Screenplay: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie & Dan Studney
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel; Editing: Bob Ducsay & John Ottman
Production Design: Gavin Bocquet; Set Decoration: Richard Roberts
Costumes: Joanna Johnston
Score: John Ottman
Stars: Nicholas Hoult (Jack), Eleanor Tomlinson (Isabelle), Ewan McGregor (Elmont), Stanley Tucci (Roderick), Ian McShane (King Brahmwell), Bill Nighy (General Fallon), John Kassir (Fallon’s Small Head)
I was reticent to see director Bryan Singer’s version of the fairy tale after everything I’d read about rewrites, production delays, pushed back release dates and the film’s disappointing box office, a sure sign that something must be wrong with it. The unnecessary change in title itself seemed to bode ill, a too flippant attempt to make the story seem fresher and more hip. Linked by name to the likes of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, this titlegives every indication of being just the latest product of a screen overrun with post-modern spins on classic fairy tale and horror concepts. The professional designation cheapens the concept in the worse way. Jack the Giant Slayer sounds like a cheesy direct to cable release for the SyFy channel. Which just goes to prove one shouldn’t judge a movie by its title.
Don’t get me wrong, Jack the Giant Slayer still has major issues. For starters, the giants have been photographed in inexcusably drab fashion by Newton Thomas Sigel and their bloodcurdling horrors are far too strong for the children one might think a movie like this was angled toward. Yet the caption balloon dialogue and pop up storybook construction seem too silly and inane for adults to take seriously. But considering how many ways a movie like this could have gone wrong, it’s a minor miracle it isn’t worse than it is. The bare bones of the beanstalk story we’re all familiar with are simply used as reference point by screenwriters Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie & Dan Studney, as the tale spirals increasingly out of control like that weed that twists and twines into the sky, a creeping vine on an invisible trellis. The giants may be the movie’s big draw but it’s the beanstalk itself that has inherent grandeur. One can see why it might become an anachronistic tourist attraction, like Kirk Douglas’ cave-in in The Big Carnival. An entire Renaissance fair springs up around it, complete with jugglers, concession stands, strolling minstrels, and fire-eaters in white paint. Production designer Gavin Bocquet and set decorator Richard Roberts prove to have a fanciful green thumb for gardening effects, even if the beanstalk’s actual construction is largely a figment of a computer program’s utterly artificial landscaping. The majestic sight rises impressively into the sky, like outsized fauna of the ancient antediluvian age. It’s so lushly vegetative that when there’s a cloudburst, it comprises its own self contained tropical rainforest. Watching the king’s men try to scale it, they look like an army of swarming ants lost amidst the towering foliage. They’re Gulliver’s Lilliputians, miniaturized in a world full of humongous leaves and tendrils, chutes and stalks, and the visuals seem intended to anticipate the coming animated fairy film Epic. The men ascend the stalk as if they were scaling Everest, complete with ziplines and spelunking gear. Climbing higher and higher, into a land above the misty cloudbanks, they fancifully defy all known laws of physics and thinning oxygen on the human mind.
It’s a magical view Jack takes in from above the canopy of clouds and, later, an equally breathtaking fantasyscape as he climbs back down the beanstalk, with the silvery moon hanging in the night sky and the flickering firelight on the ground below resembling the glittering lights of a modern metropolis. Despite his relatively diminutive stature, it’s enough to make him feel on top o’ the world, as we wait for Jack to bellow that classic line immortalized by his namesake in Titanic. While the vines have wrapped around themselves, like twine from the ropes the climbers will use as lifelines to string themselves together, the stalk just hangs there in mid air with no visible means of support. It’s like a colossal variation on the Indian rope trick and when the roots securing it to the soil are severed at their source, it unravels with lightning swiftness, swinging about untethered like an out of control crane. Jack and the Beanstalk has been given the grandiose, big-budget blockbuster treatment, and hence turned into something of an unwieldy gargantuan itself. But this simply weighs down the feather light fairy tale, all the deluxe expansiveness making it seem very slight indeed. For a movie about giants, the moviefails to measure up. But for all that, it still comes off as an entertaining little piffle. Beginning in nursery rhyme, it might have been a nice touch to sustain that whimsical air a bit longer before Jack is reduced to just another routine, monster slaying fantasy adventure. The gimmick here is that the Jack and the Beanstalk story we’re familiar with, and which unfolds onscreen, is meant to be based on an even older tale with roots in ancient times, one that had already become legend in Jack’s own day. It’s not the story of David and Goliath, mind you (though to change things up a bit, it’s the giants who wield the sling shot here, knocking out the archer’s stand on the castle parapet), but close.
