Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

Fairy tales are magical things. They fill a child with a sense of wonder about what could or could not be. Well, that’s the case for the majority of children. For others, they’re a terrifying reminder that ghouls, goblins and trolls are very real and are lurking around every corner. I can’t quite recall which side of the fence I fell on though. I was more preoccupied with the fear of Vigor from Ghostbusters II coming to abduct me than I was about some giant or hobgoblin. Vigor comes out of paintings like a pre-20th Century Samara from The Ring. Now that’s chilling. But I digress… fairy tales are a great source of inspiration for Hollywood, whether they’re ancient Bavarian tales, or stories scribbled on the back of a beer coaster in 2011. But who doesn’t love a twist on the original story? Something fresh to entertain adults and children alike. Enter Jack The Giant Slayer. The words in the title will be familiar, the contents less so.

Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

It’d be fair to say that the words “Jack” and “Giant” should conjure up images of beans, castles in the sky and a thieving kid called Jack. It’s a story that’s been told and re-told since the early 19th Century, so it wouldn’t surprise me if you did know it. But strip out the notion that Jack is a thieving git who steals shiny objects like a magpie from the giant’s house before killing him and getting away with it. Shake it all up a bit. Add in an army of giants and a quest to save a princess and you have Jack The Giant Slayer.

Yes, this is a new take on the classic story, starring Nicholas Hoult as Jack. Last time we saw Hoult was in Warm Bodies, where he played a shuffling corpse capable of human emotions. If you remember, we weren’t overly fond of it owing to The Phage‘s affection for zombiekind. Well now he plays Jack – an extremely poor lad that lives with his uncle, owing to the untimely passing of his mother and father. Jack’s quested with selling some goods in town to repair their ailing house, but through being in the wrong/right place at the wrong/right time, he ends up with some beans… beans that will alter the path of his life and the whole Kingdom of Cloister. A Princess is in peril and there’s a whole army of giants up in the sky who can’t wait for some tasty human flesh.

Giant slaying... pretty funny business!

Giant slaying… pretty funny business!

Actually, now I come to think of it, there are probably some good parallels to be drawn between a zombie film and a giant film. Both bloody love human flesh and both seemingly feature Nicholas Hoult. However, Jack The Giant Slayer comes off as a far more well-rounded film than Warm Bodies and it thankfully lets Hoult flex his acting chops to a decent enough degree. I also feel that merit needs to be given to Eleanor Tomlinson as Princess Isabelle. She just “suited” the role well. But this is undoubtedly Hoult‘s movie.

However, that’s not to say that the film is a classic. The crux of the problem with this film is its inherent reliance on CGI giants. I like to think that CGI has come on dramatically in recent years. We’ve almost been spoiled in the past year with beautiful mo-cap performances from Andy Serkis as Gollum in The Hobbit and Mark Ruffalo in Avengers Assemble. Obviously, massive credit goes to their respective animation teams, but the performances are also sublime.

Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

OK, you may be thinking “well that’s all well and good – they’re only a single character at a time and aren’t as complex as an army of giants”. Well good sir / ma’am, I point you towards the utterly fantastic Troll Hunter. The best Norwegian film I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen at least one). As Hollywood has far deeper pockets than a group of Norwegians, why didn’t the giants look as utterly mind-blowing as those in Troll Hunter? That would automatically bump the film’s rating up.

But the shortcomings aren’t just in the visuals, but in the plotting. However, I don’t want to get too bogged down in there. Look at the title of the film. Think about the story it’s based on. Is it therefore made for you? Really? You’re going to judge it with your 18 year old (Oh you’re older than that? You don’t look it. You must work out.) mind? The initial story is simple, and so is this film. It’s a rescue story, with a smattering of romance and breaking down class constraints. Plus a load of giants and a castle. If you’re willing to switch off and accept the film for what it is, then you’ll enjoy this a lot more than you would otherwise. However, if you’re going in expecting something to rival Tolkien’s recent resurgence at the box office, or something as gritty as Game of Thrones, you’re going to be disappointed.

Finally… can I just draw everyone’s attention to the giants’ accents here? Why are us Brits always seen as the massive, evil giants? Sure, we got a bit carried away with Colonisation over a hundred years ago, but we’ve not done that much to spite the world since then… have we? Well, it makes a change from being portrayed as impoverished (Les Misérables) or as rage-fuelled zombies (28 Days Later) I guess…

Jack The Giant Slayer is a nice twist on the classic tale. It also has a lot more of a moral core than the original story too, so it’s definitely suitable for the youngsters. What about the rest of us? So long as you’re willing to suspend your need for a complex narrative then you’ll have a good time. It’s a popcorn flick, nothing more, nothing less. Judge this book by its fairy tale cover.

