Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Column: Jack the Giant Rip-Off

By Hank Parmer (aka grouchomarxist):

The story so far:

After reading Scott's epic takedown of Jack the Giant Slayer, I mentioned that Netflix streaming has a movie called Jack the Giant Killer, which came out the same year. (IMDB says it was released a remarkably coincidental 12 days after Giant Slayer.) It's been lingering in the Netflix SF and Fantasy list for a while now, like the faint aroma of something that crawled into the wall and died.

Exhibiting my customary near-Holmesian powers of deduction, I opined that, improbable as it might seem, Jack the Giant Killer was virtually guaranteed to be worse than Jack the Giant Slayer. In a spirit which in hindsight seems suspiciously like that of your good buddy, who, when you tell him you have a bucket, a can of gasoline, and some M-80s, encourages you to "Go for it!", Scott suggested I should investigate, then report to the class.

So began my journey into the heart of shoddiness. Forgive me for the length of what follows, but there's simply no other way to convey the richly layered stupid, lavishly garnished with big, chewy chunks of "No fuckin' way!", which awaits the unsuspecting viewer.


I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to learn that the poster for a film which has been created for the sole purpose of glomming onto a far more expensive and better-advertised production and feeding, remora-like, off the scraps shed in its wake, is in fact an utterly shameless lie. The monster is nowhere near this cool, or ferocious. No buildings were even slightly damaged, much less scuffed, during the making of this film, and the hero never wields two mighty swords. Not even one not-so-mighty sword. Would you believe ... the toothpick from a Swiss Army knife?

Now, on to the movie:

Jack the Giant Killer lurches into action with a low-angle shot of a huge beast ambling past in the murky twilight. (It might be the unintended by-blow of Anguirus, the Toho kaiju character, allowing beer goggles to mislead him into a one-night stand with a bobtail brontosaurus.) For one glorious moment, I let myself hope Netflix had screwed up and this was an episode of "Walking with Dinosaurs" -- but no such luck. (Since the script never names the critter I've decided to steal a march on those fancy-pants paleontologists and dub it "Ersatzosaurus Ugottabekiddingus". In your face, Bob Bakker!)

And it has four long pointy spikes sticking up from its back. And six eyes, because -- magic!

Cut to: guy with his head sticking out of his Gumby-Meets-Gundam-Wing mecha. He confronts the Ersatzosaur -- well, "confronts" isn't exactly right, because all he actually does is stand there while the it strides up to him. Bravely defying the monster, he yells "Come on!" -- and the beast promptly gobbles him up whole.

Blackout, then credits roll as the camera swoops above Lancashire's pleasant pastures green. Wow, this is one short movie! This is gonna be way easier than I thought. Silly Billy: this is what's known as a "teaser". It's meant to cozen your average gullible viewer into hoping if they stick with it long enough, there might actually be something entertainment-like embedded somewhere in this pathetic mess. [cue hollow laughter]

I'd like to digress here for a moment to mention what I've discovered to be a near-infallible early-warning indicator for bad movies: if the director has more than one other credit on the film, odds are you're in for rough doings. And the director, DoP and proud author of the screenplay for Jack the Giant Killer, Mark Atkins, is living proof of this maxim. This is definitely a name to watch for -- and run like hell for the nearest exit!

The film proper opens with boy genius Jack Krutchens and his spunky girlfriend Lisa tinkering with his Mecha-Gumby. Since this is taking place before he would have even suspected the Ersatzosaur's existence, I have to wonder: what exactly prompted young Jack to build the thing? And none of the adults in his life exhibits the least bit of concern that their moody teenager is spending all his spare time in the shed out back, putting together a giant death machine that has big, serrated nippers in place of hands?

And what, the director's come over all French Existentialist on us, since we've already seen this ends with Jack and his invention being eaten?

