JACK THE GIANT SLAYER – Blu-ray review

An updated version of a classic fairy tale, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fun, albeit slightly misdirected, ride through the 14th century land where royalty rules, peasants exist to serve and giants fear no one. It offers entertainment for most in a way that feels orchestrated and already done, but also delivers on some solid action in between its lower points. Warner Bros. invested close to $200 to make this title, the bulk of which I hope was spent on special effects. If it was spent on the acting, they got ripped off.

You remember the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk? This is a newer, more stylized and avid 21st century edition that manages to lean on its roots and its updating at the right times to work, but not so much you feel like they’re crutches. Disappointingly, it remains predictable, and once we get going, we can already guess how we’re going to wind up in the end.

Bryan Singer is the man in the director’s chair for “Jack the Giant Slayer,” and he’s able to craft the film’s multiple elements together somewhat effectively. But as things move from beginning to end, the story quickly drops off and creates an anti-climax we could have predicted with our eyes closed. The performances Singer is given aren’t Earth shattering, and for a title that didn’t necessarily need them to be, that’s more than fine. Save for a few pretty exciting battle scenes, “Jack the Giant Slayer” feels like it never reaches maximum speed, always struggling to get out of the fast lane.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a young man living with his uncle just outside the Kingdom of Cloister. Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is raised in royalty, yet has the same fascination with a fairy tale as Jack does. Each has a parent who reads to them about King Erik, an ancient monarch who defeated a fierce army of giants using a possessed crown. Fast forward a decade and both young adults trapped in worlds they don’t favor. As Jack wanders through Cloister trying to sell his uncle’s horse and cart, a monk trying to escape from the evil Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who it just so happens is up to marry Isabelle, stops and offers him some beans in exchange for the animal. Jack naively accepts and sulks home, while Isabelle sulks at a scolding from her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane).

Jack’s holding down the fort on a miserably rainy evening when Isabelle shows up in an effort to get away from it all. He inadvertently drops a bean through the floor boards, sprouting a beanstalk that takes them both skyward. He eventually falls back to Earth while she remains in the clouds, only to be captured by roving giants who patrol their space with ruthlessness. A search party including Roderick, Jack and Elmont (Ewan McGregor) is dispatched to find Isabelle, and just when that happens, Roderick stabs everyone in the back. Turns out he possesses the ability to control the giants, and wants to use it for himself. Elmont, Jack and Isabelle manage to stop him, but not before inadvertently opening the floodgates so the giants can descend to Earth. The result is an epic struggle pitting two different worlds against one another, with a budding romance dangling in between the combat.

The stars in “Jack the Giant Slayer” are its special effects, which manage to effectively convey emotions and tension better than I’d first anticipated. The shots of Jack and Elmont climbing sky high on the beanstalk with wind and rain ripping at their bodies are powerful and dynamic, yet pale if compared to the somewhat unoriginal looking yet still eerie giants who push back on the humans. They move through a world created for them with better fluidity than I expected. The film’s action, which was also more plentiful than I anticipated, is also entertaining, especially as things begin to conclude in the sky high environment and make their way to do our planet. Trees are lit on fire and hurled into the air, draw bridges are ripped open or closed, and primitive weaponry rips into flesh.

What discouraged me about “Jack the Giant Slayer” was simply how predictable it felt. I knew Jack would come of age, be instrumental in saving Isabelle and get nothing but good fortune at day’s end. I also knew that Isabelle was going to prove to her father that she’s worth a damn, and more importantly carry her own weight as the film’s only female character. I knew the giants would be stumbling, bumbling and fumbling a bit, scary at times but neutralized by the film’s conclusion. Yet, through it all, I didn’t know all these things because I knew the fairytale. I think I knew these things because it seems that when Hollywood tackles a fairytale these days, it simply amends the setting and characters to fit its mold and conforms everything else into a preset pattern that has already more than run its course.

I appreciated the more or less natural chemistry that Hoult and Tomlinson have on screen, but their performances are not as strong as the expensive CGI that overpopulates the world they endure this story within. It is more so his story than hers, but he gets a few pretty lucky breaks that help to push him toward success. For some reason, it was as if I were watching Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman,” with Peter Parker aimlessly hoping that Mary Jane Watson would someday know he existed. Okay, I’m over exaggerating a tad, but the back story isn’t hard enough for “Jack the Giant Slayer” to lean on so these characters can collectively raise their worth. McGregor, for what it’s worth, does great work in a supporting role, as does Tucci, who I initially didn’t recognize thanks to the makeup and costume designers. They go at it more than once, and it’s fair to say that without their roles the film would have suffered.

I feel like I’m being harsher than I intend, because I enjoyed the surface value that “Jack the Giant Slayer” has to share. I think it’s a nifty adventure that works to broaden and update a story for a new generation. But it doesn’t do it in a way that’s as focused as it probably needed to be, and the result is a film that has more polish and predictability than needed. The film’s script, written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney, also leaves plenty to be desired.

If it weren’t for the giants and their willingness to fight, “Jack the Giant Slayer” would have fallen flat on its face. The antagonists here do lend the film a better degree of authenticity, but not to the degree that it can offset the other flaws it possesses. It is far better than some other half-hearted attempts at modernizing a fairytale, but the areas where it needs to be stronger just so happen to be the areas where it is in fact the weakest.

The film’s 1080p 2.40:1 High Definition video transfer is sharp enough to puncture a balloon. I appreciated how vivid the coloration was during “Jack the Giant Slayer,” especially notable when the giants are transitioning from their world to ours. There are more brights than darks to work with here, and it’s a good, solid set of visuals that make this fantasy world a bit more realistic. The CGI blends in pretty well, but of course there are moments where it sticks out more prominently than others. All in all, the transfer is a good one, with better than average cinematography giving its two cents as well.

Maybe the best thing about “Jack the Giant Slayer” is the film’s DTS-High Definition Master Audio English 5.1 soundtrack, which is loud, abrupt and fully projected all the way through. Unsurprisingly, the battle scenes and moments with action are the best for one’s ears. It’s difficult to find a flaw with the audio here (I tried), and the soundtrack is so loud and clear that I had to adjust my volume downward a few times. When waterfalls crash onto stone or arrows pierce a giant’s skin, you need not be looking at your television screen to interpret what’s taking place. I found the audio excellent all the way through and appreciated how dynamic it made my viewing experience become. Also offered are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1s, with English, Spanish and French subtitles provided.

In addition to the Blu-ray version, standard definition DVD and UltraViolet copies are provided. You’re given a 14-day Xbox Live Gold free trial to look into (assuming you can accurately type the 25 character code into the appropriate web page, of course), along with an entertaining gag reel, some deleted scenes and a fairly cool interactive featurette titled “Become a Giant Slayer,” where actor Hoult leads videos for viewers to enjoy about climbing up a beanstalk on one’s way toward slaying an enemy.

A Final Word:
I didn’t dislike “Jack the Giant Slayer,” but I thought the points where it clearly showed its weakness were potent enough to bring the entire title down a few notches. I can see how it would appeal to younger audiences who aren’t afraid of the bad guys but can understand the plot. It’s not a film that takes too much investment to enjoy, but it will entertain while pushing a few of your film fan buttons.