The first hint that this movie is not your grandfather's fairy tale is the title: "Jack the Giant Slayer." The second hint is that what was once a revisionist, Disneyesque tale, almost comedic, and slated for children — the giants gentle and a bit dense — has been transformed to include some fearsome set pieces with decidedly ungentle giants. As well, the movie, rated PG-13, is clearly intended for tweens and teens.
The little guys, well, they may find this version too intense and violent. The giants, as it turns out, find humans a delicacy, to be swallowed in one gulp. This film, therefore, with the help of increasingly sophisticated computer graphics and stop motion, gives "Once upon a time …" a whole new meaning.
But having said that, the essence of this children's classic remains: Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given a small leather pouch, by a monk on the lam, with the admonition that he not get them wet. Of course, one bean does get wet, and suddenly a massive, gnarly beanstalk erupts from Jack's humble abode, taking the house and an unexpected guest, the Princess Isabella (Eleanor Tomlinson), with it, ever upward, to a land of giants.
But not just any giants. These are thunderously large trolls on steroids. If they appeared in a children's pop-up book — teeth rotten, skin like tree bark, eyes reptilian, covered in crude armor — they would send the wee ones under the covers and the book into the darkest corner of the closet. When these giants say "fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman," they lick their lips.
So Jack climbs the humongous vine, along with Elmont (Ewan McGregor), head of the palace guard, and Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Isabelle's betrothed, the three hoping to rescue the princess.
And so the adventure begins. The three are Lilliputian, the clan of giants are savage in the extreme and have the princess caged, just waiting for the right moment to dine. Roderick, as it turns out, is smitten, not with the princess but with power, and Jack and Elmont must battle to find a way down the vine with Isabella.
The escape is intense, a smorgasbord of encounters, each harrowing, the giants furious. Soon they find a way to climb back down the vine, their plan to laying waste to the kingdom.
Of course, there's time for a budding romance between poor farm boy Jack and the lovely, well-born Isabella — the damsel in distress and the heroic commoner.
As an aside: fairy tales such as "Jack the Giant Slayer," no matter the embellishment (recall the recent" Snow White and the Huntsman") and literary license taken, have always been, essentially, dark narratives that involve not only magic but a clear contrast between resilient innocents and the forces of iniquity. The Brothers Grimm, and other writers of their ilk (in the case of "Jack," the author is Benjamin Tabart), clearly set out to keep children up at night worrying what imagined creatures roamed the forest, waiting, ever eager to find them and do who knows what.