Today is Jack's 18th birthday. He's unhappy, because he's never met his real dad, Newald Krutchens. (Newald disappeared under mysterious circumstances a few months before Jack was born.) Though they live in a fairly posh two-story "cottage", his mother, Sharon, and stepdad, Nigel "The Prick" Mason, are such consummate jerks they won't even spring for a birthday cake big enough to hold 18 candles! Before they can dole out this meager pastry, pony-tailed Crazy Jeff -- who looks a bit like Duane Allman might have, fifty years after "Eat a Peach" -- shows up to carry out a promise he made to his friend Newald 18 years ago. He wants to give a small drawstring pouch to Jack.

Nigel the Prick demands Jeff give it to him first, then he'll decide if Jack can have it. So what if Jack's supposed to be an adult now? I think I'm beginning to appreciate why he's been constructing that killer robot ... and I've got a pretty good idea who's slated to be his first victim.

Jeff tosses the bag to Jack, then gets run off by Nigel the Prick. Then Nigel, Jack's mom, Lisa and Jack stand in the yard while Jack and Nigel argue, and triple-threat Mark Atkins shows off his mad DoP skillz by circling his camera round and round the actors. Around and around and around and ... ohhhh ... I think I'm getting nauseous ... urrrrrrp!

When Nigel the Prick tells Jack he'd better not open that bag, our hero whips out the classic "You're not my real father!" conversational checkmate and storms off. Jack and Lisa blow this bogus scene on his sweet motorbike. (I should mention at this point that judging by props and costuming, "Jack the Giant Killer" is apparently set in the early 1960s. Definitely pre-swinging, though.)

Jack goes off-road and stops in a grassy meadow to check out his inheritance. Instead of something decent, like Daddy Newald's stash of primo Panama Red, it's just a very disappointing handful of lacquered cat droppings. Jack chucks them away in disgust.

Next morning, an excited phone call from Lisa summons Jack to the meadow, where a giant beanstalk has sprouted overnight. Oh, right ... those were beans. There's a surprisingly small crowd, even by rural standards. Just to remind us once again that it's the Sixties, a couple of tourists are filming the stalk with their 8mm Bell and Howells.

Now the obligatory Government Guy -- Ben Cross, the only semi-recognizable, honest-to-God actor in the bunch -- arrives on the scene, accompanied by his assistant, who mostly just keeps to the back, and doesn't get in anyone's way. Cross tackles his role as Agent Hinton with all the gusto you'd expect from an accomplished thespian who's just realized he's committed to a potential career-killer.

We get the first of many interminable reaction shots.

A vaguely sleazy-looking bystander does his homage to the 1950s' version of War of the Worlds, cackling at the prospect of capitalizing on this attraction by putting up some picnic tables and a fish-and-chips stand. Crazy Jeff is there, naturally. He tells Jack this is the boy's beanstalk, because Jack planted the bean, and only he can traverse it. It is his pathway. Before Jeff can haul out his dogeared copy of "Iron John" and start an impromptu drum circle, an unwary female tourist wanders too near the giant beanstalk. Long reaction shot, as she casts a worshipful eye on her new vegetable overlord. A whip-like runner from the stalk suddenly knocks her down.

Jack sprints over and helps her to her feet. Perfect little gentleman that he is, he also gives her his jacket. The tendril reaches down again and snatches Jack into the clouds. Thereby saving the production tons of money, by dispensing with any actual beanstalk-climbing.

Jack regains consciousness, in what may be the most unconvincing I'm-waking-up sequence ever filmed. (The role of Jack, by the way, is played by Jamie Atkins. Although that seems kind of suspicious, neither Jamie nor Mark acknowledges a connection in their IMDB bios. I can see why. And panning his performance would be like kicking a puppy.)

Jack has been magically transported to a desolate mountainside in Wales -- er, I mean, the "Land of the Clouds". Which sounds like it might be a pricey new development near Aspen, but is in fact a place of wonder and enchantment. (Oh, hell, who am I trying to kid?)