The backstory tells of a land of giants, situated between heaven and earth and an attempt by its denizens to descend from their domain and overthrow our world. They’re curtailed by a sacred cloister of monks who stand sentinel at the gate against this seemingly diabolic manifestation, none of which is an element of the fairy tale that I’m familiar with. The giants’ realm seems to hang in mid-air like those floating islands in Avatar, a dizzying Fata Morgana reflected in the ice crystals of the clouds. The magic beans they water grow downward for convenience sake, rather than up further into the sky as do Jack’s, and their serving as link between heaven and earth recalls Jacob’s Ladder. The association seems to bind this variation on the beanstalk story more closely to biblical cant concerning there having once been giants in the earth. Rather than crawling up from the depths of Hades, as the imprisoned monsters did to overrun the land in Wrath of the Titans, these gargantuans descend from the sky itself, not unlike the fallen angels who are supposed to have begat that first race of giants before flood times. The reversal of our usual association of monsters and demons with hell underground, as opposed to the heavens up above, is enough to throw us, making one paranoid about what might be hovering overhead.
It’s quite a world where such signs and wonders fall right out of the sky. But despite the tremendous heights the characters topple from, whether it be the spelunkers whose lifeline Stanley Tucci’s villainous Roderick cuts after they become dead weight, or the beehive haired giant whose steel helmet Ewan McGregor’s Elmont spikes with the genuine article, nobody splatters when they hit the ground, though they have to fall so far you would think they’d get bored with it, like Alice in the rabbit hole. I imagine many skittish children have been soothed by parents assuring them thunder is the sound of God bowling in heaven, but here that notion has the opposite effect, since it’s meant to be the restless rumblings of man-eating giants. Fittingly, the children’s fairy tale becomes an animated cartoon fairy tale when the intro segues into CG, similar to the way the flashback did in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The ending, which follows the crown’s final resting place through to the present day, also seems a reworking of that film’s finale. The use of animation is apt enough since the movie wants to adopt a child’s eye view of the world, in which everything seems enormous. When little Jack’s dad looms in the doorway of his bedroom, we see how parents and other adults must appear to their wee ones, much like giants themselves, and hence better understand why the story of Jack and the Beanstalk gives the children who identify with it a sense of empowerment to see the little fellow outwit the intimidating Goliath. In a world full of people bigger than they are, kids can experience the vicarious thrill of watching him overcome the outsized obstacles placed in his path. The midgets in that pantomime Jack attends are really a reflection of his own deep-seated angst as a lowly farm boy looked down on by the high and mighty royal guard he aspires to join, like D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers. But the elitist guard only accepts conscripts from noble families, while he comes of peasant stock, dashing his dreams to smithereens. Jack already feels so diminished as a man that his minuscule proportions, in relation to the giants later, seem a manifestation of his own inferiority complex, writ large. They make him feel even smaller and more insignificant than he already does. Jack is so accustomed to being looked down on that he suffers from vertigo and gets swoony from a certain altitude, making his climb up the beanstalk seem all the more perilous. These height dynamics must be reversed before his stature in life can begin to improve. Notice how he always assumes a position from greater elevation, looking down on the giants before slaughtering them, as he does that chef in the kitchen, dropping the knife from a top shelf and riding him in his death throes like a bucking bronco and later when he’s borne aloft by the two-headed Fallon (Bill Nighy plays the bigger of the two heads, John Kassir, voice of the Cryptkeeper on HBO’s old Tales from the Crypt, the lesser). The measure of a man is all caught up in his size here, and the bigger the better. Rather than towering over Jack, at the end the giants are even forced to kneel down to the little sprout as his possession of the magic crown makes him their unquestioned ruler. The sight intentionally echoes an amusing earlier scene, where the wicked Roderick had gone out of his way to debase general Fallon, by having him bow lower than his own diminutive dimensions, until he was nearly flat to the floor, much as Anna was never allowed to assume a height higher than the King of Siam.
