TAKE an old English folktale - the one about a farm boy who unwisely trades the family cow for some beans that then grow into a giant beanstalk - give the story a few tweaks, an action-adventure twist, CGI-infused scenes plus a giant budget to match, and the result is Jack the Giant Slayer, a movie that (among other things) reinforces the notion that big is not necessarily better.
It also took one replacement director, three scriptwriters and several production delays before Jack made it to the big screen, but Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) has fashioned an entertaining - if less-than-inspired - variation on a classic tale. Movies that take on the once-upon-a-time theme are predictable by definition, and this is no exception.
The film targets grown-ups as well as a younger demographic by blending elements of a traditional fairy tale (idealistic princess, naive-but-brave commoner, one-dimensional villain and his even more cartoonish sidekick) with a modern approach (man-eating giants and more violence than viewers might expect). In between, the movie retains its sense of humour - a mood reflected mostly in the presence of Ewan McGregor's comically weird hairstyle.
The blood of Englishmen is high on the agenda in this retelling, which manages to blur the line between myth and reality. Farmhand Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is instructed by his uncle to head to market and sell the family horse. Instead, he helps to save the honour of young Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who has a habit of sneaking out of the family castle in search of adventure, much to the chagrin of her father the king (Ian McShane) and Elmont (McGregor), the captain of the royal guard.
Jack and Isabelle have grown up loving the same fairy tale about a hostile race of giants living in a mythical world between heaven and earth. These parallel worlds are fated to converge, thanks to circumstances and a plot by the evil Roderick (Stanley Tucci), whose craving for world domination involves summoning the giants down to wreak havoc on earth. The gap between man and monster is bridged, courtesy of a bean that sprouts up to reach the sky and beyond.
Isabelle is captured by the giants and a rescue party led by Elmont and Jack climb the beanstalk, with unfortunate results. An ancient crown provides Roderick with power that goes quickly to Roderick's head, while the heavies are ugly and uncouth, conversing among themselves in cockney accents to emphasise the point. They are led by Fallon, a two-headed beast (voiced by Bill Nighy and John Kassir) with vastly different intellects but similar designs on Isabelle.
Jack the Giant Slayer is not entirely wholesome family fare but it qualifies as lightweight entertainment nevertheless. By the time the last bean is spilled, so to speak, the integrity of the original tale has been breached - but not fully compromised. In Hollywood, unlike in real life, the odds are generally in favour of happily ever after.