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Jack the Giant Slayer: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Review

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) movie poster Jack the Giant Slayer

Theatrical Release: March 1, 2013 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Bryan Singer / Writers: Darren Lemke (story & screenplay); Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney (screenplay); David Dobkin (story)

Cast: Nicholas Hoult (Jack), Eleanor Tomlinson (Princess Isabelle), Stanley Tucci (Lord Roderick), Ian McShane (King Brahmwell), Bill Nighy (voice of General Fallon), Ewan McGregor (Elmont), Eddie Marsan (Crawe), Ewen Bremner (Wicke), Ralph Brown (General Entin), John Kassir (voice of General Fallon's Small Head), Ben Daniels (voice of Fumm), Christopher Fairbank (Uncle), Simon Lowe (Monk), Mingus Johnston (Bald), Joy McBrinn (Old Maid), Chris Brailsford (Blacksmith), Warwick Davis (Old Hamm)

Own "Jack the Giant Slayer" on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital Download 6/18
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To some, the story of Jack and the Beanstalk may have seemed nearly as preposterous for big budget action spectacle treatment as the board game Battleship. For Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, the studios most seasoned in blockbuster contemporary fantasy, the 19th century fairy tale was a viable foundation for a $200 million tentpole.
In fact, Jack the Giant Slayer draws from both that children's tale and an Arthurian variation a hundred years older. While the beanstalk yarn has typically been adapted as cartoon shorts or for television or video, the more action-oriented legend did become a medium-sized live-action adventure with stop-motion effects in 1962's Jack the Giant Killer.

This semi-remake was shot with the same title, but Warner changed "Killer" to "Slayer" in an apparent effort to make this expensive film more palatable to families. The softened title was one sign of studio reservations. A more telling one delayed the film from its scheduled mid-June 2012 debut to March 2013. That move eased the competition, but didn't seem to help Jack find an audience. What it did do was invite comparisons to John Carter, which 51 weeks earlier had bombed spectacularly following similar title changes and marketing doubts over at Disney. When the dust settled not long after its release, Jack the Giant Slayer had grossed even less than John Carter, albeit on a slightly lower budget. As on John Carter, foreign audiences embraced the film and its IMAX and 3D exhibitions more than domestic ones, but not enough to lift this costly production out of the red.

Protagonist Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a simple farm boy whose horse sale has major consequences for all of England. Elmot (Ewan McGregor), the valiant leader of the King's Guard, makes the journey up to the Giants' realm in the clouds.

Naturally, Jack embellishes the short source tales to yield a nearly two-hour, effects-laden experience. The film opens in Medieval times with both a simple farm boy and a young royal hearing the legends of deadly giants conquered by a king known as Erik the Great. Ten years later, commoner Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) have lost parents, which has shaped their teenage years less than the lives born into. Living with his uncle, Jack is a worker, tasked with selling horses and such. As the heir to her father's (Ian McShane) throne, Isabelle knows comfort, but also being set up for an undesirable arranged marriage to the old, conniving Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci).

Jack sells that horse to a sketchy monk, who promises to give him ten gold coins, but for now gives him a bag of magic beans, er, priceless Holy relics from ages ago. "Whatever you do, don't get them wet," the monk warns. A major thunderstorm and a disappointed uncle get one of those beans plenty wet. From it, a giant beanstalk rapidly grows, taking Jack's little cottage and the visiting princess high in the sky. Jack volunteers alongside Roderick and Elmot (Ewan McGregor), the king's lead guard, to make the journey up the vast vegetation to rescue Isabelle.

The beanstalks bring both the princess and the valiant rescuers face to face with dozens of giants who have been resigned to high altitude living out of sight and mind for the human race. The enormous beasts speak English but loathe mankind (they're still bitter about the one they call Erik the Terrible) and apparently do eat them, as the many skulls they walk on can attest to. The only thing they submit to is an ancient magical crown, which one of the journeyers happens to have.

In "Jack the Giant Slayer", giants live up to their reputation for devouring human beings.

Jack the Giant Slayer goes through the checklist of elements likely to feature in any big, expensive fantasy adventure. It has romance, battles, comedy, and visual effects aplenty. Each of these ingredients is implemented in passable and professional fashion, but they do not transcend the sum of their parts. The film's biggest problem is that it is short on magic. Though its plot defies the laws of our world, but the imagination of the fairy tale's conception is very old and not aided by any fresh creativity or the best cinema technology money can buy nowadays.

Jack is directed and produced by Bryan Singer, a filmmaker who grabbed everyone's attention out of the gate in 1995 and has been a reasonably average storyteller ever since. He's dabbled extensively in effects films and navigated the treacherous waters of steep budgets on movies like X-Men and Superman Returns.
It's tough to see that experience in what he brings to this film. While he's clearly no unqualified amateur, he does seem to lack the hunger or vision a first-time or rising director might display. As such, the results are consistently adequate yet unfortunately mundane. Even the cast, which has elsewhere lent personality to many a big and small film, is uninspired here and unable to give their characters shape beyond such general archetypes as hero, love interest, villain.