Cut to: a chrome-plated castle on an icy peak -- ooo, symbolism! -- which looks something like what might happen if a Hindu temple choked to death halfway through its heroic attempt to devour an I. M. Pei skyscraper. In its lavish though sparsely furnished Late Victorian/Edwardian interior, a spooky-looking brunette (she must be eeeevil, because she's dressed in a black cocktail frock and wears a chintzy-looking black-and-silver necklace with an amulet) is slouched in a chair, legs propped up, in front of her crystal ball. She looks bored -- probably because the only thing on the crystal right now is "Matlock" reruns. She perks up when she spies Jack's image while channel-surfing. She touches her amulet and regally commands, "Bring him to me!"

Her name is Sirena. Get it: Siren-a? Good. Mr. Atkins, you've done it again!

(continued below the fold)



Back to Jack, who's understandably gobsmacked when a huge, floating castle suddenly appears. Well, this one's not so much a "castle" as a cheap pewter replica of a gothic cathedral, with seven or eight spires lashed to its sides. Spires that bear an uncanny likeness to the sort of electrical device which used to arrive by mail, in a plain brown wrapper. While Jack's practicing his open-mouthed, vacant look, a smaller version of the Ersatzosaurus we saw at the beginning -- this one's only about twice the size of an Imperial Mammoth -- comes into view up-slope. It charges down at him. (This is the creature Sirena ordered to fetch Jack. "Soft-mouth, dammit! Soft-mouth!")

Jack chases after the castle in the sky, while the monster chases him. Someone in the castle lowers a rope ladder; Jack clambers up it one jump ahead of the Ersatzosaur.

It's Jack's long-lost real dad! But wait: Jack is 18, yet Newald doesn't look a day over 30! And Newald says only 19 days have passed, since he came to Land of the Clouds. This is a Very Important Plot Point: one day in the Land of the Clouds is equal to one year in the Land Below. (Much will be made of this peculiarity, but, as we will see, the screenplay has some major problems with its math.)

Before we try to digest the next hunk of back-story, pause for a moment to marvel at the floating castle's engine room -- which is obviously just a ratty-looking blacksmith's forge, with a rusted-out hood -- fueled by "magical" coal. (Bowel's Moving Castle!) And the austere splendor of the castle's "control room" -- just a short flight of steps up from the engine room -- consisting of nothing more than an old-timey ship's wheel set in front of a fuzzy back-projection of an enlarged snapshot of a piston rod on a steam engine. If there's some kind of port or viewscreen, so the driver could actually see where they're steering this massive, unwieldy edifice, we'll simply have to take Atkins' word for it.

To continue: The flying castle used to belong to a giant. In fact, Newald killed off all the giants in some never-to-be-explained fashion, before Jack got there. Yes, that's right: we're watching a movie titled "Jack the Giant Killer" and [cue Kathy Bates voice] there aren't any cock-a-doody giants!!!

Newald sheepishly admits the genocide was all a big mistake, a "communication error" because he misinterpreted "Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!" Worse still, the giants were the only thing keeping the Ersatzosaurs from roaming free and terrorizing the Land o' Clouds. Stupid Dad decides they should fly over and visit Sirena, to see if, together, they can't figure out a way for them to return to the Land Below. You see, Newald can't simply fly his castle down, because he's found it gets "unstable" at higher altitudes.

Meanwhile, back at the base of the beanstalk, Agent Hinton interrogates mom, step-dad and Lisa. Sharon and Nigel the Prick come across as more snippy than distraught. They tell Hinton he should ask Crazy Jeff what's going on -- but he's disappeared. After they leave Hinton, it's time for another heapin' helpin' of back-story:

Nineteen years ago, Sharon and Nigel the Prick were partners with Newald in an "agricultural collective". [insert weed joke here] They were trying to breed "super fruits" to "save the planet". [I'm not even gonna touch that one.] Extra dickishness points go to Nigel for the contempt which fairly drips from his voice when he talks about saving the planet.

