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March 2, 2013 | 1:00 p.m. CST
Jack the Giant Slayer was made with Hollywood money by an American director, but it feels like a British film with a surprisingly large budget.
The fairy tale is British. The accents are British. The scenery is British. The dry wit is British. While I can’t describe the CGI as distinctively British, it isn’t as slick as that of most Hollywood films.Related Movie
This is all good. It’s in a movie’s favor when it doesn’t seem to have come from Hollywood. The dialogue in Jack the Giant Slayer seems too smart to have made its way through the studio system, the characters too earnest. The biggest shock: there are no pop culture references in the entire movie!
As for the plot, it doesn’t stray far from the fairy tale you are hopefully familiar with from your childhood. In medieval times, sensitive farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult) gets his hands on some magic beans. On the same day, local princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) stumbles into his home after running away from unwanted suitor Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci). One of the beans sprouts while she’s there, sending her up to the kingdom of the giants, and Jack joins a royal party to climb up the beanstalk to save her. After they get there, they have to stop Roderick from bringing the giants back down with him so he can gain control of the kingdom.
Don’t be afraid of the relative roughness of the special effects; it actually adds some charm. The filmmakers seemed to have put more thought into creating the world of the giants, who look like punk rockers with a bad case of skin fungus, than in outdoing the explosions of recent blockbusters.
It’s also a little creepier than your average Hollywood children’s film. Lots of people die in morbid ways. A handful of characters are eaten head first by giants. Another handful are thrown off a beanstalk, falling to their deaths. In several instances, dozens are crushed by a falling beanstalk. The giants burp, fart and pick their noses. It’s like a medieval nightmare.
Near the end, the movie betrays its Hollywood roots with a long, brutal action scene overloaded with CGI. But that scene comes off like a minor foible in an enjoyable friend. It can be overlooked for the sake of the movie’s quirky, whimsical, sweet and slightly disturbing personality.