Jack the Giant Killer Reviews
This is one of those great 1960s movie fantasies that Hollywood did for kids. The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and a few others were fun, colorful, movies for the Saturday matinee.
They usually featured veteran character actor, Torin Thatcher, who usually played villainous magicians, sorcerers, or warlocks causing havoc to the hero and his damsel in distress. Many times these movies would have cool boats, ships, or other gadgets, and lets not forget the incredible monsters, thanks to the great single-frame animator, Ray Harryhausen.
Jack the Giant Killer may have been a movie on a smaller scale budget than these others, and it didn't have quite the Harryhausen mastery of other movies. It was also highly predictable. It is rated "G" after-all. But, it's not a total waste of your time.
Jack (Kerwin Mathews) is a handsome young farmer, whose late father fought for the king. Think of the Mickey Mouse's Jack the Giant Slayer and not the Jack and the Beanstalk variety. Pendragon (Thatcher) is a warlock who was banished from Cornwall to an island but has designs of revenge and to be the next reigning king.
The present king's beautiful daughter, Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) has just been given her tiara and Pendragon, in disguise, has shown up at her coming-out party with a strange gift; a little man who comes out of his box and dances for the princess. That night the little man grows into a giant who kidnaps Princess Elaine. Jack comes to the rescue.
The film takes place in merry old England, Cornwall, which is ruled by a good king. At this time the Princess is being crowned so she may rule as Queen, but the evil banished sorcerer 'Pendragon' returns and tricks the King and Princess into accepting a gift that will eventually steal her away back to the evil sorcerers castle. Long story short 'Jack' is chosen to set sail for this castle and rescue the Princess in true fairytale style.
What really hits you about this film straight away is the lavish production values. Immediately in the first scene you can tell this film had a lot of highly skilled people working on it from costumes to sets and props. Everybody in every scene looks quite elegant in their royal fairytale ceremonial splendour, of course its not meant to be realistic so its all bright colours, bold makeup and lots of artistic license by American's on what old England apparently looked like. You can easily compare this film to 'The Wizard of Oz' in terms of in your face technicolour.
The characters are nothing exciting really, stereotypical hero, Princess, King, evil wizard, slimy sidekick etc...its all here and utterly cliched to the hilt. But this is 1962, this is what they did back then, the difference was the charming performances by the stars and the quaint yet magnificent visuals.
Once again Torin Thatcher steals the show as Pendragon the evil sorcerer (great name). Despite looking like 'Emperor Ming the Merciless' this character is perfectly dastardly and gloriously sinister, the facial hair helps. What I love about Torin (and many old stars of the silver screen) is the fact you can understand every word he says, his speech is perfect, his motions are perfect...the man was a perfect performer. Yes his performance would be viewed by today's standards as ultra cheesy, yes it is very pantomime-like, but its so enjoyable to watch and hear him speak. Listening to him plot his devious schemes whilst rubbing his claw-like hands together is just so cool.
Kerwin Matthews is once again our hero and he does a sterling job of it too. Admittedly his performance mirrors his performance for 'Sinbad' to the point that they could be the same character but hey the guy was dashing.
Effects wise this film is poor, really really poor, Harryhausen quality stop motion you say? no. The action sequences involving stop motion are absolutely awful, some of the worst I've ever seen, it looks like a child has made the creatures out of play-doh. On top of that the creatures are laughable, just horrible! worst ever!! really ruins the film to be honest. The giant 'Cormoran' also looks suspiciously like the cyclops from 'The seven voyages of Sinbad', hmmm. There is also much bluescreen/superimposing as you might expect with a film like this, some not too bad, some nasty, but that's a given.
A true family film to be sure, the visuals are a display of classic fairytale pageantry set within the classic story of goodies vs baddies. Torin and his spooky crew of glowing demon-like witches are the best thing going here as they all prance about in their cobweb ridden castle. You feel yourself wanting to shout out 'he's behind you!!' at times, its all very cute. Think the 'Wicked Witch of the West' and her flying monkeys...but much much tamer and adorable. Although I must admit some of the witch costumes are quite scary close up (mainly the facial masks), for kids at least. Some look a bit like 'Ghostface' from the scream franchise whilst some are more skeletal, quite macabre.
The only thing that springs to mind is the fact the film is called 'Jack the Giant Killer', yet Jack only kills one giant at the start. So again like the new film there isn't actually much giant killing at all really, plenty of spell casting and witchcraft though.
What the movie lacks in technical prowess though, it really makes up for in charm. This story hits pretty much every single fantasy trope and that's where it works. Had the story done a few, it would seem cliché but you get everything here. You get giants, a dragon (though it's labelled as a harpy in the trailer), you get an evil wizard with a Dracula cape, witches, curses that turn people into animals, a princess that's kidnapped so the villain can marry her, a farmboy that rises to become a great hero, a magial genie, a kid sidekick, witches, magical weapons and more. Everything you could want in a fantasy story is present here and it makes the whole story feel delightfully nostalgic, even if you've never seen it before. Some of the characters that would normally feel annoying, like the kid sidekick and the wish-granting leprechaun that speaks in rhymes are also well done and overall, they work. It's hard to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes this so much fun to watch, but the action scenes are well done, the plot moves quickly and the characters are likeable. There are also some good fight scenes with the monsters and the villain, "Pendragon" is such a stereotypical fantasy villain that he's delightful. He even has a hunchback sidekick and widow's peak to go along with his vampire cape.
The movie might not be a masterpiece but it's just this weird mix of things that all happen to work together. Children and adults will enjoy the familiarity of the story and the creatures, fans of stop motion will enjoy it because of the craftsmanship and the creature design (they may be knockoffs but they're decent knockoffs of really good products) and particularly if you saw this as a kid and liked it, you'll have a lot of fun revisisiting the movie. "Jack the Giant Killer" is some good fantasy fun that's just the right kind of mix of cheese and high adventure excitement. (Dvd, March 30, 2013)
the actors seem to be having a good time too
the special effects are really outdated; alot of stop-motion with clay figures but you can get past it
its a pretty neat plot even if it does sound standard
thank goodness the princess character isnt the damsel in distress 100% of the time
good, old fashioned fantasy with some heart and alot to look at