Anyway, Newald was unorthodox in his methods. He didn't care about making new plants, but instead wanted to find heirloom varieties, because "he felt the Past was the solution to the Future". (He'd be right at home in today's GOP.) Without bothering to consult his partners, Newald spent all their money on some beans which he believed would solve everything, and disappeared up the beanstalk the next day. At which point, broke and pregnant, Sharon decided her relationship with Newald was just a summer fling, and she really loved Nigel the Prick. Go fig.

And now we find out why Newald and Jack couldn't have just climbed back down the beanstalk: it disintegrates at sunset in the Land Below.

Back to Jack and his dad, as they pay their call on Miz Sirena. They walk in on her while she's taking an incandescent light bath -- under the torrid glare of four, count 'em, four 60-watt bulbs! -- in her parlor, in the nude. (Unfortunately, the nudity is only implied. Remember: this is supposed to be a children's film -- though only a real monster could inflict this cynical tripe on a trusting innocent.) Newald decides to keep Sirena in the dark about that whole one-day-equals-one-year thing, so he introduces Jack as his brother. Sirena hits on Jack.

Back to nighttime in the Land Below: spunky Lisa somehow managed to palm one of the beans. She plants it in the green right in front of the city cathedral, then settles down for a nap on the grass. The beanstalk sprouts and it's up, up and away for her.

[Question: if one LotC day equals one year in the Land Below, and by this point Jack's been in LotC for at least a couple of hours, how much time has passed in the Land Below since Jack disappeared? If you're Mark Atkins, the answer of course is: Screw the math! It's the night of the same day!]

Back to Sirena's castle, for some more back-story. Jack has left the room -- I don't remember his excuse, but, after Sirena's come-on, he may have been looking for a little privacy to ... shall we say ... relieve his tension.

Sirena helpfully supplies her origin story: she was kidnapped from the Land Below by a giant, when she was a young child. We'll find out later that this must have happened sometime in the mid-to-latter 1800s. Thing is, Sirena -- although not hard on the eye -- is clearly pushing 40. So her body's aged something like thirty-five years in maybe 80 to a 100 days, Land o' Clouds time. But Newald's spent 19 days there, and aged only 19 days. As we've seen, math -- not to mention the internal logic of his own damned plot device -- seems to elude this director. But that's ok, because -- magic!

Sirena blames everyone on Earth for allowing the sort of horrible world where giants could abduct children. She's determined to get some payback, or be Empress of Everything, or something. Believe it or not, this -- and some of her subsequent actions -- would make some kind of sense, if Sirena's mental age actually had been four or five years, plus a few months in Land o' Clouds. If the movie had tried to play with the concept of combining magical powers with the mind of a child and the body of a cougar, that might have been interesting -- if a bit skin-crawling when you think about the sexual advances she makes toward Jack and Newald.

By this point, though, I shouldn't have to tell you it ain't gonna happen. Sirena acts and speaks like a woman just shy of forty, albeit one who's not very bright.

Newald, horrified by her plan, tries to go all David Hume on her: how can she know for certain that she came from the Land Below? Nothing doing, she replies. She's seen many creatures in the Land of Clouds -- we won't, of course -- but Newald is the first who looks like her. (Except for the beard -- and a few other minor details.)

Just then, Newald somehow learns of Lisa's arrival in the Land o' Clouds. While she may be something of a whiz at elementary logic, Sirena is easy to trick: Newald sends her for a bottle of wine to celebrate their reunion, and scarpers.

Back Below at the beanstalk, Agent Hinton has been joined by General Blimp and a squad of quack -- I mean, crack infantrymen. I know we're a few years past the highwater mark of Empire, but you'd think the authorities could at least have rustled up a platoon or two. Heck, the poor bastards' uniforms, kit and weaponry are all WWII surplus.

