Release Date: March 21, 2013
Five minutes into the screening of Jack the Giant Slayer I knew we were that family. You know, the one you walk out of a screening saying, “Did you hear those kids up the back??” My oldest boy has a serious aversion to deep rumbling sounds (like giant-generated thunderstorms, for instance) and he generally responds by placing his hands over his ears and yelling “Too loud!” – as if he were telling me at a normal volume. My middle son is going through this dance phase. So when he gets excited (say during the odd sword fight) he responds, “Gangnam style!” and starts jiving on the spot – any spot. Our youngest? He’s the perfect audience member, a slave to every dramatic cue. When Jack landed on his back from a great height and lay there eyes closed, I heard a hugely shocked intake of breath and his shrill voice piped into the expectant silence, “Daddy … he’s dead!” Well, at least the audience laughed. I expect most of the mirth came from sympathetic parents…
Jack the Giant Slayer is based on the beanstalk-powered fairytale that has traditionally been the plaything of primary aged children. However I think it will take careful thinking on parents’ parts to decide whether it’s suitable for developing kids. As per the folk tale, Jack is an orphan who sets out to sell a farm animal and brings home a bag of magic beans. Nicholas Hoult from About a boy does an excellent job delivering a hope-filled Jack who impresses a teenage princess even as he’s disappointing his uncle. Eleanor Tomlinson provides Isabelle, the love-interest who refuses to submit to the king’s stuffy restrictions. When she turns up at Jack’s farmhouse in the middle of a rainstorm her entrance leads to one of the magic beans getting wet. In seconds a giant beanstalk is rocketing Isabelle and the building towards Gantua, the cloud-borne country of the giants. Jack sets off as part of a rescue mission. However he’s accompanied by a regal villain who hopes to use dark magic to enslave humanity’s deadliest enemies – I’ll give you two guesses how well that works out.
Jack the Giant Slayer is led by an excellent cast, supported by cutting-edge special effects and directed by action-expert Brian Singer (The X-Men franchise, Superman Returns). Yet it struggles from not knowing who it’s for. The storyline is childishly simple but the action is often brutally unsuitable for a fairytale audience. In fact advertisers are pushing its X-Men credentials and have given it the all-too-mature tag-line, ‘If you think you know the story, you don’t know Jack.’ And the adventure sequences that hook younger minds are frequently paused for romance and one recurring teenage theme.
Singer cross-cuts an argument between Princess Isabelle and her kingly father, with another between Jack and his resentful uncle. What emerges is a homily to young minds who feel oppressed by ‘wise heads’. Both father figures are too aware of their charges’ failings. But Princess Isabelle sums up the film’s demand for her dad,
“Let me show you how responsible I can be. Let me step outside without sending a dozen guards to save me.”
Suddenly her constant running away appears reasonable, and Jack’s failings the fault of his pessimistic uncle. Trust becomes the obligation of their elders. Yet that’s a world away from Jesus’ economy, where increasing responsibility is the reward of those who have shown themselves to be reliable.
“Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities,” is how His parable goes. There’s no, ‘Free to be whatever I can be’ in His kingdom without first submitting to his rule. At least, that’s what I’d like to teach my boys, if I can ever ween them off, “Gangnam style!” Cue the jiving…