Singer can't take blame for the deficiencies of the screenplay, which credits his Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, TV veteran Dan Studney, and DreamWorks Animation scribe Darren Lemke, who shares story credit with comedy director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus). Lemke began developing this film back in 2005, before other lavish fairy tales began getting adapted with Twilight cast members. Jack doesn't seem derivative of the likes of those, but nor does it find a voice of its own.

The film hits stores on Tuesday in a single-disc DVD, a three-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack, and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD set reviewed here, all of which contain Warner's preferred digital copy format of UltraViolet.

Jack the Giant Slayer: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English and French
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP), in Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD ($44.95 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 picture is great, showing off the $200 million visuals with the clarity and detail it should. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, on the other hand, is full of peaks and valleys to an annoying degree, forcing you to watch with a remote in hand, ready to lower the volume for powerful action effects, then raise it again to hear the dialogue. I'm not a fan of that type of sound design.

A shorter-haired, less cleanly shaven Nicholas Hoult hosts "Become a Giant Slayer" and introduces the featurettes that comprise it. Bryan Singer directs the film on a green screen set with a coffee cup in one hand and an animated sword in the other.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "Become a Giant Slayer", a series of making-of featurettes presented as a kind of game. Actor Nicholas Hoult hosts this experience, which sees you climbing a beanstalk and selecting topical videos in an effort to reach the top.

Serving up the usual mix of cast/crew interview remarks and behind-the-scenes footage (which are often spruced up with animated doodlings),
the eight Hoult-introduced clips are as follows: "Know Your Enemy" (4:23) considers the look of the giants, "Suiting Up" (3:55) covers costume design, "The Magic of a Beanstalk" (3:03) reveals what went into the illusion of the giant beanstalk, "Attack Tactics" (3:48) explores Jack's battle techniques, "How to Zip" (2:05) talks up a zip-lining scene, "Giants' Kitchen" (2:57) dissects one of the film's longest scenes, "Saving the Princess" (2:17) looks at the rescue action, and "Defending Your Kingdom" (3:04) delves into the climax, specifically the sets.

While some will lament that this substantial content isn't accessible in a more conventional way, a graphic charts your progress pretty clearly to make sure you see most, if not all of the vignettes. I initially missed one, but was able to go back and find it.

A Become a Giant Slayer featurette shows us the giant beanstalk set. Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, and Eleanor Tomlinson have a laugh in the gag reel.

For reaching the top, your reward is a 5-minute alternate scene, a mix of a mostly animated telling of King Erik's story that also gives us our only look at Jack's mother.

A reel of deleted scenes (8:27) gives us an extended, alternate version of the crude CG-animated prologue, another appearance by Jack's uncle (Christopher Fairbank), and more of Jack's solo journeying in the Giants' land, across a stone bridge and in an old prison.

Finally,
an entertaining gag reel (3:09) shows us unplanned fun, from a difficult-to-coax feline actor to takes blown by laughter, ripped costuming, and a crew prank.

The same DVD sold on its own, the combo pack's second disc includes the gag reel and same deleted scenes, but not the "Become a Giant Slayer" section.

The Blu-ray opens with promos for UltraViolet and Blu-ray 3D. The DVD opens with the UltraViolet spot and trailers for Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, 42, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Jack's own trailer is characteristically absent.

On each disc, Warner keeps the menus simple, as a reformatting of poster/cover art is your silent, static selection screen. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks.

In addition to the usual UltraViolet code, the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase provides a second insert with a code for a free trial of Xbox Live Gold that strangely describes itself both as 14-day and 2-day. Possibly cool for those of you with an Xbox 360 but no "Gold."

Leading the giants is the two-headed General Fallon, voiced and motion capture performed by Bill Nighy and John Kassir. Back on the ground, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) makes the decision to try to cut down the giant beanstalk that may be the only means of rescuing his missing daughter.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While it never dips beneath watchable and remains polished for all but its prologue, Jack the Giant Slayer is too ordinary and forgettable for all the time and money spent on it.

Warner's combo pack features great picture, frustratingly erratic sound, and a decent supply of extras. It's worth renting.

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Related Reviews:
New: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Oz the Great and Powerful Escape from Planet Earth Beautiful Creatures Dark Skies
From Director Bryan Singer and Writer Christopher McQuarrie: The Usual Suspects
Nicholas Hoult: Warm Bodies X-Men: First Class A Single Man | Ewan McGregor: The Impossible The Men Who Stare at Goats Shallow Grave
Stanley Tucci: The Hunger Games Burlesque Julie & Julia | Bill Nighy: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Red Riding Hood Mirror Mirror John Carter Alice in Wonderland (2010) Gulliver's Travels The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Mickey and the Beanstalk The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Bridge to Terabithia Journey 2: The Mysterious Island The Princess Bride

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Reviewed June 17, 2013.



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