds of 80's kids after years of being replayed on cable television.  A well-acted, fun adaptation of a childhood classic, Jack the Giant Slayer may not win any awards, but it's a good popcorn movie for those who enjoy fantastic tales.

Here's the trailer:

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