A pair of young daydreamers (Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson) from opposite ends of the social latter wish for more adventure in their lives, a momentary escape from the routine and pressure of living under the expectations of others. In Bryan Singer's 'Jack the Giant Slayer,' the two discover far more than they bargained for after a single black bean is touched by water, immediately taking root and in seconds, sprouting into a massive beanstalk that reaches into the clouds. Taking note from the idea that some legends have a semblance of truth, the plot sees characters ready for war as a children's fairytale becomes reality in this medieval fantasy tale. A very familiar story about a simple farm boy facing his fears and growing into a courageous hero is reimagined for 21st Century moviegoers into a CGI extravaganza of gigantic proportions.
Efficient and adept at delivering grand spectacles of action-packed excitement, the movie comes from a script loosely inspired by the original British fairytale of Jack's various battles against giants with the King Arthur legend serving as backdrop. Majority of the plot, of course, comes from the better-known children's morality version and cleverly mixed in, creating a story that largely feels fresh and new while also conventional and often familiar with comical results. The well-known "Fee-fi-fo-fum" phrase is uttered by Fallon, the two-headed leader voiced by Bill Nighy, but turned into the names of four snarling giants as they ready their attack. While wandering a room full of treasures, Jack (Hoult) decides to pocket a jeweled emerald Fabergé egg though no hen is in sight and walks pass a golden harp with the image of a woman though it doesn't speak.
Along the way, a few new twists in the adventure, particularly with the added sense of doom and endless mayhem, keeps audiences on their toes and entertained until the obligatory but terrifically satisfying climactic finish. One of the new additions is Tomlinson's Princess Isabelle, daughter of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) incidentally kidnapped by Fallon. Although she mostly takes part as damsel in distress and love interest, she gives Jack reason to fight and quickly develop the required courage expected of him, which also earns the respect of Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Whereas in the original tale Jack fights for either glory and a place in Arthur's Roundtable or for the riches and to live happily ever after, here he combats a horde of bloodthirsty giants in the name of love. Putting an end to unfair social hierarchies while doing so just happens to be an added bonus and reward for all his troubles.
One notable hiccup comes by way of Stanley Tucci's Lord Roderick, the sniveling advisor to the king with dark aspirations that make up much of the narrative's forward pace. His betrothal to Isabelle, which implies that he'll one day rule the kingdom alongside the princess, is what creates a problematic hitch within the story because his usurping desires contradict any reason for marrying her in the first place. There's essentially no reason to make the engagement necessary if Roderick already has other plans. And why has it taken him this long to set his plan into motion? Still, Tucci chews up the scenery while sporting a wickedly nefarious goatee and practically twirling the end of his moustache with his finger. Ewen Bremner also plays Roderick's equally depraved attendant and appears to be enjoying every minute of it.
Admittedly, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' is the furthest from greatest, relying more on the gargantuan visual brawns of digital magic than on the nimble brains of Jack's witty intellect, which is our continued attraction to the original fairytale and the character. Nevertheless, the movie delivers in the entertainment department on a grand scale, full of wild and often exciting spectacle that satisfies. It seems lately Bryan Singer, better known for 'The Usual Suspects' and the first two 'X-Men' films, has lost some traction with audiences, particularly after the humdrum 'Superman Returns' and the disappointing 'Valkyrie.' With 'Giant Slayer,' he doesn't wash away our memories of his slow decline, but it's a step forward in the right direction with the promise of better things to come in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' due next year. Walk in with modest expectations and give Jack a chance to wow and amaze with giant-slaying skills.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Jack the Giant Slayer' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The first is a Region Free, BD50 while the other is a DVD-9 on the opposing panel, both housed inside a blue case with lenticular slipcover. After a couple promos, viewers are taken to a static screen with generic menu options.
Jack slays his way unto Blu-ray with a top-notch, demo-worthy 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encode that stuns with a crystal-clear picture quality. At times, the squeaky-clean video has the unattractive soap-opera effect due to the digital photography, but it's bearable. Overall, the high-def transfer displays razor-sharp details, from the live-action cast to the CGI giants and mayhem they generate. The stitches and threading around costumes are quite distinct and they show considerable age and wear while fine lines in the shiny armor, especially those belonging to McGregor's and McShane's characters, are very well-defined. The stone walls of the castle show tiny imperfections from a distance, and the grain in the wood of Jack's house is plainly visible. Facial complexions are revealing with lifelike textures and healthy skin tones. Even the animated giants show plenty of pores, wrinkles and blemishes on their faces, and their choice of makeshift armor look raggedy and antiquated.
The 2.40:1 image also comes with spot-on contrast and crisp, clean whites. One or two spots run a smidge hotter than others, but it's nothing too damaging or distracting. Viewers can see clearly into the far distance treetops swaying as the giants race to attack. Black levels are accurate for the most part with several great moments where shadows are particularly rich and penetrating without ruining delineation. One impressive scene is when a giant cook is preparing a meal with very poor lighting, and we can still plainly make out the minutest detail in the kitchen. The color palette has a more natural appeal to it with primaries that are more true to life, but they appear full-bodied and very well-saturated nonetheless. In the end, this is a reference quality presentation of a surprisingly amusing flick.
The giants stomp and roar their way unto Blu-ray with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that creates all sorts of mayhem and destruction. Rear activity is constantly alive with the sounds of wildlife. Whether it is insects hovering all around or crows squawking in frightful alarm, the speakers energize the room with endless commotion. Echoes spread into the back and bounce between speakers, along with the music of John Ottman, creating an enveloping environment that's amusing and highly engaging. Action sequences provide further enjoyment as arrows fly overhead, trees on fire crash behind the listener and debris scrambles everywhere. Objects move from the front speakers to the back with flawless panning and excellent directionality.
In the front soundstage, imaging feels broad and expansive with well-balanced channel separation, generating an impressive wall of sound that at times overwhelms once the climactic battle erupts. Dynamic range is highly-detailed and extensive, exhibiting remarkable clarity even during the most boisterous moments. As the giants and humans yell orders in the midst of war, their commands can be plainly understood while the crackle of fire and the screams of the injured can still be heard nearby. The low-end is equally potent and highly-responsive, delivering each punch, crash, eruption and explosion with commanding palpability and giving each step of the giants a weighty resonance. Overall, the lossless mix is terrifically satisfying and adds a great layer of entertainment to the movie.
After his last two failed attempts, Bryan Singer returns with a mostly entertaining and satisfying CGI fantasy that reimagines a familiar fairytale in 'Jack the Giant Slayer.' The Blu-ray arrives with fantastic high-def video and a demo-worthy audio presentation. Supplements are on the light side but watchable for fans nonetheless, making the overall package a decent purchase for the whole family.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.