Jack the Giant Slayer, Warner Bros. take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, will almost definitely be bumped out of the #1 spot it held last week by Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful, which will be competing for the same fantasy-loving audience. While both films are based on well-known literary works, Oz has an extremely powerful advantage -- a family friendly PG rating. Amazingly, Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13, which may be a big reason why it made $27 million on its opening weekend -- enough to take the top spot, but little enough to signal that Warner Bros. made a major miscalculation and will have a difficult time recouping the film's $200 million budget. Which is actually a shame, since Jack the Giant Slayer is actually a pretty decent movie, but one that will have a difficult time finding its audience. Watch my ReThink Review of Jack the Giant Slayer below (transcript following).
Jack the Giant Slayer was number one at the box office over its opening weekend with $27 million. But with a budget somewhere around $200 million, it's been deemed a bomb of epic proportions, drawing comparisons to 2012 megaflops Battleship and John Carter. Now, I've seen those two movies, and they're both horrific, comically misguided stinkers. But aside from its weak opening weekend, Jack the Giant Slayer doesn't deserve such ignominious company, since it's actually a surprisingly entertaining movie with good actors and a solid concept. So why did it bomb so hard?
The film is obviously based on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, with a few details taken from a later work called Jack the Giant Killer, which was the original title of the movie until executives decided they wanted something that sounded more kid-friendly, which is emblematic of the film's biggest problem, which I'll get to later.
Nicholas Hoult plays Jack, a farm boy who lives with his uncle near a kingdom called Cloister and grew up fascinated by the legend of Erik the Great, who battled giants from a land in the sky and eventually conquered them using a magic crown. Now a teenager, Jack travels to Cloister to sell his uncle's horse to make ends meet, where he meets and falls for the princess of Cloister, Isabelle (played by Eleanor Tomlinson) who likes to leave the castle in disguise to commune with her subjects and find adventure.
As you probably guessed, magic beans are obtained and discarded, and a mighty beanstalk grows, carrying Isabelle to the giants' realm. The king (Ian McShane) sends Jack up the beanstalk with his best knights to bring Isabelle back, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Accompanying but not helping are Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who is set to marry Isabelle but has his own scheme to gain power, and his lackey Wicke, who's played by Ewan Bremer, making it a mini Trainspotting reunion with his former castmate, McGregor. The army of impressively detailed giants are led by the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy), who knows that the beanstalk is their ticket to conquering the world of humans.
Jack the Giant Slayer has a wonderfully palpable sense of adventure, especially since it takes place over a short period of time, and the way the fairy tale is woven into the story as a legend that faded over time into a myth is wonderfully cohesive, and actually makes the film feel like a retelling of a story that's existed for centuries. All of the performances are good, particularly Tucci, McGregor, and Hoult, who do well with a script that doesn't resort to overly modern or winkingly self-referential language, nor do the characters have to suffer the antics of comic relief gnomes, talking animals, or other nonsense. The giants are scary, but they also have distinct characters and their own culture, and the action scenes are exciting and satisfying.
So if there's nothing drastically wrong with Jack the Giant Slayer, why is it in such trouble? As I alluded to, there's a major, apparently fatal disconnect about who this film is for. Despite the fact that it's based on a children's fairy tale and the advertisements for it make it seem like a movie for kids, Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 due to some occasionally jarring violence involving humans or giants being killed. That leaves you with a movie that seems like it's for small children, which would keep teenagers away, while the PG-13 rating tells parents they should keep little kids away -- leaving Warner Brothers with a $200 million movie, and a pretty good one, with no real audience.
Director Bryan Singer delivered an exciting and entertaining movie with good performances, despite the fact that no one was calling for Jack and the Beanstalk -- or really any fairy tale, for that matter -- to be made into a movie. But Jack the Giant Slayer should be a cautionary tale, showing that even if you make a pretty good movie, people won't see it if they're confused about who it's for. Which leaves me in the strange position of seeing a movie and liking it, but not knowing who to recommend it to.