Uh, so where the magic beans? If I’m watching a movie called Jack the Giant Killer, then I have to believe that somewhere along the way, I’m going to see a dude named Jack get hoodwinked into trading grandma’s cow for some magic beans.
This means that I also expect some really bad special effects of a big vine snaking its way into the clouds (or just out of camera range – about six feet up I imagine), while the borderline mentally challenged Jack scrambles up the vine in an effort to rescue his golden goose, magic harp or whatever it was that was captured by the fee-fie-fo-fumming lard butt who lives up there. This movie had none of those things!
That was actually okay since all of that had been incompetently accomplished in other films such as the notoriously hideous Jack And The Beanstalk and you can only watch a little twerp scampering around in front of a poorly rear projected giant for so long before you wish Jack would end up getting scraped off the giant’s size 800 sandal.
I was pleased then that it appeared we would have ourselves a real hero since Kerwin Mathews was playing Jack in this film. Kerwin already had a Sinbad movie under his belt as well as a stint as Gulliver in the overlong kiddie flick The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver. Even more importantly, he had a really nice tan. You can’t underestimate looking hale and hearty when standing around pretending to react to giant creatures that aren’t really there.
Jack is a simple farmer in the kingdom of Cornwall when he gets mixed up in a plot to kidnap a princess. The evil wizard Pendragon (notable for his overly-complicated facial hair that could only be reasonably kept up through an enchantment of some sort) had long ago been exiled, but now was just getting around to setting up a scheme to take over Cornwall.
He uses a variation of the tried-but-true Trojan Horse gag as he arrives in deep cover as a foreign prince no one has ever heard of at the princess’ birthday party. Ignoring the old fairy tale maxim to “beware strange princes bearing gifts of a music box with little dancing monster inside of it” the princess gleefully accepts the present and has it brought up to her room.
Once the princess is fast asleep, the cute little dancing creature that came with her mysterious music box appears and takes his cap off revealing a horned head! Then he starts growing and growing and growing until he breaks through the ceiling of her bedroom!
For farmer Jack, he didn’t wake up looking to be a hero that day, but by golly sometimes you just have to jut your jaw out, narrow your eyes, grab your axe and defend the honor of some primo piece of royal tail, the morning’s chores be damned!
The opening twenty minutes of the film is rip-snorting action of the giant-killing kind. Jack is a veritable early bird buffet of action moves as he kicks in a door, runs around hiding under wagons, lassoes the giant, jumps on him, and stabs him something good!
Despite the movie opening up with a good dose of sustained action, it immediately begins to wear out its welcome. The biggest problem its over reliance on its simply atrocious special effects.
Some of the monsters were done in the Ray Harryhausen style. That’s supposed to mean that we’re going to be seeing some stop motion action of creatures lovingly crafted and animated, but what we get are badly sculpted monsters and lots of bad animation accompanying their activities.
The kicker though was that as crappy as these effects were, director Nathan Juran did nothing to camouflage their shortcomings. He just let these things go on and on!
After Jack dispatches the first bad special effect, the king promotes him to Sir Jack and once they figure out that Pendragon is trying to kidnap the princess the king sends she and Jack on a secret voyage to a convent where they’ll hide the princess until they can take care of Pendragon.
There’s a traitor in their midst though and Pendragon finds out about the plan and sends a gaggle of flying witches to intercept the ship. There’s a big battle and the witches capture the princess. Afterwards, the crew of the ship chucks Jack overboard since he wants to go after the princess and they just want to go home.
Also in the water with him is his new young sidekick Peter. Realizing that the more sidekicks the merrier, the movie has Jack and Peter picked up by a Viking named Sigurd. Sigurd has a sidekick of his own. He’s got an imp in a bottle!
Jack and the imp show up at Pendragon’s apparently not too secret hideout and encounter various monsters that they have to defeat. Somewhere during all of this is when Pendragon turns Peter and Sigurd into animals and thus we are treated to the image that will stay with you longer than any other in the movie: Jack and the Princess running for safety across a beach while Jack is holding the hand of a chimp!
The movie finishes up just as it began – with an extensive battle between Jack and a poorly realized monster. Pendragon has turned into a harpy and Jack ends up on its back stabbing at it with his sword in scenes that left me wishing I could see the cutting edge technology of those old Davey and Goliath bible cartoons.
Despite the movie having a good variety of action, the incompetently done effects are a real turn off. They also loaded Jack up with too many buddies in the second half of things. What was the purpose of Peter? Anything that he did, could have been accomplished with the imp or with Sigurd. He seemed merely to be there so they could have a little kid in what basically amounted to a little kid’s picture.
If you’re looking for the kind of action they attempt in this movie, don’t go trading your cow for this one. You’re better off sticking with name brands like Sinbad or Jason and his Argonauts.
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