There is a movie trailer that plays incessantly at my work. The trailer is for the film Jack the Giant Slayer a film directed by Bryan Singer (and I’ve made myself sad) and starring a rather nice list of actors I’m incredibly fond of. Not the lead or anything but a lot of the secondary cast. From what I’ve seen of the trailer the film seems dead set for something I’ve now dubbed “The Van Helsing Treatment”, a phenomenon I’ve seen in films.
“The Van Helsing Treatment” is so named for the first film I’ve observed it in, the eponymous Van Helsing film from 2004. Directed by Stephen Sommers (from the Mummy films) the film takes the concept of Abraham Van Helsing, formerly known as an aged vampire hunter who uses intelligence and cunning into… well Hugh Jackman with a rapid fire crossbow. Yes, a rapid-fire crossbow.
Can we make a toy of this? Fifty toys?
So what is the Van Helsing Treatment?
It is a term I use for bad movies where film producers grab a licence and try and make a generic action movie from it. There is a clear objective to make the film more saturated in action while still having a comedic element present, while simultaneously ensuring that each character has strong pathos (dramatic backstory that’s meant to make you feel for them), a redemption story, computer generated graphics to save on set design and action sequences, all with a modern twist. You can almost imagine a lot of buzz words were used at the meeting. Old buzz words.
From what I’ve garnered thus far the premise is a loose (looser then a dockwork prostitute) interpretation of the events of the Jack and the Beanstalk fable and the Jack the Gaint Killer fable. Now I get changing the former fable. Jack is a poor kid who finds a giant’s home at the top of a beanstalk. He is helped by his wife and ends up robbing her and murdering her husband. The Jack the Giant Killer fairy tale though seems a superior inspiration for this film. In that fable the titular Jack lives in King Arthur’s time and used his cunning and wit to kill giants to terrorize the land. Why they didn’t purely make a film about that is beyond me.
Well probably because the producers thought that the public couldn’t accept the fact that there are two stories out there about fellows named Jack who kill giants. Though, it wouldn’t be hard to just have Jack be a kid inspired by the original beanstalk fable and claim to be the same Jack to get a chance to take down giants.
Anyway, about the film itself. The initial trailers and press release have Jack (Nicholas Hoult) as a young (very pretty) man who is sold some magic beans. One night a young lady arrives at his house whom he deduces to be the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson). During the night his magic beans get wet and grow carrying his home and the princess off to the land of giants. The King (Ian McShane) comes looking for his daughter and his knights set out to save her with Jack in tow. But the arrival of the knights and Jack sparks the giants into attacking the lower world. They are aided and guided by the king’s advisor Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who somehow has convinced the giants to let him be king, either that or they are just using him and plan to betray him. So either it makes no sense or it’s predictable, your choice.
Ewan McGregor plays the leader of the knights and from what I’ve seen of him in trailers he’s an infinitely more interesting character then Jack. He’s a cavalier knight, brash and confident but also extremely likeable while never faltering in the face of danger. He’s clearly friendly, witty, and it’s just so memorable. I don’t even blame the actor who plays Jack for being less interesting; he’s just stuck playing Disney’s version of Aladdin. Poor but has a heart of gold, noble and cleaver by nature but somehow is incredibly physically adept despite no training. I don’t hate this character; I just find it incredibly clichéd at this point.
And from what I’ve seen of the princess she has a brief period of being the typical rebellious princess (I just want an adventure blah, blah) before spending the remainder of the movie fawning over Jack. A lot. I hope I’m wrong at that point and she actually has a personality. I mean, I may not be a fan of that My Little Pony show but at least it has six well-developed female leads. Most movies can’t even manage one. That makes me sad.
From what I’ve seen of Stanley Tucci as the human bad guy… he looks like he’s having fun. I’d check out the movie for that alone. It may be a clichéd role but god bless the man for making me want to see the movie for how he does it. The question is: does the movie suffer from the Van Helsing treatment?
The problem with looking at this film is that it doesn’t quite, from the outset at least, look like a film that does. The film is on the very edge of a coin where a single cliché could tip it one way or another. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to spot a true Van Helsing Treatment film: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Three Musketeers (2011), The Brothers Grimm… wait… Terry Gilliam directed that one? Good lord! He’s actually talented! How the hell did that happen?
And that isn’t to say you can’t have an action movie based on an old fashioned adventure story. I can think of several.
The question really is will Jack the Giant Slayer be one of those films? Weeeeell early reviews are mixed some praising it a straightforward simple adventure while others call it complete drivel. One reviewer actually had the audacity to say it was superior to The Hobbit. That opinion is wrong.
I think the bigger problem is that we can have something that I call the Van Helsing treatment and most of you pretty much could guess what that was within me mentioning it. At the very least, most of you could name films that I did (including some I didn’t) as soon as I explained what that treatment was.
So, all that remains is for you to decide if Jack the Giant Slayer is what I fear it to be.
I wouldn’t see it in theaters though.
So too does this work exist.