Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of Giants, and Beanstalks, and Unintended Consequences

Jack the Giant Slayer 
Rated PG-13
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson,  Ewn McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsen, Ewan Bremner, Ian McShane

As a family outing, we went to see Jack the Giant Slayer a little over a week ago.  I was expecting it to be an enjoyable film, but I was surprised at how well done the whole thing was.

The film is, of course, a take on the classic fairy tale, and there was a nice piece at the very end illustrating how the story in the film morphed into the story we're all familiar with today.

The basic premise is that long ago, a group of monks tried to reach Heaven by creating some magic beans.  When they climbed the beanstalk, they discovered a land between Heaven and Earth inhabited by man eating giants.  The king at the time manages to defeat the giants by forging a crown from their blood.  When he wears the crown, the giants have to do his bidding.  He sends them home.

Years pass, and the king is long dead, the giants considered to be legend. 

Cut to the present, where the evil Roderick isn't satisfied with marrying Princess Isobelle.  He wants to control the entire kingdom.  And he's found the crown and the remainder of the beans.  Only there's a priest who knows about Roderick's scheme and steals the beans.  He gives the beans to Jack in exchange for a horse, with the instructions to keep the beans away from water.  (Where have we heard that before?)

Two heads aren't always better than one.
You're probably  thinking you can guess the rest.  Don't be so sure.  The story presented here is more complex than the fairy tale it's based on.  One of the things that this film does well is show how unintended consequences can really mess you over, starting with the monks who create the magic beans.  Even the villains aren't immune to this.  I won't get into specifics because I want to avoid spoilers, but the unintended consequences in this film are part of what made it worth watching.  The story went in some directions I wasn't expecting because of them.

Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 because of violence and some gross humor.  My son isn't quite 11 yet, but the movie was perfect for him.  (Now that he's getting to be old enough, there more movies I can take him to that don't involve talking animals.  I'll probably review more films with an eye to what is and isn't appropriate for that age range.  Those of you with children about that age keep an eye out for them.  And if there's a film you'd like to see me review, let me know.  No promises, but I'll try to see and review as many as I can.)  Not only did my son like the story, the special effects, and the humor, there were some good values promoted in the film.  Values he picked up on and asked me about.

Not just the aforementioned unintended consequences, either.  Courage and heroism are presented as positive things, with none of the postmodern disdain for a character who is good and noble.  This was embodied in a number of characters. 

Princess Isabelle is a more modern minded young lady than you find in the old fairy tales, something that's become cliched in contemporary movies and much fantasy.  On the other hand, she's not overplayed in this regard.  Elmot (Ewan McGregor), in addition to having hair that can withstand any circumstance, comes to accept Jack as a friend despite Jack being a commoner and Elmot of noble birth. 

But the character who stole the show for me was King Bromwell, played by Ian McShane.  He starts out as a self-absorbed king who is more concerned about rules than his daughter.  He not only doesn't know her, he doesn't care how his decisions, namely her arranged marriage to Roderick, affect her happiness.  This leads to her running away and ending up in the land of the giants.  Yet, Brohmwell does open his eyes.  One of his two most effective scenes was when he ordered his general to cut down the beanstalk to prevent the giants from climbing down the beanstalk even though Isabelle hasn't returned.  When the general just stands there, the king grabs the axe from his hand and starts cutting it himself.

It takes more than fancy armor to be a king.
The other is later in the film when the giants are laying siege to the castle.  Bromhwell is fighting alongside his men, and Elmot tells the soldiers to get the king to safety.  His response: "Like Hell!"

The only continuity issue I had with the movie was when the beanstalk is cut down, part of it falls on the castle.  Yet just a few hours later, when the giants attack, there's no sign it was there.

I found this the perfect fantasy movie for older children and preteens.  Not too dark, but not all sweetness and light.  There's a good message of equality, courage, and sacrifice, but the message is second to the story.  The way it should be.  Highly recommended.


  1. I'm glad to hear it. It certainly looked interesting but the whole idea of it being derived from the fairy tale did not intrigue me. This sounds like it's got more going for it than just that, though

    1. They really did expand on the fairy tale. That was one of the things I liked about it. They used the fairy tale as the framework then built a more complicated story from it.