Oh, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the movie as far as that goes. It’s pretty much your average $200 million 3D fantasy action-adventure with CGI creatures, a mostly British cast in glamorized Renaissance costumes acting out another timeless fairytale about a princess, pauper and kingdom hanging in the balance as it battles a race of giants.
But, remember, Bryan Singer as a young director came at audiences with films such as the brilliant mystery-thriller “The Usual Suspects” and “Apt Pupil,” then made the two wildly successful “X-Men” films.
That he then went on to a “Superman” reboot next made you wonder if he was sucked into the vortex of big-budget, effect-laden tentpole movies.Then he seemed to free himself with the fine though underrated “Valkyrie.”
And “this” may be proof that he never really escaped the vortex. What possible challenge, artistic or otherwise, confronts him here? None that I can see.
He has made a perfectly acceptable though highly predictable effects extravaganza, with many cast members from previous efforts, that may entice fan boys and children (provided giants don’t frighten them) but doesn’t advance his career in any essential way.
The story is, of course, an overblown version of Jack and the Beanstalk. You know, a poor lad accepts, or in this version gets conned into accepting, a handful of beans for his horse and soon finds a mighty highway to the heavens exploding through his living room.
The screenplay — by Darren Lemke (co-writer of “Shrek Forever After”), Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote “The Usual Suspects” for Pete’s sake) and Dan Studney (“Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical”) from a story by Lemke and co-producer David Dobkin — scatters its own beans, these being a rebellious princess, her traitorous fiancee, a befuddled king and loyal knight.
But while this lengthens the story and sets up a furious battle between humans and giants — that’s the reason you go to such a film, right? — there isn’t anything new here that wasn’t thoroughly explored in “The Lord of the Rings” series or any other recent CGI-dominated movie epic.
And with “Oz the Great and Powerful” rolling into cinemas next week, more is on the way.
That studios will continue to roll such films out in a desperate bid to plant a tentpole is a given. The question I’m raising is why does Bryan Singer keep getting involved?
He has proven he can make these films. He can even do so with a modicum of wit. The giants, for instance, besides being, well, HUGE, are nasty, nose-picking, vile creatures with decaying teeth and disgusting hygiene.
There is even a kitchen scene where the a giant chef tries to prepare the princess and a knight for the evening meal.
One peculiar thing is that the giants are all males of about 30 or 40 years. No women giants? Little wonder they’re so ornery. Plus their diet demands human beings but no one has seen a human in centuries.
The two fresh-faced talents who play Jack and Princess Isabelle are Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson. They’re engaging and nice to look at but you wish they had meatier roles to dig into.
Stanley Tucci looks like he’s having a bit of fun as the treacherous Roderick. Ian McShane as Isabelle’s dad, the king, and Ewan McGregor as his loyal knight Elmont punch a time clock.
You are told that the terrific character actor Bill Nighy is somewhere in the midst of the motion-capture CGI as the giant’s two-headed leader, General Fallon, but will have to take that on faith. He’s unrecognizable.
Along with the battle, other set pieces include the climb up the stalk by the most valiant of knights from the town/kingdom/shire of Cloister, the escape from the giants by the princess and her new defender and then the climb back down to earth even as the beanstalk is being cut from below.
The 3D works fine in certain sequences yet in others you don’t even notice it. The sky kingdom of the giants is rendered as an almost idyllic and most certainly photogenic rural wonderland of rivers, waterfalls, great forests and craggy outcroppings of rock.
Still and all, while the adventure is reasonably captured on film, poor “Jack” lacks any spark of originality or even reason to exist (beyond, of course, the obvious mercantile one).
If you’re going to make a film about Jack and the Beanstalk, why can’t it have more playful fun or wry humor? Singer doesn’t find a way to bring any of that to the party.
Which makes me miss the old Bryan Singer. I hope he escapes the vortex.
Opens: March 1, 2013 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: A New Line Cinema presentation in association with Legendary Pictures of an Original Film/Big Kid Pictures/A Bad Hat Harry production
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney
Story by: Darren Lemke & David Dobkin
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, David Dobkin, Bryan Singer, Patrick McCormick, Ori Marmur
Executive producers: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Michael Disco, John Rickard
Director of photography: Newton Sigel
Production designer: Gavin Bocquet
Music: John Ottman
Costume designer: Joanna Johnston
Editors: John Ottman, Bob Ducsay
PG-13 rating, 114 minutes