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Immersed in Movies: Bryan Singer Talks 'Jack the Giant Slayer'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood March 1, 2013 at 2:17PM

Bryan Singer getting kid-friendlier with "Jack the Giant Slayer" isn't as much of a stretch as you might think. He's still dabbling with truth and legend -- literally in this case -- only the fairy tale is more overt.
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Jack the Giant Slayer

Bryan Singer getting kid-friendlier with "Jack the Giant Slayer" isn't as much of a stretch as you might think. He's still dabbling with truth and legend -- literally in this case -- only the fairy tale is more overt. But instead of going dark, as with "The Usual Suspects" or "X-Men," he's lightened up while fully embracing virtual production and 3-D.

Think "The Princess Bride" meets "Clash of the Titans" (with more contemporary allusions to "The Lord of the Rings" and "Avatar"). "There were no fairy tale movies [when I began 'Jack'] and I thought it would be fun to bring a fairytale life on a grand level," Singer explains. "Even though we're not telling the original 'Jack and the Beanstalk' story, I wanted to play around with a real giant beanstock and a race of giants. Eventually, as a lot of fairy tale movies started coming out, I started noticing that people were making these bold choices, and I just wanted to make mine as real and as fun as possible.

"I love films like 'The Princess Bride,' and 'Jurassic Park,' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean' -- brighter, more humorously-toned films. And they can be much more kid-friendly. It's gotta be scary but not upsetting, you can't do 'Zero Dark Thirty.'"

Still, there's something innocent and sincere in Singer's retelling of the classic fairy tale, and in his casting of Nicholas Hoult as Jack (whom he previously cast as Beast in "X-Men: First Class," which he will reprise in the upcoming "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). It recalls "Superman Returns"; however, Jack represents the latest in a long line of social misfits or extraordinarily talented outsiders. "I identify with Jack," Singer concedes, "who's very awkward and it takes him a while to become a hero and a lot longer to become a man."

Of course, Singer also identifies with the giants, who are the real stars and band of outsiders. They're not a breeding society -- there are no female giants -- but they're a bloodthirsty race that's created from the earth, and Singer wanted them to be lean, mean, and fast. While there's a "Lord of the Rings" look about them, there's more of a symbiotic relationship with their environment.

"If you get really close, the surface of the skin appears almost like rocks, the hair looks like grass," Singer continues. "They live in a stony, desolate landscape. I wanted my giants to be different. I grew up watching 'Clash of the Titans' so this is my version of that kind of movie with all the bells and whistles we have in the visual effects world and Ray [Harryhausen] would've gotten a kick out of it, I think."

The giants are led by Bill Nighy's General Fallon, a two-headed creature inspired by "How to Get Ahead in Advertising" (in which the protagonist's shoulder sprouts an evil, talking boil). But this was a late decision affected by budgetary considerations.

"I had seen illustrations in old books about 'Jack the Giant Killer' that portrayed giants with two heads, so I thought it would be fun if there was a fierce monster giant with two heads," Singer adds. "That was written into the script initially. Then Dan Studney had one beat where the two heads interacted with each other. But the character was tangential and I cut the sequence to save $4 million. Once I cut my scene I lost my two-headed giant so I thought why don't I give my lead two heads and then I could have some fun with the interaction?"

This article is related to: Jack the Giant Slayer, Immersed In Movies, Features, Bryan Singer


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.