Friday, September 6, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer: Good Speculative Fiction, Terrible Movie


I recently watched the movie "Jack the Giant Slayer".  It was at Red Box, and nothing else looked good, and "Jack" at least looked terrible.  Sometimes watching corny movies is fun.  But also, I wanted to see something fantastical, something out of a fairy tale.  So I gave "Jack" a try.

My review can be summed up, Great Speculative Fiction, Terrible Movie.

Everything after the first forty minutes of the movie is pretty much terrible.  The characters are kind of bland, the dialogue is kind of stiff and is like someone's dad trying way too hard to make corny jokes, and honestly the special effects are kind of hokey.  I don't normally care about special effects, but when half of the characters are CGI giants, it seems your special effects budget should be larger.  Personally, I'd have preferred it if they used puppets rather than CGI, because puppets always look real while CGI always looks like computer generated images... but no one in Hollywood asks my opinion.  Really, the plot of the movie and the characters and all of that aren't really noteworthy.  The movie isn't even bad enough to make fun of, contrary to what I suspected.

As a movie, and as a story, the whole thing stunk so much that it isn't even worth pointing out how much it stunk.

So why am I writing this?

Because whoever wrote the first thirty minutes knew what he was doing.

The story takes place in the Kingdom of Cloister.  There, long ago, a group of monks of an ancient order sought to climb to Heaven to reach God.  After searching for a ladder, they finally turned to magic and enchanting a set of seeds to grow in to a giant plant that reaches all the way to Heaven.

However, midway between Heaven and Earth, they got stuck.  Floating there in the sky was the realm of giants, who are cruel and stupid beasts.  The giants found the monks, captured them, and ate them; and once they had the taste of human flesh, they started to crave it.  The giants climbed down the beanstalk and started attacking the countryside slaying people where they found them.  The kingdom nearly fell.  At long last, the king of the giants was slain, and his black, stone heart was melted down in magic fires, and the monks formed dark spells to forge the giant's heart in to a crown.  Whoever wore the crown could command the giants to do his will.  Soon the giants were forced to bow in allegiance to the new king of cloister, and sent back up the beanstalk.  The stalk was cut down an the beans hidden in secret.  The King of Cloister continued to hold on to the crown that rules the giants, passing it along through the generations.

Jack is a young orphan living in the country with his uncle.  Due to hard times, he is sent to the castle to sell their last horse, which hopefully will bring back enough money to buy food.  Jack is not successful.  Towards the end of the day, as he's leaving, suddenly an alarm is sounded an guards block off the exits and begin searching everyone leaving.  They are looking for a monk trying to leave the castle.  At that moment, the monk in question sees a young man with a horse, and tells him that he needs it to escape the castle.  It is urgent.  Something dangerous has been stolen from the abbey, and the monk is trying to sneak it out of the castle lest it fall in to evil hands.  But Jack refuses to let go of the horse without money.   The monk has none.  Reluctantly, seeing an opportunity, the monk turns the dangerous artifact to Jack: it is a small leather bag of beans.  He tells Jack, within the week, to bring these beans to the abbey and he will be richly rewarded.  And so saying, the monk hops on to the horse and escapes, leaving Jack with nothing more than a small bag of beans.

So that's how Jack comes to own a set of magic beans that grow in to a giant beanstalk reaching to the sky, to a land between Heaven and Earth filled with giants.

Maybe i'm weird, but I think that's a fascinating beginning.  It is mythopoeia at its finest.  It makes a world and a history, and then the characters interact with that world.  Why are there magic beans?  Because an ancient sect of monks used magic to try to reach heaven.  Why is an old man trying to get rid of the magically enchanted beans?  Because he's trying to sneak the out of the castle past guards, fearing some sort of plot to use the beans to summon the giants.  And why does Jack fall for a stupid promise of magic beans?  Because the man who offered them is a monk needing help, and promises Jack a reward if he helps brings the beans out of the castle and helps the monk escape.  It all connects, to make something as ridiculous as a giant magic bean stalk reaching a kingdom of giants in the clouds seem actually plausible, and sensible.

After that, the movie very quickly goes downhill, and almost nothing interesting happens at all for the rest of the movie.  Really, not worth watching, I don't recommend it to anyone, but dang, whoever wrote the backstory should start doing novels.  That's my take on things, anyway.

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