Some fairy tales and fables are dark, while others invite a range of interpretations. This rendering of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is pretty full-blooded, especially for a family-oriented film, but this gives it some backbone to match its elaborate visual effects. You’ve never seen giants quite like these before, let alone a live-action beanstalk that rumbles from the earth and soars into the sky. Director Bryan Singer has gathered an excellent cast, with Nicholas Hoult as the underdog hero and likable newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson as the self-reliant princess who inspires his bravery. The always-welcome Ewan McGregor plays her official protector, while Ian McShane brings gravitas to his role as her father, The King. Then there’s Stanley Tucci as the traitorous villain of the piece; like McGregor, he always brings something special to the banquet. (I believe this film includes his first screen swordfight, unless I dozed off during Julie & Julia.)
Although filmed on location at Hampton Court and other locations in England, Jack the Giant Slayer is heavily dependent on CGI effects which are, for the most part, quite effective, especially in 3-D. They also oblige us to believe what we see even when we know what we’re watching is impossible. The lumbering but expressive giants were created through the motion capture technique, drawing on performances from such fine actors as Bill Nighy.
My only real quarrel with Jack, other than the intensity and violence of its battle scenes (which are too potent for younger children), is that it goes on too long. Some people deride me for saying this as often as I do, but when I begin to tire of a movie long before its conclusion—without looking at my watch—there’s nothing else I can do. Jack the Giant Slayer has many good ingredients and would have been a stronger, more satisfying movie if it had been shorter.