I saw Jack the Giant Slayer last weekend, Oz, the Great and Powerful this weekend, so it seemed only appropriate to review them together. Oz had the better trailer, but boy, was it a disappointing film. Not to say it didn’t have some good parts to it, but as a whole it lacked. Jack on the other hand, didn’t have a particularly engaging trailer, but boy, was it a fun movie. I loved just about every minute of it.
Oz looks spectacular, but it goes wrong at the most fundamental level – character development. Nobody in this film grabbed me, particularly our trio of witches. I was never given more than the slightest indication of who they were and what motivated them. Not even any generic and cliché motivations, which would have been better than nothing. One of them killed their father (why?), is apparently guarding the throne but not actually ruling (so, does she not want power then?), another seems to have some weird self-dangerous personal issues whenever she gets her feelings hurt (is this a witch thing, or just with this witch?), and the third is good and opposed to evil, but why so different from her sisters? Was the murdered father father of all three? Was there a mother? Mothers? What do these witches want anyway? What are their powers? There’s a prophecy about the wizard of Oz. I’m rather fond of prophecies, especially when they’re slightly subverted, and so that part worked for me. But overall... I simply didn’t care enough. This movie started out so promisingly, but by midway through, I was done. At that point, it kept dragging on and on to the inevitable conclusion.
Now, it is a beautiful movie, with great scenery and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen. And I do love James Franco. He had the con man wizard part down, and I really liked those moments when he realized what was going on around him, that it wasn’t all a game. I actually liked all three witches. The actresses themselves were great with what they had to work with. I like a lot of disparate parts of this film. I loved that it is the wizard who suggests the broomstick idea. Lovely little moment when it plays out. There was some pretty funny stuff, mostly involving a good flying monkey named Finley. Although I’m not quite sure whether I liked him or whether I was creeped out by him. CGI talking animals are always a bit on the creepy side. It’s something with how their lips move or something. He did get the funniest moments in the movie, though. One of his lines (alas, I can’t remember which one) had us laughing for a good couple minutes at least. I also really liked the yellow brick road, the poppy field, and all those bits and bobs that tied in with The Wizard of Oz. I also have to add that I loved Bruce Campbell in his small role. Bruce Campbell is always a bonus!
Jack the Giant Slayer, on the other hand, I went to see mostly because Ewan McGregor was in it. I had no expectations. Where Oz seemed to take itself too seriously, this movie doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Where Oz tries too hard to be something, Jack succeeds by simply being. It’s just a retelling of a fairy tale, and it knows it. And consequently, it is nothing but a fun romp of a movie. I spent most of this movie grinning in delight. And it may be just a fairy tale, but at the same time, it had characters I cared quite a great deal about. There's also a whole passel of giants, who turned out to be quite interesting. Other than the cook, who belongs with those gross trolls in Hobbit, (fortunately short screen time – they couldn't have a fastidious cook for once??) But the giants have a lot of internal strife, so there were some great dynamics going on among them, little power plays, and stuff. They weren't just a mindless horde. I quite loved it. With a few broad strokes the movie painted a deeper picture of what has been going on in their realm. And as opposed to Oz... which got boring, I was never bored in Jack.
The opening, which introduces Jack and the princess, Isabelle, as children hearing the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk, is nicely done, cutting seamlessly back and forth, showing how entranced both are with the tale. It had me hooked immediately. And as opposed to Oz, which was predictable straight through, Jack continued to surprise me throughout. Supporting characters died when I didn’t think they would, which made me start genuinely worrying about some of the characters. The king (Ian McShane) makes a hard decision I thoroughly loved him for, one that gave this movie more depth that I hadn't expected it to go into.
And then there’s Ewan McGregor, who did not remotely disappoint. He is awesome, and his character of Elmont, captain of the guard, was thoroughly amusing. I can't actually figure out how to describe his character. He is a bit pompous and silly (with a haircut that just makes me laugh, in a good way), and yet so utterly self-assured and confident and also heroic and upstanding, all at the same time, and it is the funniest and coolest combo. I think only Ewan could play such a character. He made me very very happy in this role for all kinds of reasons. Stanley Tucci plays the bad guy, and he is perfectly despicable and nasty and cowardly and confident... and he also plays the role, like Ewan, with such light-hearted abandon that it’s just... well... FUN!
I will probably watch Oz again when it comes on television, but I can’t wait to own Jack on DVD. It's a shame the latter hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. I found it to be the far superior film, with one exception. Danny Elfman's score for Oz was amazing and wonderful. John Ottman's score for Jack is merely serviceable. It doesn't detract, but neither does it give us any memorable themes. I'd sorely like to have had the composers reversed.
(yeah, I would so put this poster on my wall!)