General Blimp has ordered the green cordoned off. This hardly seems necessary, since when you get a glimpse down a side street, people are just walking by and the traffic's moving along. You have to admire British pluck and that whole stiff upper lip thing. Or maybe they're just too darned polite to make a fuss about the giant beanstalk which materialized overnight in the center of their city. The General's itching to turn one guy with a chainsaw loose against this 50-foot diameter plant, but Hinton -- joined now by Sharon and Nigel the Prick -- persuades him to give Lisa a chance and hold off until sunset.

Meanwhile, in the Land o' Clouds, Jack and Newald manage to reach Lisa first. But Sirena, wearing some very stylish black leather pants which she probably borrowed from that Riverdance guy, arrives along with Big Mama Ersatzosaurus and three mammoth-sized babies. Through the power of Sirena's magic amulet -- "Her magic aaaaamulet!" -- she takes control of the beanstalk. The time has come for her and the beasties to take the Tendril Express to the Land Below!

(Note that whenever Sirena's riding a dino, the director conveys this without going to all the bother and expense of CGI or even a paper-mache mock-up of the Ersatzosaur's back. Instead, he uses another low camera angle, and only photographs her from the waist up. While she fakes a riding motion, by dry-humping her invisible saddle. Maybe those leather pants were a good choice, after all.)

General Blimp runs out of patience; he orders chainsaw guy to cut down the beanstalk. Vaguely sleazy guy from earlier in the movie (who identifies himself as the owner of the block) runs up and tells the General to stop: "Stalks don't bother you if you don't bother them!" He then goes full metal Carl Denham, declaring the beanstalk "the Eighth Wonder of the World" and positively salivates over all the money he'll make -- if he can just figure out how to keep it alive for more than a day.

 So much for comic relief. Time for Sirena to make her grand entrance, accompanied by her pets. Rather than embark on an immediate rampage requiring expensive special effects, she gets in a bit of threatening while the beasts mill about, bellow and stamp their feet. They're quite good at milling about, bellowing and stomping. So good, in fact, that from now on they'll devote a lot of screen time to milling about, bellowing and stamping their feet, instead of -- you know -- actually destroying anything.

Sirena then relents a bit, and offers to spare these miserable, cringing cowards of the Land Below if they appoint her Queen of the Universe, promising "[Y]our lives will be full of joy and without pain!" (Because -- magic!) So, what's not to like? Oh ... right ... this is Britain: we'll never give up our lousy food, our abominable weather, our cold-water flats and "Kitchen Sink" school of dramatists!

So General Blimp tells her to piss off, and gets flicked away like a choleric 20-stone booger by a beanstalk tendril. The squad opens fire. Displaying the same superlative grasp of small-unit tactics as the National Guardsmen in "The Creeping Terror", they bunch up and blaze away at the Ersatzosaurs, but to no effect.

In a stunning new development, the dinos mill about, bellow really loudly and stamp their feet  more emphatically. (Didn't it occur to anybody they might just be looking for a place to do their business?) Agent Hinton takes charge and commands the soldiers to cease fire.

Now, remember I mentioned that Sirena is easily fooled? Agent Hinton has a cunning plan: he informs Sirena that she'll have to speak to the man in charge, and that only he -- Hinton -- can get hold of the guy. If she'll be so kind as to proceed with her beasties to a nice large, open area outside of town, he'll bring the man in charge to speak with her. And no stepping on anyone on the way! (Seriously.)

Sirena figures what the heck, why not do what the guy with that humongous chin wants? Furiously dry-humping her dinosaur, she heads for the wide open spaces. Sadly, the audience is reassured General Blimp is not only still alive, but received not so much as a minor boo-boo, despite being smacked way up into the air and landing on top of a nearby six-story building.

The unlucky viewer who hasn't yet been rendered blind or comatose will notice that, starting from when you first see all the beasties together, the CGI animators have real problems getting the baby Ersatzosaurs vs. Big Mama scaling right: Sometimes they're knee-high to the big one, sometimes they're belly-high. In one scene you see them stampeding across the countryside: they're like rabbits gamboling beside a Bull Mastiff! Because -- magic!