When Jack climbs that beanstalk, proving himself and securing fame and fortune, he might as well be raising his station in life, ascending the social ladder hand over fist. On the surface, the story is about that stalk that shoots up to the sky, but the subtext is more about Jack’s growth into manhood, his rite of passage. The fairy tale Jack was in search of wealth and riches as well, but while the golden harp makes a guest appearance, there’s no sign of the goose that laid the golden egg. Despite the token nod to cross class romance, it’s only after Jack assumes the ‘kingship’ himself (reprising the earlier scene at the market, this time it’s Elmont who realizes the giants are not bowing down in deference to him, just as Jack had realized with the brawlers before) that he’s deemed worthy of the princess’ hand. His preceding deeds of derring do were apparently not enough to shake the clod off the boots of her farm boy lover. After saving the kingdom from these outsized upstarts, we wonder what the response of Ian McShane’s King Brahmwell would have been if the peasant had simply asked for his daughter’s hand, since he’d already expressed his admiration, “I sent my best guardians up that stalk, but you brought Isabelle back.” Even class-conscious Elmont had accepted Jack as a member of the royal guard.
Instead of appreciating Jack’s finer qualities by having him remain rooted to the soil and the store of handy knowledge he derives from it (such as home remedies to stop bleeding and a pathfinder’s ability to find his way), all of which helps him survive in the land of the giants while the accompanying nobles fall by the wayside, the story must elevate him into the aristocracy. He’s crowned king of the giants, like Isabelle’s esteemed ancestor before him, in order to expunge his lack of royal blood. Having been forced before to hide in the ermine of the king’s train, this pretender to the throne becomes the real deal. While the script is riddled with painfully silly puns (“I’m going to wake a sleeping giant,” “Let’s cut a few of them down to size,” “You’re barking up the wrong tree,” provide a sampling), Jack the Giant Slayer has some of the same, shameless insouciance of Bambi vs. Godzilla. This may help explain why certain moments recall The Brothers Grimm, Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliams’ own dark foray into fairy tale. Like Heath Ledger’s Jake in that earlier film, the only taste of adventure isolated Jack gets comes vicariously through reading, which will have to sate him until he gets off the farm. He’s itching for an adventure as badly as Princess Isabelle. Outfitted in a timeless jacket and hoodie meant to give him an air of modernity, Nicholas Hoult’s starring role in this splashy, big budget blockbuster seems a misguided bid to become a Hollywood action star. The former child actor who starred opposite Hugh Grant in About a Boy and has appeared in Singer’s X-Men films, as well as A Single Man, Clash of the Titans and the British TV series Skins, has grown into a likably gauche lead, with his flush, apple cheeked air of English innocence and dopey gangliness. But ingratiating as he is, this sort of material demands a performance that’s only slightly livelier than his mono-syllabic zombie of Warm Bodies (Hoult’s equally misguided attempt to become the next Robert Pattison).
His role has been shaped in such a way that the character is trying to prove himself in the world’s eyes, just as the actor playing him is trying to prove himself in the eyes of Hollywood, as a bankable future leading man. In his real life hero’s quest, it’s the movie elite who comprise the nobility the earnest young actor is aspiring to place himself among, and one can only hope someone knights him soon so that he’ll feel worthy. Editors Bob Ducsay and John Ottman have a field day cross cutting between the farm boy and princess storylines to punch up the similarities between these two from such seemingly different worlds. Jack’s uncle tells the orphaned boy that he’s just like his fantasy-prone father, while Isabelle’s father tells her she’s just like her headstrong mother. For her part, the queen encourages sheltered Isabelle to seek out adventure so that she can see how the world works outside the castle walls, which will better prepare her when she inherits the crown. The highest aim of proverbial fairy tale princesses in the past used to be to marry Prince Charming and escape the wicked witch. In the modern lore, it’s all about them sowing their wild oats. They’re all starving for an adventure, like Chloë Grace Moretz in Hugo. That’s what quickens their pulse and makes their hearts go pitter pat in lieu of love these days. Yet, despite the feminist underpinnings, the psychological displacement of one fixation for the other doesn’t make them seem any more well-rounded. Isabelle runs away from the castle when her father tries to shunt her into the traditional princess paradigm, mixing among commoners, trying to pass herself off as a boy so as to lay claim to the same sort of advantages reserved exclusively for the male sex. Isabelle wants to prove herself capable to her father, but Jack is still placed in the position of repeatedly having to save her. It’s Jack who must defend her honor from the carousers in the market, follow her trail when she’s carried away into the sky, release her when she’s caged like a canary and nearly consumed by that giant chef, and later rescue her from Fallon, who wants revenge for her ancestor’s enslavement of his people. Even when Isabelle gains enough ground to have her father consider her capable of lighting the castle beacon at the end, he still entrusts her to Jack’s care (“Look after her.”). In fairy tale terms, it’s only by rescuing damsels in distress that heroes can prove their virility, so modern movie fantasies are at a peculiar impasse. They want to give the audience princesses who are totally in control of their own destiny and capable of taking care of themselves, which leaves their chivalrous knight errants with no alternative means of proving themselves men.
