In some of the new poster images from “Jack the Giant Slayer,” one sees tiny hairs jutting from the points of the giants’ noses, with schmutz furling out between bone-gnawing gnarls of teeth. These aren’t cartoons, but finely-rendered characters, each different, at least one with two heads, all hovering between 22- and 32-feet high when they’re screen ready. And there are hundreds of them, according to “Giant Slayer” director Bryan Singer.
“In ‘X-Men: First Class,’ our average shot cost like 25,30 grand,” Singer said on the fairy tale set, in lush and diverse pastures outside of London. “A movie like this they’re like 80 thousand dollars.
Singer produced “First Class” but passed up directing it in order to apply himself to this redux on an old tale. It’s without irony that the decision was due to filmmaking magnitude.
Before “Alice in Wonderland” or “Snow White and the Hunstman,” or “Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Puss in Boots,” Singer “wanted to see a fairy tale brought to life on a full grand scale. What if a beanstalk grew miles high in the sky? What if giants were real?” he said, breaking from the allergens of a naturally misty forest clearing. He donned three pairs of glasses around his neck: sunglass, 3-D glasses and eyeglasses.
“I wanted to see that a fairy tale done on a large, large budget film. As a big fantasy film, this was a way to take a simple, the simplest fairy tale, and embellish it and kind of make an original fairy tale.”
During my visit to the set in summer of 2011, onlookers couldn’t see giants' little nose hairs and dirty fingernails. The film was called “Jack the Giant Killer” back then, and was originally slated to arrive in the summer last year. Due to the corporate shuffle, the March 2013 date gave at least more cooking time to these fantastical giants.
But on a sound stage, just around the turrets of a newly erected castle, there was a much smaller story being told. Jack (boyish Nicholas Hoult
) and Princess Isabelle arrange themselves in a hutch of a scene: after the giants have descended from their sky-bound land to attack the humans, the two teens hide inside a fur-lined cloak as they peak out at the perpetrators. It feels just like a kid would hunkered under the sink or behind mom’s dry cleaning for a game of hide-and-seek. It is probably the smallest thing about “Giant Slayer.”
“Isabelle didn't want to be a princess… She feels a bit trapped, I think,” Tomlinson said on her role. “She just wants to be a normal girl. She's got that temper, that spark about her, which is different from other fairy tales, I think.”
“He’s a dreamer. He’s a young farmer. He hasn’t had an easy upbringing and then he’s kind of catapulted onto this epic mission and falls in love with a princess. He’s an average hero, an average guy who becomes a hero,” said Hoult on Jack. “He has to overcome quite a few of his fears of heights and thunder and all these sorts of things along the way. But, yeah, he’s just an average guy.
It’s a fresher spin on the diamond in the rough and the damsel in distress. Hoult and Tomlinson – who look rather adorable smooshed together -- are ripe for such a tweeny, modern vibe.
There’s the usual trappings of any fairytale land. Oversized boulders and vines lace around the soily, primitive landscape of the Giants’ world Gantua; but its perilous-looking enough that it could also yield animal bones or the occasional deadly booby trap. On “earth” -- which is an English fantasy territory amorphously set somewhere between the 11th and 14th century – there’s the promise of moats, boiling tar, flaming tree stumps, trained horses, torches and crossbows. (Ewan McGregor
, as previously implied, looks magnificent on a horse.)
Like some other recent, dark bedtime story reduxes, there’s danger here. Singer said it’s a fairy tale with a body count, and losses in the royal army are addressed in Isabelle’s storyline, making it sound like it’s a fable as much about consequences of action in reality as it is about play-pretend.
“The giants are not friendly but they weren’t friendly in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’” Singer explained, mentioning that Jack’s original motivation was a “steal your sh*t” mission. “This… does have some violence and some scary bits but there’s a kind of a wink to the audience, the humor to the characters, and all the characters are quite heightened a bit in the fairytale sense… you’ll see they’re very whimsical characters, so it kind of takes the edge off the body count, so I think younger people and parents will be okay with it, provided I hold the camera away from certain things.”
Like the grinding of bones to make bread. Got it.
In the second trailer to “Giant Slayer,” released in December, the comic bits don’t seem to have been cut, and those “winks” could give way some fun commentary on heroes on horseback. An adventure movie with Stanley Tucci, as it were. Singer’s stints with the “X-Men” franchise and “Superman Returns” still left some bucket list items to be fulfilled, which they are by this grand-scale film.
“First 3D, first fairy tale, first fully rendered CG characters, creature characters, first movie that takes place in a time before there was electricity, first movie with horses… third movie with cats,” he said.
Even on a bright day with a seasoned crew and a colorful cast, that all still sounded like an “event” movie with a lot of moving parts to pull off.
“You have all these tools now, and there’s another reason big budget movies are tougher gambles business-wise. So you’re either going to take a gamble with a smaller independent movie, and hoping it takes off, or you’re going to make sure you’re making an event picture. An event picture is usually something either comic book based, franchise based, or a fantasy based, the kind of movie that people have to go to the theater to see in IMAX and all that stuff.”
So even without a giant’s hand plucking Hoult up off the ground and into the sky, we were promised adventures and misadventures that seem to warrant a “ta-da!” at the end of each description. The characters and set were ready – come March, we’ll see the real action.