Meanwhile, Newald decides there's nothing left for it but to take a gamble and and fly his castle off the edge of Land o' Clouds. Here, the film lays its grubby mitts on a real classic, in an homage to the "Dorothy's house drops out of the sky" sequence in "The Wizard of Oz". The castle doesn't so much fly as plummet, spinning faster and faster. But does this inconvenience Newald, Jack and Lisa, even though centrifugal force ought to be plastering them against the walls, like one of those carnival rides? Certainly not! Because -- magic! Just jiggle the camera, put a couple of off-screen table fans on the actors and blow some smoke into the frame from time to time. It's all good.

Everyone set for the big showdown in the Land Below, in which all the fearsome destructive power of modern weaponry will be unleashed against Sirena and her magic dinosaurs? Ha! You poor, deluded bastards: there's only General Blimp and his squad. The authorities can't spare any more troops -- damn you to Hell, Labour! -- or even respond to General Blimp's pleas for air support. They do provide some artillery, though: a childishly crude CGI animation of the front end of a railway howitzer. The perfect weapon for shooting at fast-moving targets!

Agent Hinton realizes at the last moment that -- oopsy! -- he doesn't have a Prime Minister. Crazy Jeff shows up again -- geez, what do you have to do to get rid of this guy? Since he's providentially chosen to wear his good suit, he gets drafted for the part by General Blimp. Who also tells them they'll only be given five minutes to negotiate, before he opens fire. Thanks a lot, General!

So the negotiations are doomed from the start. But we need to chew up some more running time, so they jaw at each other. Sirena passes Hinton something, while she whispers in his ear. They leave.

Let the battle stupide begin! The big gun lets off some ineffective rounds, there's lots of small arms fire, and nothing much happens. The Ersatzosaurs decide to vary their routine, and punctuate the milling about, bellowing and stamping with the occasional bit of running. Crazy Jeff disappears again -- he comes and goes like the wind.

Time for the Big Reveal: we find out Sirena passed Agent Hinton a photograph of her mother, and wants him to locate her. Soooo ... all this conquering the world stuff was to impress her mom? This, by the way, is when we get the tipoff that Sirena was kidnapped in Victorian times, because the photo looks like a daguerreotype, and the woman in it is dressed in that style.

Things are looking dire for General Blimp and his boys, as Sirena finally realizes she can put an end to this nonsense -- and maybe get a break from all the dry-humping -- simply by trampling them into something the consistency of strawberry jam. General Blimp, in the best tradition of morons everywhere, doffs his cap and stands at attention, manfully facing the unstoppable charge of Big Mama Ersatzosaur.

But Bowel's Moving Castle drops out of the blue and does a Wicked Witch of the East number on Big Mama. Good thing Sirena decided to "ride" one of the babies.

Newald and the kids climb out of the non-wreckage of the castle, unscathed and not even the least bit dizzy, because -- oh, you know. They join Sharon, Nigel the Prick and Agent Hinton for some aimless tooling around in a Range Rover. Newald comes up with another brilliant scheme: capture Sirena and they can control the beasts with her amulet. He runs out into the open, and tries to flag Sirena down. He gets blown up by a poorly CGI'd explosion. (Look, from now on, let's just take it for granted that whenever I mention CGI, I mean "hilariously incompetent and irrepressibly cheap and shoddy computer-generated effects". Ok? In keeping with the M.O. of this production, it'll save us on adjectives.)

Sirena dismounts -- off-camera, of course -- runs to where Newald's been laid low. She really cares ... Ha! Newald's just been playing possum. Clever Dick grabs the magic amulet. Sirena lies badly, too: she tries to convince him it's just a piece of costume jewelry, so give it back. But no dice. Newald smashes the amulet, and she can no longer command her beasties. Which means they now have three huge, invulnerable, out-of-control monsters devastating -- well, sort of, anyway -- the countryside. Another smart move by Newald! Whose side is this wanker on, anyway?