Isabelle tells the royal portrait painter that using a camera obscura to trace the king’s outline seems like cheating, but then what are we to make of this movie whose primary sources of visual and thematic inspiration can be traced back to a dozen other fantasy films released in recent memory. Like Gizmo in Gremlins, for instance,Jack is warned not to get the beans wet or dire consequences will ensue, a harbinger he ignores just as blasély. But the legion of impish gremlins that were unleashed were small change compared to the bellowing bullocks the beans summon forth.
When Jack leads the charge to rescue the kidnapped princess, the increasingly ominous odyssey he embarks upon through uncharted regions populated by hulking monsters, as his companions are captured or killed all around him, puts one in mind of the attempt to retrieve Fay Wray from the clutches of King Kong. Indeed, the antecedents of this odyssey might stretch back even further, into antiquity and Jason’s encounter with the Cyclops. Jack and Isabelle’s cross-class romance itself recalls other familiar fairy tale dalliances between peasant boy and adventurous princess, most notably The Princess Bride, which featured its own giant in proportion with an appearance by wrestler André the Giant.
When the beanstalk’s veiny vines tear out of the earth like living, writhing tentacles, shooting up toward the stars, the image evokes memories of the twister that likewise bore the little farmhouse away in The Wizard of Oz. Regaining consciousness, Jack responds to the king’s query concerning where his hovel went by pointing straight up into the sky, recalling the natives’ spontaneous reaction when questioned about the source of those musical chords in Close Encounters. The strain of The Lord of the Rings is quite evident in both the final assault on the castle towers and in the backstory of King Eric, who sculpted the crown to control the giant clans, same as one ring was smelted to rule them all. Even some of the lines, such as the one about the truth behind stories being forgotten as they become legends over time, seem intended to invoke the Jackson trilogy.
When Fallon, who speaks in a disconcerting Scottish brogue, momentarily, assumes control of his own kingdom’s fortunes by slipping the crown on his finger, it’s akin to watching Gollum being consumed by power and greed (an allusion accentuated when Fallon sinks beneath that fiery moat, as Gollum did the volcanic lava at the end of the third installment). Planning to use the crown’s power over the giants to wrest control of the kingdom, power mad Roderick gets a head big enough to rival their own and we half expect it to begin to swell, like Helena Bonham Carter’s in Alice in Wonderland. Yet they unheedingly trod him down, grinding him into the mud underfoot, which should have served as some sort of warning concerning absolute power corrupting absolutely.
These giants are an uncouth, rollicking lot and there’s an entire village of them, all colorfully distinguished one from the other, like a cross between the goblin tribe and the forest trolls of The Hobbit. The scene in the chef’s kitchen here is a pretty blatant reworking of the troll bit from that film, complete with puerile, and entirely out of place, nose picking humor. Jack the Giant Slayer is sprinkled with some of the same sentimental homilies as The Lord of the Rings films as well, concerning the towering accomplishments little people are capable of in a world built for big ones. But the movie occasionally betrays a wondrously original visual imagination, such as when the giants burst from the woods, like a charging, mobile forest themselves. Barreling down on the king’s fleeing army, they knock the men off horseback, sending them sailing into the surrounding foliage, or stampede them like a herd of rampaging pachyderms. It’s a scene of whimsical fairy tale horror. When one giant rips the blade from a windmill and tosses it, whirling through the air like a lethal spinning top, it’s as if Don Quixote’s feverish vision had come to nightmarish life.
