Steven Spielberg once called CGI animation technologies “weapons of self-destruction” for the power they have to cause a director to use them as a crutch instead of a creative tool. One need look no further than the plethora of trendy fairy tale/fable adaptations brought to the big screen with even bigger budgets that have relied on fancy visuals and not-so-fancy writing. The latest is “Jack the Giant Slayer,” which apparently spent most of its ‘giant’ $195 million budget on lavish, impressive special effects and nary a tinker’s nickel on the ho-hum script.
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “Superman Returns”) clearly knows how to stage an action sequence, and thankfully, “Jack” has plenty of them, including the exciting moment when the farm boy’s beans – in this version they’re “holy relics” not just “magic”— bring forth a monstrous, twisting stalk that stretches to the heavens. Joining Jack (Nicholas Hoult from the recent “Warm Bodies”) is Jack’s just arrived visitor – the local princess Isabelle (a rather boring Eleanor Tomlinson), who remains in Jack’s house, which is thrown heavenward and lands in a far-off region of giants. Although she’s informed her protective father, the King (Ian Mcshane), that she’s not “some fragile, helpless creature,” Isabelle still needs rescuing. And who better than the vertigo-suffering Jack, aided by some of the king’s aids, both noble (Ewan McGregor) and naughty (Stanley Tucci).
The motion-capture giants (led by leader Bill Nighy) provide most of the film’s marginal humor, as well as the story’s fairly scary (for a PG-13 rated film) action sequences. The film moves along quickly but not frenetically, and finishes with a rousing assault on the castle by the giants who throw fiery trees over the walls while soldiers fight back with flaming arrows of their own.
All this is well and good, and the target audience of young adults won’t be bored, but “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” completely underuses its very talented cast – especially Tucci and McGregor, who would relish any witty banter if given the opportunity. In fact, the film is almost devoid of wit at all. So while Singer and company are to be commended for impressing our eyes (the 3-D treatment is good but not required), the screenwriting by committee involved here seems to have forgotten how to stimulate our intellect. May the writers be thrown to the dungeon and forced to watch every Pixar film until they can write a funny punchline!
Rated “PG-13” intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language.