Wait a second: since Big Mama Ersatzosaur just got wasted by a pewter Souvenir of the Gods, doesn't this mean that opening scene was nothing but an elaborate come-on? Was this all just a dream? Uh oh: turns out, Big Mama was only temporarily unconscious. She gets up ... shakes her six-eyed head a couple of times ... she's back in the fight!

(Note that from this point onward, the Three Little Ersatzosaurs just drop out of the movie, without the slightest hint of an explanation. Gosh, how I'll miss them. It seems only yesterday, they were frolicking on the moors. Milling about. Bellowing. Stamping their feet. Good times ...)

Now that she no longer has any monsters to do her bidding, Sirena has a big change of heart and joins forces with Newald and company. Although, of course, it's not like she can actually do anything. Jack asks Hinton to lend him a couple of trucks, so he and Lisa can go collect humanity's final hope: Mecha-Gumby!

After they exit, Newald comes up with his most cunning plan yet. Hinton drives Newald, Sirena, Sharon and Nigel the Prick back to the castle. While Hinton waits in the Range Rover, the foursome enter the castle and shift a few two-by-fours, then start gathering up armloads of things resembling dry-cleaning bags. (Although, given the identity of the castle's previous owner, these could be something the giant picked up at the Land o' Clouds RiteAid in anticipation of a big night -- if you catch my drift. That is, before Newald came along and spoiled everybody's fun by killing them.)

Outside, Big Mama blunders onto the scene, and Cross is mercifully squished. Next, General Blimp is at the radio, demanding reinforcements, when he looks up and -- "Oh, bugger ..." Squish. I laughed and laughed.

As twilight fades into darkness, Newald and his helpers emerge from the castle carrying the bags. They take a moment to reverently tsk-tsk at the sight of the flattened Range Rover. Then they quickly get busy with Newald's latest devilishly clever ploy: The bags are in reality hot-air balloons, powered by votive candles. His plan is to attach wires to them and send them aloft. Then wait for Big Mama to come along and get tangled up and then struck by lightning! (There's a thunderstorm brewing.) How could it possibly fail?

Ever-cooperative, Big Mama wanders off somewhere, maybe to take a short nap, giving them plenty of time to put up ... oh ... looks like a hundred or more CGI'd balloons, arrayed in neat, stationary rows up in the air. For this effect the animator(s) just stuck a bunch of fixed, evenly-spaced cylinders on their graphic. They couldn't even manage to simulate a candle-glow inside the things. Move over, ILM: there's a new kid on the block!

Newald realizes he's yet again neglected one minor detail: how are they going to coax Big Mama into their dino zapper? It's Crazy Jeff to save the day! Yep, he's back again. Riding Jack's spiffy motorcycle, he scoots between Big Mama's legs and tries to lure her into the trap. It looks like he might just bring it off, but the bike develops engine trouble, so -- squish.

But whatever's left of Crazy Jeff didn't end up stuck between Big Mama's toes in vain: Newald and the rest of the group wave their arms and shout at her, so she charges them. Big Mama runs right into Newald's dino zapper, and gets hit by several bolts of lightning. Look, this sort of trick's been sprung on Godzilla something like half a dozen times. Plus there's Newald's undeniable omni-wankery. So you know it's not going to work, right?

Fortunately, they've bought enough time for Jack to return, piloting Mecha-Gumby, and now he's ready to enter the fray.

The producer could only find enough change under the sofa cushions to spring for about four seconds' total of CGI'd Mecha-Gumby, of which we'll now be shown maybe one-and-a-half seconds. The full-scale mechanical mockup is incapable of doing more than slowly opening and closing its nippers and flexing its forearms a bit. So the resourceful Mr. Atkins once again puts on his DoP thinking cap, and comes up with an amazing work-around: Mecha-Gumby's movement is simulated using only two shots.