Their forces seem so unevenly matched during the giants’ bombardment of the fairy tale castle at the end, they might as well be assailing a contingent of toy soldiers. Throwing flaming trees over the parapet like cherry bombs, it’s all child’s play to such colossuses, especially when they engage in that tug of war, trying to lower the drawbridge, as the king’s men are pulled ever forward toward the moat. While his size would prove a detriment in normal, dollhouse-scaled surroundings, the vaulted throne rooms are so cavernous inside, even Fallon can make his way around without stooping for fear of bumping his head. The royal chambers seem to have been designed with giants in mind. And while this melee pulls inspiration from everything back to the fall of Babylon in Intolerance, to King Kong forcing the native’s gate on Skull Island, to the storming of the Bastille in A Tale of Two Cities, to the assault on the Two Towers in Lord of the Rings, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.
For all its other sampling, more than anything, Jack the Giant Slayer seems like a picture-length elaboration on the Cyclopes episode from Wrath of the Titans. The introduction of the giants here is almost identical, down to construction design and shot setup, with the rescue party caught up in booby trapped animal nets which signal their captors like strands of a spider web. The earth quakes as their imminent doom approaches, the ripples in the pond heralding their arrival like that glass of water in Jurassic Park. While the basic design of the giants is similar to that of the Cyclopes, the execution is superior, with the giants here initially shown in low perspective, from the vantage of their human prey, so that they seem that much bigger and more intimidating to the king’s party. The first giant we see is clad like a caveman and his skin so dry he looks to be made of stone, one of those fountain gargoyles come to life. When we get a bit closer, however, the rudimentary conception and design of the giants themselves go far toward ruining our pleasure. They look as false and phony as the Cyclopes did in Wrath of the Titans,too. When we segue back into the real world and the giants look just as unrealistic as they had in that roughhewn CG opening, it’s a disappointment. They resemble characters from Jim Carey’s A Christmas Carol, very early, imperfect motion capture animation. Stockier Avatars, devoid of the streamlined, feline grace, their features seem either too sharp or too blended. It’s crude, ugly imagery. They don’t look like giant humans but another species entirely, gargantuan garden gnomes, and the comic book grotesquery tends to blunt the terror. The giants just don’t look real, even while they convincingly share the same screen space with real actors, which is quite disconcerting at first. It’s like watching one of those stop-gap, part animated movies, like Mary Poppins or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in which real people cavorted through imaginary cartoon worlds on screen. Yet the amount of time that’s been given over to green screen has increased to epic proportions in the intervening years, and on that score, Jack rivals the likes of Avatar as well. The majority of what we see onscreen, including some of the most important characters, has been created entirely inside a computer.
Jack’s aesthetically offensive giants take some getting used to, but in tune with the movie’s determination to scale everything up, we’re given a whole host of them, instead of just the one from the fairy tale. Of course, giants are a medical reality so all the conjecture about whether or not the legends are real seems like much ado about nothing. The real question is exactly how big one must be to qualify as giant onscreen, which seems to vary greatly from filmmaker to filmmaker, like the fluctuating sizes of the model used in the original King Kong. Despite being scaled up, these gargantuan still seem vulnerable to all of the same weaknesses as mortal man, only when they die, they keel over like falling timber. And how they procreate is anybody’s guess, since there seem to be no females among their number. Even the General’s ‘attraction’ to Isabelle is motivated not by lust, as Kong’s was, but a desire for vengeance against the forefather who enslaved him. The giants dress in rusty armor that looks made of corroded tin cans and we don’t see any semblance of a culture capable of the artistry required to build such things as the great stone fountains that stand sentinel along land’s edge, only barbarians and cannibals.
The giants prove themselves cultural barbarians in need of a sovereign hand to govern and control them, which would seem to substantiate the historical, imperialist policy toward conquered kingdoms during the Age of Discovery. Since Jack the Giant Slayer is set in that fairy tale fantasia of indistinct time and place though, Roderick’s reference to Viking myths of a land across the sea throws us. We don’t know precisely where we’re supposed to be to begin with, so such concrete geography is just disorienting. These giants don’t eat their own kind, but humans are considered a rare delicacy on the menu, whether choked down raw or carefully marinated and sautéed, though they couldn’t make more than a tasty morsel to whet the appetite, even if readily available. Since man seems to form the staple of the giant’s diet, we can’t fathom how they sustain themselves cut off as they are. There appears to be no vegetation or animals to scale in this land above the clouds, and the miniature sheep and pigs we see them shepherding would hardly afford them suitable sustenance. There’s the suggestion that the giants may want to lay siege to the earth to farm a new source of food (“Victory- I can almost taste it.”), but this idea remains undercooked. The cannibalistic giants may look vaguely foolish but the old saw about smelling the blood of an Englishman and grinding his bones to make their bread is no joke. Stepping on heaps of skulls with clomping foot, they’re like bloodhounds who never forget a scent (“Smell that brothers? Don’t you love it when their blood curdles?”). As the giants stalk humans like wildlife, we feel as though we had been dropped into the midst of The Most Dangerous Game. It’s not just the giant’s size that make them frightening but the bone crushing power of their tearing, gnashing teeth. The king’s unfortunate men must feel like Ahab caught in the sawing jaws of Moby Dick.
