Jack & the Beanstalk
. 2001

Director: Brian Henson

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The CGI singing harp met with in Jack & the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001) was something the computer special FX team was especially proud of, claiming they did not want it to look like "clunky CGI." It's an example of how living inside an office or an industry can be blinding, because in fact the golden harp-woman looks like nothing more nor less than clunky CGI.

Certainly clunky CGI is all that's needed to convince very young viewers, but when such films claim the sort of family-appeal that will enrapture even the parents, well, you know the name of that necropolis, Hope Springs Eternal.

The best visual bits in the film look like the Sci-Fi Channel series Farscape, which was also from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Storywise, however, Jack suffers irrecoverably.

Land developers dig up bones they think must be a dinosaur, but it's the grave of a humanoid giant. Opening the giant's grave unleashed great powers.

Jack Robinson (Matthew Modine even more bland than usual) is the hero of an industrial family whose men never live past age forty, the age Jack is about to reach. Robinson International is run by Siggy Maheim (John Voight) who is evil.

Ondine (Mia Sara) arrives to "interview" who she calls "the last Jack," for he has no heir & she assumes he'll soon be kaput from the family curse. And she's no ordinary journalist. She reveals that his family fortune is predicated on the treasures his ancestor stole from the murdered giant, in an otherworld that is Ondine's true home.

Also about this time, Jack's company, without his input, stopped funding an agricultural company developing a drought-hardy pea that could end world hunger, as Siggy just hates to do anything useful that isn't exceedingly profitable.

With a couple of those super-charged beans in his pocket, Jack heads off to the Casino Castle Project to see what all the to-do is about the giant bones that stopped construction.

Countess Wilhemina (Lyn Redgrave) is his ageless yet incredibly old aunty. She explains to Jack the family curse that only the Last Jack, a good Jack, can set to rights, this having taken fifteen generations, 390 years.

In a long flashback we see the story of the original Jack who traded the cow for magic beans, climbed the stalk, stole the magic harp & the goose that laid the golden age, then returned home, killing the giant Thunderdell (Bill Barretta) assisted by his mother (Julia McKenzie) in chopping down the stalk.

Modern Jack plants the last magic bean & heads off to the world of the giants, which is now an impoverished world without the magic of Gallagher the Goose & the singing harp.

It's obvious that somebody thought they had a wonderful new take on the old story, but it's not half so clever as it thinks itself. The standard Beanstalk story is retold in its "true" version with the original Jack a thief & murderer who killed not a cruel gaint but a sweet-natured apparently mentally retarded ruler over normal-sized people of normal intelligence, in a world where whoever is biggest rules.

The Judgement Hall of the giants (including Daryl Hannah & as glittery Thesbee & Richard Attenborogh as Magog, among others) worked nicely, though the behavior of the giants generally is as gods or overseers who use the little people as slaves or enforced servants who work their asses off just to feed the damned giants.

The script seems totally unaware that a world in which people exist to service the needs of giants couldn't possibly be all that wonderful. This is the same kind of attitude that made antebellum films like Dixiana (1930) wherein the happiest people are the smiling nameless singing slaves.

There are a number of silly-ass adventures for Jack, Ondine, & Thunderdell's son Bran (James Corden), most of which events are apt to hold the attention of small children. There's also the story of bad-guy Siggy back on Earth which is better played than Jack's part because Voight gets to chew the scenery.

In the dungeon of the giants Jack realizes he still has the magic peas developed by his scientists back on Earth, which can be used to restore the giants' realm. Yippy! Little people can now live in servitude to benevolent tyrants forevermore!

So Jack's a hero & when he returns to Earth he makes right his ancestor's wrongs, but sad, sad, he's separated form Ondine, but wait, nevermind, here she comes. Suitable for adults too my ass.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

[ Film Home ] - [ Film Reviews Index ]
[ Where to Send DVDs for Review ] - [ Paghat's Giftshop ]