Friday, March 08, 2013

'Jack' tries too hard to be a blockbuster

In 2010, Disney's live action "Alice in Wonderland" made $1 billion worldwide. Studios took notice and began their own productions featuring fantastic and magical worlds. This is why last year gave us not one, but two revisionist takes on "Snow White" and why "Jack the Giant Slayer," an action-heavy reworking of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story, exists.

"Alice in Wonderland" was directed by Tim Burton, a director known for his highly recognizable style and quirky sensibility. Giving him a $200 million budget to play with was a risk that paid off for Disney. So, other studios started throwing big money at visionary directors.

Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema tossed Bryan Singer, the director of the first two "X-Men" films and "Superman Returns," some magic beans and $195 million and hoped for some profits to sprout sky high.

The scheme didn't go exactly as planned with "Jack" making $27 million in its opening weekend. "Jack" has already been labeled as a flop, which isn't exactly fair as the film is, for the most part, fun and entertaining.

Dismissing a film as a box office disaster simply because it didn't instantly find an audience undermines its chances of building a word-of-mouth following. Unfortunately, with Hollywood budgets growing ever larger in size, a film must go big or go home in its opening weekend.

To create the giants, "Jack" uses motion-capture technology, in which an actor performs the character and his performance is then animated over by computers. This is the same technology used to create Gollum in "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" and can be very effective. In "Jack," though, the visuals are hit and miss. At times the giants look remarkably realistic and in other moments they seem cartoonish.

Hollywood needs to realize simply tossing a lot of money at the screen will not secure a hit. Computer-generated effects have become the way to go for Hollywood films, but these effects have the tendency of being not so special. Audiences are beginning to feel digital fatigue.

Digital effects are a fantastic tool and can be used to create wonderful visuals that previously would've been impossible to do, but films can rely too heavily on them. The best examples of computer-generated visuals have them paired with more practical effects like models, puppets and animatronics.

Could "Jack" have been made on a much more modest budget and have achieved the same goals? Certainly. Films like "Paul," "Ted" and "District 9" featured impressive animated characters that audiences stopped seeing as created by a computer. These films all had more humble ambitions, though, whereas many Hollywood films are straining too hard for bigger, better visuals instead of trusting an audience to appreciate strong characters and story. Of course when big visuals and a good story and characters come together as with last year's "Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises," the results are tremendous both financially and as entertainment.

"Jack" does have strong characters and a decent plot. The cast, featuring such familiar and welcomed faces as Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane and Stanley Tucci as well as the likable up-and-comer Nicholas Hoult in the lead role, is in fine form. The ever-reliable Tucci is clearly having a lot of fun as a conniving advisor to the king (McShane) who plots to rule the giant. McGregor is equally engaging by approaching his Errol Flynn-esque character with a slight, knowing sense of humor.

The script by David Dobkin, Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney is witty and has a nice sense of humor. Singer's direction is sure handed and visually appealing. The only issue "Jack" has is that it seems to be trying to be bigger than it truly is.

"Jack's" most successful sequences are the simplest. The film's best scene involves Jack cleverly rescuing McGregor from being baked by a giant. Similarly, the way Jack defeats a giant using a beehive is both funny and suspenseful.

In contrast, the climatic storming of the castle, while well handled and fairly engrossing, also feels more familiar. This is clearly where much of the budget went and, honestly, more of the smaller, one-on-one confrontations with the giants would've been more dynamic and compelling than the large scale battles.

If you're a fan of fantasy adventures, "Jack the Giant Slayer" is worth a trip to the theater. It has its flaws and probably would've been better if the studios behind it hadn't tried to blow it up into the next blockbuster, but it does what it sets out to do: provide a fun twist on a timeless tale.

1 comment:

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