As we all know, Hollywood shuns originality and favours bandwagons, hence the production and release of the same kinds of films in cyclic patterns. At the moment European fairytales are back in fashion, and we have seen recent ‘re-imaginings’ of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Snow White andHansel and Gretelamongst others. American television is also currently participating in the form of Grimm and Once Upon A Time. On the big screen Bryan Singer has brought us his mash-up of Jack and the Beanstalk and the eponymous Jack the Giant Slayer.
Starring genre man-of-the-moment Nicholas Hoult with a cast of the usual suspects from Hollywood’s list of go-to British character actors including Ewan McGregor, Mark Strong, Ewen Bremner and Eddie Marsan this CGI-heavy telling promises much but doesn’t really deliver, undermined by two principal problems. That most of the characters were severely underwritten is a common occurrence with generic blockbusters, but with the biggest culprit being Jack himself, the leading man, and an over-reliance on CGI to characterise all the giants led us, unfortunately, into the Uncanny Valley from whence no story ever returns.
Hoult is one of the hottest young talents around at the moment and is a sympathetic, attractive lead, however he is given very little to work with at the start and he lacks the experience to make more of the limited script, often relying on his looks rather than his considerable acting skill, and is also disadvantaged by being alongside Ewan McGregor much of the time, who has a far more magnetic, sexual screen presence and is also costumed and coiffed to look appealingly heroic. To paraphrase a line from Douglas Sirk’s cult melodrama Imitation of Life, Singer’s camera spends too much time making love to Hoult’s cheekbones instead of concentrating on his characterisation.
McGregor, here playing the captain of the palace guard, is a much more credible romantic lead than Hoult here, and Singer also has to hand a formidable array of some of Britain’s best talent which is not only criminally underused – Eddie Marsan, for example has little to do except allow his magnificent curly wig to flap in the breeze as he gallops along – but often disposed of wilfully at random and without warning.
Unfortunately, the indistinguishable human characters are matched by the poorly rendered computer generated giants. Given modern technology it would have made a more interesting and vivid film to use real live actors in makeup rather than the dead-behind-the-eyes troupe of CGI creations deployed here. It is also apparent that on occasion, some of the effects are really not good enough, with jarring discontinuities between CGI long-shots of landscape juxtaposed with closer shots of the real thing and little effort made to convincingly blend the two together, and similar problems evident with the palace exteriors.
The more films that Bryan Singer releases, the more it his resemblance to Orson Welles grows, in that his career is running in reverse, his best work is far behind him now. Jack the Giant Slayer has not performed well at the box office on either side of the Atlantic, and it is to be sincerely hoped that he finds his old form and pulls something better out of the bag with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Jack the Giant Slayer is currently on general release in 2D and 3D IMAX