I think this version of proceedings would be better suited as a children’s bed time story than the version about the thieving, murdering kid. Kids need morals. What of my own morals? Well, I daren’t touch paintings any more lest they protrude and envelop me into them. Now that’s morals for you. Who’d have thought Dan Akyroyd and Bill Murray could be so influential? And you Vigor… terror of my dreams… you too…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies (2013)

You’ve got to hand it to creators when they decide to mash together two conflicting genres in the hope that it’ll be a smash hit at the box office. You’ve seen cowboys come into contact with aliens in Cowboys & Aliens, a straight-up heist movie become an all-out vampire fest in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and Adam Sandler attempting to be funny again… in pretty much everything since 2002. All of these shouldn’t work, and typically don’t, but some do. So when you see February pop up on your calender you know what’s coming… romance. Yes, it’s the season of cupid, expensive dining and pricey roses, so the movie studios like to capitalise with some love-themed hits year after year. But this year, it appears they thought “hey, you know what kids like nowadays? Zombies… let’s do a zombie love movie”… and seemingly, Warm Bodies was born.

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies is an interesting chimera. On one hand its horror… hell, it’s about zombies, and some of them look pretty damn repulsive (the so-called “bonies”). But on the other hand it tries to slam in a romance, as one of our shambling zombie friends, “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is conflicted, because beneath his vacant exterior is a mind questioning everything about his existence. He doesn’t remember his name, nor anything pre-turning into a zombie. But all of this changes when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) – a regular human who’s out scrambling together supplies for her father, the Colonel (John Malkovich), who manages the last bastion of humanity. You see, R falls in love with Julie… after he’s eaten her boyfriend’s brains. And so begins the most bizarre love story you’re likely to see in 2013.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a zombie purist. Maybe not even a “purist” per se, as I like my zombies to run around, as opposed to shambling around. I’m a huge fan of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead – two films / shows that I really think have nailed the genre to a t. So maybe this is clouding my judgement of Warm Bodies. You see, these zombies are remarkable adept. They’re a bit like really clever velociraptors from Jurassic Park; not only can they open doors (clever girl), but they can also sit down, operate machinery and seemingly talk to one another. This isn’t what a typical zombie does. So any big genre fans in the audience will automatically feel a little awkward and uneasy. This isn’t the undead they’ve come to know and love. Hell, they show RESTRAINT. And feelings. What?!

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays...

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays…

Although the movie got a good deal of sniggers and laughter from the audience I was in with, I just failed to connect with much of the humour. Yes, there were certain lines from R’s best friend M (Rob Corddry) that made me chuckle, but overall I can’t say my thirst for brains humour was sated. This film tries to bill itself as a “rom-zom-com”… you know, trying to make out it’s the first to do this. Unfortunately, it’s clearly forgetting the existence of Shaun of the Dead – one of the most fantastic genre-mashes of the past decade. That film scored high in romance, zombies and comedy. Unfortunately, I felt that Warm Bodies was lacking in the “com” part. It had the zombies, that’s quite obvious, but it really lacked the laughter.

And let’s come on to the romance too whilst we’re at it. The more astute amongst you will notice something about those names… R, Julie, R’s best friend M… in a romantic story. Ringing bells? The original novel by Isaac Marion is a huge homage to Romeo & Juliet (hence Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio), but it doesn’t hit quite the same notes as the classic tale. Whilst I thought the romance between R and Julie was touching, I just felt that the dialogue coming out of Hoult‘s mouth was too jarring and awkward. The best dialogue of the film came from his inner monologues – they were touching and funny on occasion too. You’ve got to give credit to Hoult, as this is a very difficult role to undertake as it’s either going to come off as hammy or camp. There’s no way you’re going to come across as anything else when you’re trying to play the zombie role as “light and funny”.

Warm Bodies (2013)

The one thing that really kept me going was the plot – I was intrigued to see how they were going to finish off the film. Was it going to go the tragic Romeo & Juliet way, or are we going to see something entirely different? Obviously, I’m not going to blurt it out here, but I found the story quite interesting, having not read Marion’s novel. But that can only take you so far. I’m relieved that the acting from the core cast was of a good calibre, but it wasn’t winning me over to any real degree. As I say, I feel for Hoult, as he’s a fantastic young actor, but this isn’t the best showcase of his talents owing to the obvious limitations of his character.

Once I got over the initial shock of “these aren’t proper zombies are they?”, then the film became much more enjoyable. The film will try and bill itself as being for “fans of zombies”, but I’d dispute that. In fact, if you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, I’d probably tell you to exercise caution here, as you might not like what you see. Those brain-dead corpses in your mind aren’t really ferocious here, not are they brain-dead. If anything I’d recommend this film to casual fans of zombies, or those that don’t even have an opinion on them. You’ll get much more out of this than the more dedicated amongst you.

As a mash-up of genres, Warm Bodies certainly is not a bad attempt. Whilst it’s not From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, it’s certainly not terrible. If this film takes off at the box office, I can’t help but wonder what abominations the studios will cook up to keep the audiences coming in for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps a romance between a woman and a ghost? Oh, that’s done? Erm, how about a romance involving vampires? Oh, they’ve done that too? They made how many of those? Wow. OK, maybe we should just have a romance between a boy and a boulder. That hasn’t been done before. It’s unique and edgy. Though hopefully it doesn’t end in quite the same tragic way as 127 Hours. A messy divorce.

Phage Factor:

3 Star