Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman – and a couple of Scotsmen and an American too. Nicholas Hoult is perfectly fast as farm boy Jack, whose horse gets snatched by a monk in exchange for a bag of beans that mustn’t get wet. Somebody been watching Gremlins?
So, once upon a time there was an 18-year-old kid named Jack, whose Uncle (Christopher Fairbank) is hopping mad with him. Jack’s got a cart without a horse and a bag of useless beans, for heaven’s sake! And Uncle chucks the beans on the floor in a rage. One bean escapes under the floorboards, the rain gets in and it suddenly grows into the immensest tree ever that reaches into the sky and beyond where lives a race of grumpy giants that look as though they’re made of clay. Homage to Claymation, I suppose.
Jack’s already met the local princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) and saved her. But now, for some silly reason, she runs off and nips up the tree. So the King (Ian McShane) commands his guardians, his brave knight (Ewan McGregor), his evil courtier (Stanley Tucci) and his henchman Wicke (Ewen Bremner), and the good Crawe (Eddie Marsan) plus Jack of course to nip up the tree after her to bring her back tout de suite. Before they find the girl, they find the gruesome giants, who are jolly combative indeed because they want to avenge themselves on humans for a defeat 10 years earlier that we’ve just seen in a visually astounding but laborious prologue.
It’s a fairy tale, then, and so all about story telling, I’d guess. You’d think! Yet the story telling is the basic weakness of a pretty-much OK movie. Jack and the Beanstalk doesn’t translate easily to film. Why should it? Nor did Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White or Hansel and Gretel. The short story here basically runs out of steam half way and can only repeat itself till the inevitable conclusion – Princess saved, reunited with King Dad, Giants vanquished, farm boy marries Princess, they love happily ever after, that kind of thing.
There just isn’t a great, dynamic yarn behind this movie, leaving director Brian (X Men) Singer relying on CGI, production values, sets, frocks, enormous crowd scenes, and his actors to bail it all out. Luckily, all’s more than well on all these fronts. They’re pretty much glorious. This week’s CGI images are even more gob-smackingly outstanding than last week’s, especially in the imaginatively-used 3D. But isn’t it all getting a bit tired now? A budget of just under $200million buys one heck of a brilliant looking product. Lovely! But the script?
Certainly there are exciting fights and chases, plus real flashes of wit and fun dotted throughout, and one dazzlingly brilliant sequence where McGregor is just saved by Jack from being baked in a pie along with two little piggies by a grungy giant who eats his own snot. But otherwise the whole darned thing takes itself so darned seriously, when what is desperately needed is a jolly, laugh-spattered tone. Remember Princess Bride? How it pokes fun at fairy tales while telling one? That’s obviously the route that is required and they don’t really attempt to go for here.
Tucci’s performance and, to a lesser extent McGregor’s and McShane’s, capture the right tone, a bit camp and arch, a bit eyebrow and moustache acting, but not so the kids would notice. All three actors are, dare I say it, fun. This leaves everyone taking it seriously stranded, and right properly. Hoult was lovely in Warm Bodies but there’s nothing here in his part for him to shine, he’s just there on screen all the time, smiling sweetly, occasionally frowning a bit, sometimes running to or from things. Tomlinson’s got it worse. Same problem but worse, and less screen time. Then again, actors and characters you’ve got to like suddenly disappear from the film, dead way before their time, leaving mostly the duller characters behind. The main giant (complete with a mini me) General Fallon (voice of Bill Nighy) just won’t lay down and die.
(C) Derek Winnert 2013