Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson, Eddie Marsan, Ewan Bremner, Ian McShane
Running time: 114 minutes
Jack (Hoult), a poor farmer’s boy living with his cranky uncle, accidentally grows a giant beanstalk underneath his house and opens a gateway to the world of giants, whose longing it is to rule the world of humans. With the princess Isabelle stuck at the top, Jack accompanies the king’s guard on a mission to rescue her.
After the enjoyable flop Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, last year’s Snow White and the Huntsman, and current box office hit Oz The Great And Powerful, here’s another mega-budget re-imagining of a classic fantasy tale. This time it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, but not like we’ve seen it before.
We begin rather slowly, plodding along a predictable path and setting up the story with not so much a hole, but with events of extreme unlikeliness. Jack comes into possession of some magical beans when he’s in town to sell his horse and cart. The problem is that the monk who gives him the beans can’t express enough just how important they are, and how essential it is not to get them wet. Basically, the fate of the human race could rest on these beans, so in that case, why would he give them to a peasant who he just met? Sure this isn’t a film bathed in realism, but that just wouldn’t happen. Anyway, it does happen, and wouldn’t you know it, they get wet and a giant beanstalk bursts out of the ground and reaches up into the heavens. But thankfully, with that, things do get a bit more interesting.
As soon as the giants show up, things kick off. I’m willing to forgive the nonsensical setup because at least it does set something up. The second two acts, which take place in the giant’s world and our own, are exciting, funny and adventure-laden. Ewan McGregor almost getting made into a giant pasty by a bogey-eating giant, Stanley Tucci brilliantly spouting off arrogant dialogue in the way that he does, and giants falling from cliffs in bee-infested helmets all make for a good ride. A standout scene to watch out for is the giants bursting through trees. You’ll know when you see it.
The cast is surprisingly great. We get Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewan Bremner, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy, all overacting slightly to add to the fantastical element. Ewan McGregor is particularly hilarious with a toff accent and a shiny white smile. As far as I can recall, there’s only one main female cast member, princess Isabelle played Eleanor Tomlinson, which is odd but not sexist as I’m no doubt sure some will claim.
The CGI is generally okay. The performance capture technology is definitely a huge asset to blockbusters these days. With the giants having so much screen time, basic animation would have severely degraded the quality of the film, but with performance capture we’re beginning to believe in the creatures we’re seeing. Like Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings, we’re seeing genuine expressions which makes it easier to believe they have a soul, or that they’re a real threat, or that they actually have a consequence. With these giants, while still obviously fake, we do believe they mean something.
There isn’t much giant slaying going on, despite what the title may lead you to believe, but there’s plenty of fun to be had throughout. It’s not as lovable as Oz, but it’s much better than many of these types of blockbuster often are.