3 Problems With Fairy Tale Movies Like ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

Published 2 years ago by

jack giant slayer 3 Problems With Fairy Tale Movies Like Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer is a new fairy tale re-imagining directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men 1&2, Superman Returns), featuring Nicholas Hoult as its namesake: the humble farmboy who scales a massive beanstalk, in order to rescue a princess and protect the kingdom from a vengeful army of giants.

In Screen Rant‘s Jack the Giant Slayer review, our Ben Kendrick breaks down the CGI-heavy storybook adventure’s strengths and flaws, explaining how Singer and his writing staff (including Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie) sacrifice thematic depth and substance in favor of entertainment which is “brainless but engaging.”

What’s more interesting about Jack (for our purposes here) is these shortcomings reflect a growing trend in contemporary cinematic revisions of fairy tales, as the same problems keep popping up over and over. Jack‘s $28 million opening with a $195 million budget aside, these films usually manage a profit and accomplished directors continue signing up for them; not to mention, these folk stories have endured for centuries, so it’s not as though a few lackluster retellings are going to discourage future re-interpretations. So, I’ve decided to outline three potholes that 21st century fairy tale re-imaginings keep stepping into, as a friendly warning for other upcoming films following after them.


1. Not Enough Focus

Grimm Brother fairy tales and legends allow us to explore our collective fears and imagination about the mysteries of the universe (and ourselves) through fantasy. They feature paper-thin (re: two-dimensional) heroes and villains which serve as the allegorical embodiments of emotions, repressed desires and personal values both admirable and immoral. However, this presents a dilemma for filmmakers: how do you mine the rich content found in these simple fantasy melodramas and still serve up multi-facted representations of characters and stories that are really just meant to work just as glorified metaphors?

red riding hood 3 Problems With Fairy Tale Movies Like Jack the Giant Slayer

Amanda Seyfried in ‘Red Riding Hood’

Well, the answer usually involves mashing together different influences and ideas, resulting in a movie that attempts to cover a lot of ground but ends up not getting much of anywhere. Consider, for example, David Leslie Johnson’s Red Riding Hood script, which tweaks Twilight‘s supernatural romance plot and then combines it with the murder mystery narrative of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow retelling (or, if you prefer, the Hammer Horror films that inspired it). Unfortunately, the result is a watered-down exploration of a young woman’s sexual coming of age, which is then wrapped around a solid, but predictable, examination of fear and paranoia spreading in a gated community.

Snow White and the Huntsman suffers from similar issues, as it often feels like the story is being pulled in different directions by the three credited screenwriters. One moment, we’re watching Snow White retold through Game of Thrones-style court intrigue – the next we’ve entered Lord of the Rings fantasy epic territory that is more concerned with building the world for sequels. As my brother put it (after seeing the movie with me), it’s almost as though the whole thing keeps rebooting itself every 30 minutes or so, in the hopes of turning a simple fable into the foundation for a blockbuster franchise.

Jack the Giant Slayer Nicholas Hoult 3 Problems With Fairy Tale Movies Like Jack the Giant Slayer

Nicholas Hoult is ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

By comparison, Jack is more self-enclosed. However, what’s equally frustrating is that Singer’s movie frequently begins to touch upon deeper meaning inherent to its story; that is, before either hastily moving forward or developing the ideas half-heartedly. It wastes potential themes such as the importance of handing down principles through stories and legends to the next generation (or the idea of giants as metaphors for anti-faith views), by restricting them to throwaway lines or scenes that go nowhere. Perhaps this is another example of too many cooks in the kitchen, as four different people received story and script credit on the film.

Either way, Jack still attempts to bite off more than it can chew. The difference here is that it keeps spitting stuff back out, only to move ahead and do the same thing with yet another dish. In other words: a bunch of samples don’t add up to a complete meal.


NEXT PAGE: Superficial Visuals & Weak Themes

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  1. I agree with this article wholeheartedly. The great fantasy films throughout the years didn’t make any of these misteps. I think of the original LOTR trilogy, Princess Bride, even the Wizard of Oz. I realize those tales don’t date as far back as the source material from these recent fairytale adaptations, but they were just done a whole lot better.

    and thanks for mentioning Hanna and Pans Labyrinth!! love those movies :)

  2. The only idea I have was something I posted in the Jack trailer comments section about my take on The Three Little Pigs. Otherwise, I’d rather we have Disney have the monopoly on classic fairytales.

  3. Jack was better than the others listed, and I find it weird that you have a problem with jack being good and courageous easily for the sake of the princess he likes.
    Not every story needs characters to be psychologically conflicted and it wouldve hurt the film, which isnt about jack proving anything to himself but others seeing his worth.

    • Also Hanna wasnt a fairy tale, it just used fairy tale motifs. Which doesnt make it bad but its not a fairy tale but more of a wink/nod to them and avoids the more fantastical elements which buys it more realism which I guess is liked more nowadays.

      And Pans Labyrinth, while a fairy tale, was boring.

      • Hanna showed a good, strong female protagonist though with depth.

        Also, Pan’s Labyrinth was an incredible movie, I know it’s your opinion to hate it and not fact but still, it showed what good modern and original fairytales look like.

        • As for Hanna: I would argue that’s a true re-imagining of a fairy tale, but I admit it really does depend on how you look at it.

        • Did not say hate, said boring.
          Its long, slow and hard to invest in if you dont get attached to the girl or her life like I didnt.
          And its fantasy or use of are more odd than interesting.
          Very Guillermo del Toro.

          • Yeah but boring = hate in a lot of cases.

            I found Avatar boring and thus hate the movie. Same with John Carter (saw it for the first time today, terrible movie).

            • Well Avatar is worth being hated, it be boring too is just circumstance.

          • Also I said nothing of the character Hanna herself, sure shes strong. But dont write Jack off* as being simple.
            What works for one character doesnt for another.
            Jack is a poor farm peasant and Hanna well, is complex.

    • My problem isn’t really that Jack’s good for the sake of the princess or that he isn’t really psychologically conflicted. It’s more that he’s too much of a flat character. That works fine in a short fairy tale but, as a movie, I think he would’ve benefitted from being more fully developed (like the best characters in Disney’s animated fairy tale movies are, for example).

  4. One of the main issues for poor quality is singular focus on money and not integrity and overall lack of heart or genuine feeling. So many are empty emotionless experiences with almost no depth. I blame willingness to swallow any old tripe and not enough vision to create something powerful.

    • Or if something does have meaning, it gets watered down by studio execs who want it to appeal to a wider audience.

  5. I actually liked the Red Riding Hood movie. Not so much the others. Hanna was underwhelming as well. It was purdy though. Think it would’ve been better as a comic honestly.

  6. This movie actually looks quite interesting, it may be the type that my kids will actually like.

  7. Wait… Hanna is a fairy tale?

    What makes a movie a fairy tale and what makes it just a movie?

    For me, a fairy tale has to have some type of magical creature (dragon, dwarf, witch, giant, etc) and maybe a princess involved… to me, Hanna was more like Bourne Identity. I guess you can stretch it with Hanna being the naive princess and Blanchett’s character as the Wicked Witch… but then you can do that with most movies.

      • I understand how you got there… but then you can make almost any movie with a female protagonist a “fairy tale”.

        Nikita/Point of No Return
        Resident Evil

        Man… all this time I was watching princess fairy tales. :)