IN any other industry, someone who blows almost $US200 million and the chance of future ongoing receipts would be unemployable. But Bryan Singer, who directed the new release Jack the Giant Slayer, has moved comfortably on to the series on which he earned his bigbudget credibility, X-Men, with the seventh film in the series, Days of Future Past.
Jack the Giant Slayer was a financial disaster, costing upwards of $US180 million, that barely made that money in worldwide box office, not that the latter figure suggests the film has gone anywhere near breaking even.
The film is not that awful, though its main creative choice must be one of the more boneheaded decisions a studio has ever allowed a director to make. Why would you ‘‘contemporise’’ a fairytale, then turn it into an M-rated film? That locks out, at least theoretically, the precise audience that should be lapping it up: kids.
The film was sucked into a cultural zeitgeist that proved scheissenhausen after the success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which was a bit of a mess. Look at the ‘‘modernised’’ fairytales that followed: Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Red Riding Hood and even Oz: The Great and Powerful — some of the worst films of the past two years that emphasised that Burton’s success was due more to his vision than any broader appetite for updated fairytales.
Then Jack’s real development issues began. Singer replaced original director DJ Caruso, and his The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie replaced another writer before he in turn was replaced. Ultimately, Jack the Giant Slayer (M, Warner, 114min, $39.95) didn’t know what it wanted to be. It’s a mash-up of the two fairytales, Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk, which share a protagonist called Jack and British origin, albeit from different periods.
It wants to be a blockbuster fantasy film that appeals to kids. It wants to be a PG film that appeals to adults. It wants to be a digital showcase with big live action set-pieces too. And it wanted to turn the star of About a Boy, Nicholas Hoult, into an action star.
It doesn’t achieve any of this. I was reticent to watch it with our seven-year-old auteur because of the M rating. And sure enough the ‘‘fantasy violence’’ was big, loud and ridiculous. It seems every action film concludes with a Lord of the Rings- type battle between massed digital armies or Man of Steel- like with a supercharged wrestle that takes out a city. This tries both, although with some pretty dodgy effects; the giants just don’t quite look the part though their characterisations are reasonable.
It’s all a shame. The film is imbued with a sense of fun and adventure before its ambitions and confusion drown it. Of course, it also confirmed that our seven-year-old is not yet discerning.