After dispatching their bald companion by pushing him off a cliff, Roderick’s henchman Wicke (Ewen Bremner) is unceremoniously devoured, finding out firsthand why people always scream before they die as he’s crunched away head first. Elmont’s second-in-command Crawe (Eddie Marsan) suffers a similar fate (“I hope you choke on me!”), while an unconscious Elmont is scooped up feet first to be hung in a meat locker and cooked alive. In a scene that seems equal parts humor and queasy fairy tale horror, the giant chef chops up his vegetables with the speed of a cuisinart and prepares to make pigs in a blanket, powdering Elmont in flour before rolling him in dough, nearly skewering him into a shiskabob in the process. “I hear you’re a princess. Let’s hope they haven’t spoiled you rotten!” the chef leers at the caged Isabelle, intending to turn her into pheasant, while Jack himself is advised by Fallon to “Try not to kick going down, boy!” before the camera follows the sole remaining bean he drops into the giant’s mouth straight down his gullet into the gastric acids pooling at the pit of his stomach. Even though the camera discreetly cuts before each rather gruesome murder, for a movie marketed to children, it seems unduly preoccupied with the culinary arts of cannibalism, but then so did the source it’s based on.
Apparently the familiar lines of the giant’s rhyme, ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman,’ at least in the English translation, were taken quite literally by the producers. There are so many Brits in the cast of Jack the Giant Slayer that one might be tempted to regard it as the devout act of an anglophile. In fact the movie has been better cast than need be, with actors too good to waste on such twaddle, but watching respectable thespians making willing fools and clowns of themselves is part of the fun. Ewan McGregor in particular hasn’t been this moony since Moulin Rouge. He doesn’t even overdo flashing us that million dollar dentition. The actor has again been cast as Jedi Knight, to young protégé Jack this time, and he catches the humorous, self-effacing spirit of the thing, such as when he tackles Roderick in the mouth of that water fountain, to prevent him from descending the beanstalk with his monstrous horde of minions, or when that toothpick comes as dangerously close to pinioning his privvies as the laser beam did James Bond in Goldfinger. Roderick accuses McGregor’s Elmont of believing himself to be the hero of this story, and we can’t help feeling as if the character should have, by rights, been the focal point of the film. The actor is already a veteran of such fairy tale terrain. He’d visited it before in Big Fish. After having been buried beneath flowing octopus beard for Pirates of the Caribbean, Bill Nighy again appears in a full motion capture performance, sporting two heads as Fallon. He shares a great moment with co-star Kassir when the beanstalk is lopped down. His Fallon bellows in frustrated fury at forever being cut off from the earth he wished to conquer and the half formed Siamese twin attached to his shoulder trillingly echoes the sentiment like some embryonic mini-me. Some people carry their hearts on their sleeves, but this giant appears to be toting around the manifestation of his own id. Nighy seems intent on giving Andy Serkis a run for his money in this new frontier of motion capture performing. Despite their years, they’re both on the cutting edge of a whole new technology, and it’s heartening to see talented, aging thesps like Nighy, and taken for granted ones, like Serkis, get a new lease on their careers through such alternative means. And Nighy’s work here serves as an interesting case study, raising a question reviewers will have to deal with on an increasingly frequent basis. When bad CG happens to good actors, to what extent can it be held responsible for diminishing a ‘performance’? Is there more to motion capture acting than simply what meets the eye? Yet even when computer graphics go wrong, as they do here, they can at least be thanked for nourishing and watering wilting talents, allowing them to blossom in excitingly alternative ways, as though they had been sprinkled with Miracle-Gro.