LONDON — Once upon a time, nearly 500 years ago, a giant of a king lived in Hampton Court Palace, a sprawling, lavish residence on the River Thames with elaborate kitchens and an enormous astronomical clock that told the time, the month, the phases of the moon and even the high water times at London Bridge. It was in that palace where King Henry VIII's legendary appetites for food, power and new wives hit its zenith, and where director Bryan Singer filmed many of the royal scenes for his suitably epic version of the age-old story, “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
Well, make that two age-old stories. Singer, the director of “X-Men” and “Superman Returns,” built his “Giant Slayer” from two separate but related folk tales, “Jack the Giant Killer” and it's more kid-friendly cousin, “Jack and the Beanstalk.” But while both stories are nearly as old as Hampton Court Palace, neither has received a definitive cinematic treatment.
As Singer said, it could just come down to the title. His film was called “Jack the Giant Killer” until last year, when the title was revised in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shootings, but he said “Jack and the Beanstalk” has its own set of problems.
“Yeah, I'm going to see ‘Jack and the Beanstalk' on my date,” Singer joked during an interview in Anne Boleyn's sitting room at the Palace. “It's just that the story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk' is such a simple, linear story — he climbs the beanstalk, steals some stuff and cuts it down. I always had some sympathy for the giant in that story. I felt bad for that giant who just got robbed and murdered.
“So, this is taking the iconography of that, the image of the beanstalk and the land of giants, and merging it with the story of ‘Jack the Giant Killer,' which came about in the 1700s around an Arthurian character — he was a Knight of the Round Table who went out and slew giants and sent their heads back to King Arthur.”
In Singer's version, Jack (Nicholas Hoult of “Warm Bodies” and “X-Men: First Class”) is a young farmhand whose bad deal — a horse for some magic beans — leads to the growth of a towering vine whose upper branches hover miles over England, reaching a land dominated by an army of filthy lumbering giants. While Jack is a commoner with no proof of valor, he soon becomes a needed ally of Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the knight entrusted with saving the captured Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and defeating her deceitful suitor Roderick (Stanley Tucci).
It is a story that requires two massive elements to work on a visual level: the giants and the beanstalk. Singer said that in order for “Jack the Giant Slayer” to succeed, moviemaking technology needed to reach certain benchmarks for the giants' realm to feel compelling and realistic.
“A big thing that drove me to want to make this film was the fact that technology had come to a place with motion capture and animation that this could be possible,” he said. “You know, I grew up as a big fan of the old (Ray) Harryhausen films, and this was a chance to do the 21st-century version of that.”
Singer's career as a feature director began with 1993's “Public Access,” a thriller cowritten by his “Jack the Giant Slayer” scribe, Christopher McQuarrie, but it was his second film, 1995's “The Usual Suspects,” that launched Singer as an A-list director. While he has made character-driven dramas since, including “Apt Pupil” and “Valkyrie,” and recently ended an eight-year run as executive producer of “House, M.D.,” Singer shifted his focus toward big-budget adventures with 2000's “X-Men.” Singer stepped back from directing the “X-Men” films after 2003's “X2,” but returns to directing the franchise with next year's “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
Singer said that while he enjoys his work with more traditional dramas, blockbuster event movies that he grew up watching in the 1970s and 1980s inspired him to become a filmmaker. Human-sized stories could still be in his future, he said, but right now, Singer wants to make giant movies.
“It's exciting to play with an enormous canvas and to do things that have never been done before,” Singer said.
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.