‘Jack the Giant Slayer’: Five lessons from a box-office bomb

If it’s March, it must be an effects-driven dud. Nearly a year after Disney’s “John Carter” crashed to earth, bringing an executive down with it, a different fantasy-heavy film fell mightily at the box office this weekend.

Nominally based on the myth of “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk,” Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” was more like an errant weed this weekend. The film, starring Nicholas Hoult, grossed a paltry $28 million for the studio that released it, Warner Bros., and the division that produced it, New Line, despite costing nearly $200 million to make.


Like “John Carter,” there were once high hopes for “Jack” -- expensive effects, proven director, rich myth. So what went wrong? Five lessons from this weekend’s bombitude.

VIDEO REVIEW: Nothing magic about ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

Marketing mush. It’s not impossible to simultaneously lure preadolescent boys and teen and twentysomething males. But it’s not easy either. “Jack the Giant Slayer” had several elements -- mythical creatures, valiant youthful heroes -- that middle-school boys often respond to. But a violence-heavy trailer and a PG-13 rating appears to have turned off some parents. Warner Bros. not only missed an opportunity to reach its target audience but packaged the film for an older audience that was less inclined to see it.

Bryan Singer blues. Is there a stranger career than Singer’s? Sure, filmmakers can make the transition from Sundance darling to superhero maestro (See under: Christopher Nolan). But the evolution has to feel natural to work. The reinvention of Singer from the man behind lower-budget gems “Public Access” and “The Usual Suspects” to the splashy but still complex world of “X-Men” to, now, the muddled mythology and kitchen-sink action of “Jack” plays away from the storytelling strengths that made us like his work in the first place.

Chain of title. There’s certainly no magic formula when it comes to naming a movie, and often titles with the least formulaic qualities have the most resonance. But if “John Carter” was too generic, “Jack the Giant Slayer” was too specific. First you had to know Jack, then you had to know that these were evil giants, then care that he slayed them. Also, contrary to the title’s non-hyphenated suggestion, it helped to know that the name was conveying that Jack slayed giants instead of simply being a big ol’ slayer. Rocket science it’s not, but the title might have been a little too muddled for distracted multiplex-goers.

Dating woes. Studios in the last few years seem to like releasing a big-budget action movie in early March. There’s less competition than in the spring or summer, and a film that might get walloped in a more competitive season can seem, well, giant-like in these days of late winter. That’s the thinking, anyway. The problem is that we don’t tend to flock to movies of this sort in early March, at least not in the numbers required to justify this investment, as a series of flops in recent years -- “Mars Needs Moms,” “Watchmen,” “John Carter” -- have demonstrated. Turns out there’s a reason studio executives have traditionally stayed away from releasing tentpole-sized action movies in non-tentpole seasons.

Airy-fairy. “Red Riding Hood, “Beastly,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” now “Jack The Giant Slayer.” Can we finally proclaim the fairy-tale moment over? Basing a movie on a centuries-old bit of children’s folklore may seem like a good idea to studio executives, who don’t have to pay for underlying rights and get some nice free branding out of the deal. And sure, an occasional “Snow White” spinoff will do OK enough. But on balance we don’t want to see movies that make the implicit boast they can do better than our childhood imaginations.


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