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Why 'Jack the Giant Slayer' Flopped

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood March 4, 2013 at 1:56PM

The dwarfish $28 million domestic that Warner Bros.' “Jack the Giant Slayer” grossed over the weekend was what? A surprise? That the wheel-spinning Bryan Singer would make a soulless 3-D disaster film out of a timeless children’s story was hardly a shock. But the film’s anemic showing was indicative of something that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with commercial malpractice: No one – including audiences, ultimately -- knew who this big lumbering movie was for.
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Jack the Giant Slayer

The dwarfish $28 million domestic that Warner Bros.' “Jack the Giant Slayer” grossed over the weekend was what? A surprise? That the wheel-spinning Bryan Singer would make a soulless 3-D disaster film out of a timeless children’s story was hardly a shock. But the long-delayed $200-million film’s anemic showing was indicative of something that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with commercial malpractice: No one – including audiences, ultimately -- knew who this big lumbering movie was for.

The first clue was the changing of the title, something WB doesn’t even want to address, and something rather incidental except that it’s symptomatic of a general strategic collapse: “Jack the Giant Slayer” was somehow better than “Jack the Giant Killer”? Did anyone grow up hearing about Jack the Giant Slayer? No, it was either Jack and the Beanstalk or Jack the Giant Killer. Slayer was a metal band or a high school vampire chaser. Apparently, even as the studio was releasing “Bullet to the Head,” starring that giant of death-dealing Sly Stallone, “Killer” was too harsh a term for public consumption. (Similarly, Disney excised "of Mars" from "John Carter," Andrew Stanton's disastrous adaptation of the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic Martian novels.)

But this would presume that the move was directed at family audiences or kids, which was hardly the case. The action is far too violent, the chaos far too intense for children, even though the title was guaranteed to keep teenagers away – how cool are you, if you’re buying a ticket to “Jack the Giant Slayer”?

So OK, the movie isn’t for children. And even the most technologically advanced and violent adaptation of a fairy tale is still perceived as a fairy tale – thus nullifying two demographics at once (no mean feat…) The leads were bland enough to induce narcolepsy and the really decent performances – by Staney Tucci and Ewan McGregor – were homages to the Errol Flynn-Basil Rathbone school of swashbuckling, something to which any audience under 40 is likely oblivious. One would have to strain to find a film with more elements calculated to send a movie into a giant tank.

One other curious omission: The nursery rhyme that always accompanied the bedtime story – “Fee fi fo fum/ I smell the blood of an Englishman…” was edited by the filmmakers to remove all references to British body fluids. One suspects that over at WB, someone is smelling the blood of the marketing department.

(Bryan Singer explains himself to Bill Desowitz here.)

This article is related to: Marketing, Warner Bros. , Jack the Giant Slayer, Jack the Giant Slayer, Box Office, Box Office, Box Office


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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.