JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
About the Production
Fee... Fye... Foe... Fumm.
Ask not whence the thunder comes.
Between Heaven and Earth is a perilous place,
home to a fearsome giant race.
Like people of all ages the world over, director/producer Bryan Singer grew up on thrilling tales of adventure, of good and evil, and bold voyagers seeking fortune or fighting for their lives in worlds ruled by beasts and monsters.
Among them was the story of a young man named Jack who confronts a gruesome giant bent on grinding his bones into bread.
"What appealed to me about the story then, as now, was how deceptively simple it was, and yet how fantastic and full of potential," Singer says.
It's a tale that has endured for generations. Known by different names in myriad cultures dating at least as far back as the 12th century, its details have evolved with local lore and various retellings, but its power always lay in the way it played upon our love of heroes and our deepest fears. It was this fertile ground from which sprung the big-screen adventure "Jack the Giant Slayer," a familiar tale given new dimension, with freshly rendered characters that draw audiences into a larger world of peril and destiny.
"The impetus for me was to bring a legend to life in a big, physical way. To take what was a childhood abstraction or some illustrations in a storybook and make them real in their full scope and scale, with action and drama and a beanstalk five miles high," says Singer, who applied the most advanced filmmaking technology available to the task, graphically depicting the interaction of man and giant, and creating the story's rich terrains with the fullness and impact they deserve.
"We're telling our own tale, loosely based on stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and the older and darker Jack the Giant Killer, which grew up around the legends of King Arthur," he continues, "combining elements of both and introducing our own lore to give it a context and history and to bring these characters and this world to life in a dynamic way, with a kind of heightened realism."
Notes producer Neal H. Moritz, "We knew we had something special with the script, but that's only one part of it. We were lucky to have someone of Bryan's skill and vision to take it to the next level and elevate it from the perception of being just a children's story. When people see these images I believe they will realize this is a big, epic journey with huge giants and huge themes, humor and romance, amazing action and spectacular visual effects that anyone can enjoy."
"Essentially, it's everything you remember -- and more," says Nicholas Hoult, who first worked with Singer on "X-Men: First Class," and stars in the title role. "We're firing crossbows, zip-lining across huge divides, swinging from vines and dodging flaming trees that the giants uproot and hurl at us. You never know what to expect."
Singer's version begins faithfully with the classic arc of a poor, ordinary farmhand who accepts the unlikely barter of a handful of beans for his horse and soon finds himself in possession of a mighty beanstalk -- a living, vertical highway that leads him into a land where giants roam. Though unprepared for the dangers that await him there, he rises to the challenge, relying not only on his strength but also on his wits and courage to face the man-eating monsters of nightmare.
"It's important that Jack be someone who the audience can identify with," says producer David Dobkin, who also shares story credit with screenwriter Darren Lemke, and has long been a fan of the what he calls "the David and Goliath element of the tale. I think most people see themselves as the underdog. We all share the feeling that forces in life are bigger than us and that we often have little control. Jack is not a super-hero, he's an everyman; he has dreams and ambitions and some idea of what he's capable of, but until now he's never been tested. So we root for him because we want him to succeed and show us it's possible."
"Overcoming the obstacles in his path, Jack proves, time and again, that heroes aren't born, but made, and that -- much like the beanstalk, itself -- from small beginnings, big things can come," adds Lemke.
But who exactly is Jack; where does he come from and what does his future hold even if the giants are vanquished? What would motivate a man to climb a precarious bridge into the sky? Addressing these questions takes us into the fictional medieval hamlet of Cloister, his home. Here, he fatefully crosses paths with the fiery Princess Isabelle, one of several newly introduced characters, played by Eleanor Tomlinson. The two forge a powerful and immediate connection, so that when Isabelle is taken into the giants' world, Jack doesn't hesitate to join with Ewan McGregor's gallant Elmont to rescue her.
"Bryan is truly an actors' director," says Moritz. "He really gets in there and helps them get the soul and spirit of the characters onto the screen. I think the relationship between Jack and Isabelle -- and the chemistry between Nick Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson in those roles -- is an essential element and that's something Bryan is very good at bringing out."
Likewise central is Jack's relationship with his would-be mentor, Elmont, which follows its own comical and ultimately rewarding path. It begins by offering Jack a glimpse of what Ewan McGregor describes as "the kind of job he would have aspired to, if he'd ever had the opportunity to achieve that kind of status in his world," and ends with the promise of true friendship, after the two have been to hell and back together.
Singer then unleashes the giants as they are rarely realized. Not the slow-witted blundering clods of storybooks, these are nimble and calculating individuals. Led by Bill Nighy as the ambitious General Fallon, they are also surprisingly prone to the kinds of rivalries, vanities and violent clashes that bedevil the human mortals they seek to devour.
This is the landscape through which Jack now makes his way, with not just his own life at stake but that of the woman he loves, every soul in the kingdom, and possibly the entire world.
It's a lot of pressure for one who claims to be a simple farm boy -- and a challenge in which Singer reveled.
"Bryan likes to work on a big canvas," says Patrick McCormick, another of the film's producers, with Singer, Moritz, Dobkin and Ori Marmur. "But he knows that when you're working on a movie like this and creating a world never seen before, story and character are always paramount. You cannot be successful without having those details well-planned and established."
Acknowledging the timelessness of those elements, "Jack the Giant Slayer" exists in its own indefinable place. Though ostensibly set in England's distant past, the movie's look and feel is a lively merging of medieval trappings with a contemporary sensibility, reflected in such details as the attitudes of its citizens and they way they dress and speak, placing Cloister's true borders squarely in the imagination.
And, like all good yarns, "Jack the Giant Slayer" encompasses a number of larger, universal themes, such as perseverance and valor, self-sacrifice for ones' comrades, and the things we do for love. Dan Studney, sharing screenwriting credit with Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie, observes, "It's about growing up, and the beanstalk is a perfect metaphor for that. Climbing it means going up to face your fears, the great unknown and unfamiliar, and then coming back the richer for it."
It's a point made humorously in the film through Jack's sheepish admission to an unmanly aversion to heights -- all the while he's leaping into the breach and fending off the most ferocious and bloodthirsty creatures.
Shot entirely in 3D, "Jack the Giant Slayer" blends live action, practical locations and traditional effects with CG characters born of precision motion- and facial-capture performances, using the latest generation of the Simul-Cam system developed for "Avatar" to integrate the live with the virtual in real time, while cameras rolled.
"There's a lot of scary stuff in the movie, and some shocking moments. The giants are definitely not good guys and they take obvious pleasure in eating people -- head first," Singer concedes, "but it's all done with a measure of fun and a wink to the audience. My aim was to make a film that adults could enjoy while never losing sight of the fact that it's still based on a story we first learned in childhood, and set in a heightened world."
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