Once upon a time, when Hollywood couldn’t come up with good ideas for movies, it resorted to sequels and remakes. OK, it still does. But recently the entertainment industry has discovered an almost limitless and largely untapped source of ideas it doesn’t need to come up with itself to make big bucks: the fairy tale.
In just a couple of years, the phenomenon has cast its spell on both the small and big screens, with shows such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” working their magic on television audiences, while moviegoers shell out for tweaked takes on childhood staples such as Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and two — count ’em, two — variations on the tale of Snow White.
What’s next? Two more versions of Snow White, a Cinderella starring Cate Blanchett and more reimaginings of Pinocchio than you can shake a stick at? No sign of a fairy-tale ending to this trend anytime soon.
And so to that trend’s latest contribution to the culture, Bryan Singer’s $200 million 3D Jack the Giant Slayer. Speaking of classic stories, Singer’s a prime example of the filmmaker whose indie success (Public Access, The Usual Suspects) was rewarded with the opportunity to get rich making less significant mainstream fare (X-Men, Superman Returns). This is his least significant effort to date. Chalk up another one for the system.
Beyond the involvement of a farm boy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult), giants, magic beans and mutant vegetation, the story has virtually zero connection to either “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Jack the Giant Killer.” The production’s four screenwriters (never a good sign) merely appropriate the familiar fables as a starting point for their attempt at the year’s first spectacle-heavy tent-pole picture.
To make a way too long (115-minute) story short: Jack’s adventure begins when he ventures into town to sell not a cow but a horse and trades it for the legendary legumes to a monk on urgent business for which a Guernsey won’t do. Along the way, Jack bumps into Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), and they fall in love and wind up one rainy night improbably alone in Jack’s leaky hovel. At that point, wouldn’t you know it, one of those beans gets wet and explodes into a tower of twisting tendrils, which lifts the place, with Isabelle inside, above the clouds to a land occupied by Homo sapiens-hating giants.
The king (Ian McShane) rounds up a royal posse that includes Isabelle’s scheming fiancé (Stanley Tucci, doing his best to spin a one-joke role into comedy gold), the head of the elite guard (Ewan McGregor, channeling Russell Crowe) and, naturally, Jack. Rescuing the princess is complicated by all those computer-generated giants and their appetite for human destruction. The blood of many an Englishman is spilled in the process, which is deafening, gruesome and probably too violent for the usual family-film crowd.
The damsel-in-distress plot is pure boilerplate, so the picture stands or falls on the merits of its CGI, and all I can say is that $200 million sure doesn’t buy what it used to. The stars of the show in particular are a big disappointment. The film was originally slated for release last June, but Singer convinced Warner Bros. he needed more time to get the giants right. Guess what: He needed even more.
Talk about fee fi ho-hum. These giants are clunky and cartoony, a colossal bore. One can’t help but wonder what someone like Guillermo del Toro might’ve done with those millions. And whether things might have turned out differently had the filmmakers strayed less from the original story. With marketing costs, the tab for this 3-D dud tops $300 million. So it’s safe to say that, while the fabled goose never makes an appearance, one hell of an egg got laid.