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).