Saturday, July 6, 2013

Movie: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

(Image from IMDb)

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) is an awesome movie adaption of a classic folktale!  If I sound rather enthusiastic about that, it is because before watching it, I honestly did not think it was going to be any good.  There have been many movie adaptations of fairytales and folktales lately and most of them are not very good, (e.g. Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman), so I was cautious about this movie.  The emphasis in the previews on the CGI and battle sequences did not help anything, because they made the movie look like it was going to be just another stupid summer blockbuster type war movie with giants as the opponents this time.  Even having Ewan McGregor (one of my favorite actors) and Nicholas Hoult (some one I like just a little bit more after almost every movie I see him in) as the stars did not make me overly enthusiastic about it because the previews genuinely made it look so mindless and trite.  But right from the very beginning I was actually quite impressed with the story and enjoyed the large majority of the film.

**SPOILER ALERT: reading farther may spoil the movie**
The opening sequence was a masterful introduction to the story and I love how they drew upon many different elements from other traditions and stories to really ground the movie as part of a plausible legend.  By calling the kingdom part of Albion, it instantaneously places it within England, which is where the tradition of “Jack tales” comes from, while leaving it as part of the more mythical history of England.  The presence of the monks also helps it blend into the almost Arthurian, medieval tradition of English folktales.  The fact that the monks were trying to find a way to climb up to God’s kingdom, and thus developed the magic beans that could grow beanstalks tall enough to reach heaven, is a classic trope that can be found in mythologies from around the world.  Even the way these facts were presented in the movie, being part of a folktale told to Jack and Isabelle as children, helped make it a solid foundation for everything else that happened in the rest of the movie.  There really was not anything that happened in the movie that did not make sense because the world was so well established in the opening sequence.

As for how the plot of the movie was developed, I really liked how Jack and Isabelle were paralleled so closely, making it clear that they were perfect for each other from the very beginning.  It was obviously highly reminiscent of Aladdin and Jasmine from Disney’s cartoon film Aladdin (1992), but it did not feel trite and silly; it was cute and worked to set them up as equals in spirit. 

However, I do take minor offence at the way they made Jack and Isabelle equal in reality by having Jack step up as king of the giants.  It is a very minor issue because I understand and appreciate that they wanted to show that Jack and Isabelle were equal in every way by the time they were married, but I think they missed a huge opportunity to complete Isabelle’s storyline of proving that she was ready and capable to assume the throne.  By the time Jack ultimately defeats General Fallon, the two-headed giant, he had already proven his worth as a nobleman and king’s guardsman, as Elmont recognized by giving Jack the coat of arms off his armor.  Taking that final step and putting on the crown of the king of the giants was unnecessary to Jack’s character development.  Instead, it would have been wonderful to see Isabelle step forward and assume the responsibility of king of the giants, thus fulfilling her role as King Erik’s heir and proving to her father that she is ready to be queen without having to be married first.  As I said before, though, it is only a minor issue because I appreciate that they did give Isabelle a much more active role than usual for a princess in a fairytale and they were trying to stick to the traditional storyline of the common boy needing to prove his worthiness in order to marry the princess.

The crowning achievement (pun intended) of the movie has to be the ending.  As much as I loved the opening for establishing the plot of the film as part of a legendary tradition, the ending really brought everything together in the best way possible.  Not only to bring it full circle by having Jack and Isabelle tell the story to their children, in a mirror of the opening, but to carry it further throughout the years, with all of the different voices overlapping and changing little details until it sounds much more like the traditional story of Jack and the Beanstalk that is so well known today.  Overlaying that auditory transition through time with the images of the crown changing hands and being refashioned over the years into the current crown jewels really ties everything together, but the addition of the young boy who bears a resemblance to the evil Roderick leaves it slightly open to a future, modern day sequel/retelling.  In fact, my mind immediately jumped to a crossover AU with the BBC series Sherlock, since the young boy also bears a resemblance to the show’s Moriarty, who steals the crown jewels in the third episode of the second season. 

Overall, I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie and how successful it is as a retelling of such a classic and beloved folktale.  It has a great mix of action and plot, making it enjoyable as a stand-alone movie, but also fits in very well to the larger tradition of Jack tales that have been growing and evolving over the years.  

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