JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Review by Gordon Justesen
Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Thomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan
Director: Bryan Singer
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2013
“HERE COMES THE THUNDER!”
As a young kid, the one fairy tale that seem to fascinate me the most was “Jack and the Beanstalk”. I actually remember first watching the story come to life on Showtime's “Fairy Tale Theater”, and being completely enthralled by the recreation of young farmer Jack escaping the deadly clutches of a giant he encounters after climbing a beanstalk that came to be from a set of “magic” beans that came into his possession. Re-watching that same version on YouTube not long ago, I couldn't believe I was so easily engaged by such a cheap production, even though it was made in the early 80s.
But thanks to director Bryan Singer, we now have the proper visualization of that classic fairy tale. Jack the Giant Slayer is quite simply a rousing adventure epic that incorporates lavish looking sets, absolutely marvelous visual effects and a delightfully engaging cast to bring to life on of the most cherished fairy tales ever written. Added to the mix is a truly grand use of 3D, and I would actually urge those who have the proper home theater system to invest in this Blu-ray 3D version...it's that well done!
The film opens with the story of the feared Giants being read to two different children as a bedtime story. One of them, young Jack, is very familiar with the story as he's read it many times and yet can't resist another re-telling from his father. The other child is Isabelle, the future Queen of the Cloister castle. It's a neat and clever way of setting up the notion that very legend they are being told will eventually bring these two together.
The story then leaps ten years later, as Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is now a farm boy living with a grumpy uncle, after his father was claimed by a plague. Heading into town with hopes of selling a horse for money, Jack encounters a monk who desperately needs the horse...but can only compensate wt a sack of beans. Jack accepts the beans, only to have his uncle lecture him about growing up and not being so gullible in such matters.
Meanwhile, Isabelle (Eleanor Thomlinson) has grown tired of leading a boring life behind the castle doors. She is very much not the typical future queen type, as she longs for a life that is both full of adventure and romance. She's also not happy about being forced into marriage with the much older Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), though her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) insists that she go forth with it.
A series of circumstances result in Jack and Isabelle's chance encounter, which is on a dark and stormy night...where in which the very beans in Jack's possession mix with the rain...and WHALLA, we have a beanstalk! And not just any beanstalk, but fair to say the mother of all beanstalks. It destroys Jack's farmhouse and separates him and Isabelle, who is projected into the near heavens with the rising stalk.
This, of course, attracts the attention of the King, who dispatches his lead knight, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), to assemble an army to rescue her. Jack volunteers to help out, since he feels somewhat responsible for losing her. Also volunteering is Roderick, who as it turns out is a sinister figure who has been looking for these very magic beans, which were taken from a secret location in the castle only he knew of. It all ties into a diabolical plan involving Roderick attempting to make use of an ancient crown that can control giants as slaves, which he then plans to use to wreak havoc on the castle of Cloister.
The men do ascend up the lengthy beanstalk and eventually arrive at the very spot between Earth and the heavens where the Giants are said to be. And indeed they are, and Isabelle is very much their prisoner. And once the Giants arrive on screen, this movie goes from nicely enjoyable to flat out awesome!
As if the look of the beanstalk itself wasn't effective enough, the look and design of this army of Giants is one for the history books! Speaking as someone who's always more in favor of practical effects over overdone CGI, I have to give credit where credit is due. The motion capture effects work in bringing these imposing figures to life is some of the most astonishing I've seen to date, particularly in that of the leader of the Giant army, the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy).
What Bryan Singer and his screenwriters, including Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, have managed to do here is a marvelous job of balancing well drawn characters with that of a non-stop romp of an adventure movie. That's very rare to come by these days. We care about what happens to Jack and Isabelle, portrayed terrifically by Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Thomlinson, and that makes the large scale action sequences they find themselves in twice as engaging.
And while were talking about large scale action sequences, I've rarely seen any as remarkable as a sequence where the Giants use a bean to form their own beanstalk to descend to the ground and charge the king and his men in a stampede form. My lower jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw this sequence unfold. I must also say that I appreciated the decision to make the Giants quite bloodthirsty when they engage in battle, which I suppose makes me a sick individual, eh?
Clearly a lot of money was spent on this production, but it's great to see that none of it went to waste. Like last year's unfairly maligned John Carter, Jack the Giant Slayer is extravagant filmmaking done right, with equal attention given towards both story and characters as well as that of riveting action set pieces. And as someone whose always cherished the original fairy tale, I applaud Bryan Singer and the screenwriters for applying several new twists, as well as the production crew and effects team for crafting one truly eye-popping visual feast!
The year has seen quite a few astonishing 3D Blu-ray releases, most notably Dredd and Life of Pi, and this Blu-ray 3D release from Warner is right up there with them. In fact, this is the first 3D release I've seen from Warner and have to commend them on a most outstanding job. Even when the movie isn't engaged in a huge effects sequence or action set piece, which are both presentation high points, the 3D is used to terrific effect in simple shots in terms of image depth. On top of that, image detail and color presentation are also of excellent quality, and the 2D version of the movie establishes the same qualities! If you are fortunate enough to have 3D as part of your home theater, this is unquestionably a title you should invest in!
First off, I must state right off the bat that composer John Ottman's score to this movie is the best one I've heard for an adventure movie in a long, long time...and it sounds flippin phenomenal by way of the 5.1 DTS HD mix, as does pretty much everything else in the movie! A large scale, effects-driven movie such as this is meant to astound in lossless audio, so it should come as no surprise that this is very much one of the best sounding releases you will come across this year! Dialogue delivery is top notch and thoroughly clear, dynamic range is present in every scene, and the last forty minutes of the movie is guaranteed to have your living room rumbling as if a beanstalk was about to explode from the ground and destroy your home...which I wouldn't want to happen but it sounds that powerful!
All the extras can be found on the second disc in the package, which also includes the 2D version of the movie. Although somewhat light features, and more so than a release like this deserves to be, it does feature one nifty supplement, which is titled “Become a Giant Slayer”, an interactive feature hosted by actor Nicholas Hoult in which you use your remote to ascend up the beanstalk without falling to your doom. As you climb, you can access behind the scenes clips and interviews. I would've opted for a plain Picture-in-Picture commentary as the feature plays, but this is nice enough! Rounding out the extras are Deleted Scenes and a Gag Reel.
Jack the Giant Slayer takes a beloved fairy tale and turns it into a large scale blast of a movie ride...which is exactly what it should be. Bryan Singer has crafted an engaging, intense, sometimes frightening and completely remarkable rousing adventure movie that's high on thrills, humor and gigantic destruction. And in terms of 3D Blu-ray releases, this is one of the best presentations yet!