Most modern fantasy adventures are distinguished, if that's the right word, by shot after shot of actors gaping at amazements — beanstalks busting out of the ground, for example, or flaming trees being flung as weapons at the king's castle — along with actors running away yelling "Look out!" or "Aaaggghhhhh!!!" while being pursued, say, by a digitally animated giant with two heads. The movies have been into such trickery across the medium's entire life span, back to Georges Melies. It's simply a matter of the method.
Lately, though, with the onslaught of and over-reliance on digital sleight of hand, the average fantasy presents every possible sight imaginable, which doesn't guarantee interesting results. Too often the effects crowd and smother the very movie they're meant to amplify.
Such is the case of
Singer, director of the better "X-Men" pictures and the densely plotted "Usual Suspects," boasts an extravagant imagination and a welcome touch of seriousness when traffic-managing a complex physical production. Here, though, the seriousness turns heavy-spirited. Despite the light touch of
Once upon a time there was a boy, Jack, who traded his farm horse for beans and from those beans, up and up and up, five miles up, grew a massive, threatening, viny green stalk, connecting the human world to the land of the giants, "between heaven and earth ... a perilous place," so the legend goes. The princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), betrothed to the sniveling weasel Roderick (
"Jack the Giant Slayer" divides its characters into two camps: Homo sapiens and Gollum-y. In the former there's
Singer knows how to build an action sequence: At one point, for instance, McGregor finds himself rolled in giant dough alongside a couple of other pigs (real pigs, that is) in a blanket, ready for baking. How he gets out of the fix involves derring-do and giant-slaying on Jack's behalf, cleverly staged. But the movie, which was shot in 3-D and can be seen in 3-D or 2-D, never rests. Only the offhand charm of Tomlinson and Hoult reminds us that in a world of giant, straining blockbusters it's best to simply keep one's head down and do the work and try to make all that gaping and gawking and running for one's life as authentically fake as possible.