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Jack the Giant Slayer' is fee-fi-fo-fun

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Fairy tale adventure more hit than miss

There has been a trend in Hollywood recently toward the reinvention of classic children's stories. We've seen tongue-in-cheek takes on Hansel and Gretel and a pair of retellings of the story of Snow White. Developments in CGI technology have taken these stories out of the animated realm in which they have primarily dwelled and into the world of live action.

The latest offering along these lines is director Bryan Singer's 'Jack the Giant Slayer,' a new take on Jack's adventure with the beanstalk. It's a good-hearted adaptation, but it suffers a bit from putting too much emphasis on style over substance.

It's mostly the story you know. Jack (Nicholas Hoult, 'Warm Bodies') is scratching out a meager living on his uncle's farm. He is sent to the castle to sell the farm's workhorse and cart. He's not there long before he finds himself defending the honor of a young woman from some ne'er-do-wells. It's only when the King's Guardian Elmont (Ewan McGregor, 'The Impossible') shows up that Jack discovers that the mysterious young woman is actually the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, 'Alice in Wonderland'), daughter of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane, 'Snow White and the Huntsman'). In the meantime, a monk has made off with Jack's horse, leaving him with nothing but a sack of beans that are supposedly sacred.

Isabelle is betrothed to the King's trusted advisor Roderick (Stanley Tucci, 'The Hunger Games'), but the princess wants to choose her own destiny a desire to which King Brahmwell refuses to accede. So she flees the castle and makes her way into the countryside. She soon finds herself lost, only to make her way to an isolated shack the same shack where Jack lives with his uncle.

Then one of the beans gets wet. That's when things get crazy.

A giant beanstalk carries Isabelle along with Jack's house up into the clouds. The King assembles a team to go after her. Jack joins Elmont, Roderick and a brace of others in a day-long climb into the sky. When they arrive at the top, they discover to their dismay that all of the legends are true; there is a land of giants suspended in the air. These giants are led by the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy, 'Total Recall') and filled with a lust for vengeance against mankind specifically the royal family.

Jack finds himself thrust into the middle of a grand adventure, battling enemies human and giant alike in an effort to save both the princess and the entire kingdom.

That's about it for the story; frankly, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' is a little thin and simplistic in terms of plot. But those flaws are mostly overcome by the overall earnestness of the proceedings. There's none of the too-cool-for-school winking and nodding that tends to populate this sort of film. It's straightforward adventure story a story that director Singer is clearly delighted to tell.

The effects work is actually pretty great. The floating homeland of the giants is impressive to look at, as is the beanstalk; the army of giants is wonderfully rendered. There are strong moments both great and small when it comes to the computer-generated world of the film. It all adds up to a phenomenal treat for the eyes.

The performances aren't too shabby either. Hoult has a wide-eyed gentleness that works well in this role while still turning on the toughness when he needs to. Tomlinson's Isabelle is actually pretty tough in her own right at least in the first part of the film but she reverts to standard damsel in distress stuff toward the end. McGregor and Tucci are both excellent; each man has a very clear sense of what kind of movie they are in and what their respective parts within it should be. Both understand that a little goes a long way.

'Jack the Giant Slayer' isn't quite the movie it could have been; some surprisingly graphic violence earns the film a PG-13 rating, moving it out of the range of the kids who should be its target audience. Still, it is an undeniably engaging and entertaining effort that is well worth a look from any fan of fantasy adventure.

3.5 out of 5

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