The first shows its boxy, rubber-skirted "legs", shot from the knees down, shuffling side-by-side through the grass. (I'm fairly certain they used actual cardboard boxes for this.) I'll bet the inside of Mecha-Gumby's thighs must have chafed like a bear.

In the other shot, the camera just scoots past the mockup. Alternate the two, and if we truly believe in fairies and clap our hands hard enough, Jack can shuffle across the moors to his destiny. While wearing a welder's mask as protective headgear, which must do wonders for his night vision.

Jack then stands around for a few minutes, and gets eaten.

We're doomed -- dooooomed, I tells ya! Not so fast: Big Mama Ersatzosaur rears up, bellows a couple of times, and falls over, dead. Nimble-witted Jack has used the nippers on his Mecha-Gumby to burrow his way out through her neck! Yay! (And he won't even have to hose off his miraculously clean Mecha-Gumby! Double yay!) This should serve as a tragic reminder to enormous magic dinos everywhere to chew their Mecha-Gumby at least thirty times before swallowing.

Of the many things which distinguish this cheap, blatant ripoff from your average, run-of-the-mill hunk of cinematic Limburger, what really stands out is the fact that although Jack the Giant Killer is what the people who study folklore call a "hero tale", our protagonist spends roughly 99% of his time doing absolutely nothing heroic. Until the climax of the movie, at which point he exhibits the dauntless courage of a parasitic Alien chest-buster.

Whatever. Jack reconciles with Nigel the Prick, who helpfully reminds any nit-picking types in the audience that, technically, Jack has killed a giant. (And I, technically, am the lost Dauphin.) So neener-neener: the title wasn't complete bullshit! Sirena and Newald are now an item, because she wasn't really evil, just misunderstood. Wait: Lisa has another bean! Noooooooooooooooo!

There is no God.

6 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm glad I won't be watching this movie, but that writeup was tremendous.
~

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I watched that movie. Why were you so easy on it?

Weird Dave said...

To write a decent review you should probably watch the movie more than once.

I don't think there is that much morphine in the entire world.
My sympathies Mr. Marxist.

grouchomarxist said...

@ifthethunderdontetc:

Thanks!

@zrm:

I think I missed a few things while I was wrestling with the arm that went all Dr. Strangelove on me and kept trying to gouge out my eyes. We mortality-challenged types just don't have your natural resistance to pain.

@weird dave:

I watched it twice. Happily, the doctors have assured me I should be ok, except for the occasional blackout, and maybe a teensy psychotic episode or two.

Got to go now: I have this sudden, irresistible urge to smear myself with Cheez Whiz and lime Jello and perform some show tunes.

I'm jist a girl who cain't say no,
I'm in a turrible fix ...

Anonymous said...

grouch : That was...interesting.
I have never seen this movie and have made no plans to do so, despite your rave review.Could it be that you feel the promoters of said Old & Terrible movie were a tad disingenuous when choosing a title and a poster?
I sometimes feel at a disadvantage here because A)I have never seen any of the O&T movies you guys speak of so blithely and b)I could never write about them with the verve and je ne sais quoi that you guys do so apparently effortlessly.
A fine addition to the oeuvre, grouch.Well done.
Suezboo

grouchomarxist said...

Thanks, suezboo.

It takes a certain special kind of masochist to become a bad cinephile. In my case, the training started as a schoolboy in the 60s, learning at the knees of the afternoon Big Show -- I can still hear that theme in my head -- and the various Creature Features which were inexpensive schedule-filler for the local tv stations. If a movie played at a drive-in in the 50s, it was exhumed for the Big Show.

One of my earliest memories is of having the wits scared out of me by Bride of the Monster. That may be some of why JtGK inspired me with such absolute loathing: I know from cheap, but there's no reason why cheap can't also be entertaining. Even Ed Wood had more respect for his audience than this guy.