Ossus Library Index Fantasy Movie Index

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

Directed by Brian Henson (2001, Jim Henson Productions)
Starring Matthew Modine, Vanessa Redgrave, Mia Sara, Daryl Hannah, Jon Voight, and Richard Attenborough

After learning that the classic tale of a boy and a giant is his heritage, Jack tries to heal the wounds of that other world.

View count: Twice

 

 

4 stars

December 1st, 2002 on TV  
   

I watched this a second time with as much wonder as I did the first. After seeing this movie, I really wanted Joanne to see it, as well. She liked it as much as I did.

We both liked the new twist this film had, but what really impressed us was that the acting, direction, special effects were way above almost every other mini-series that we've watched. Besides that, the story was extremely well written.

I think I exhausted just about everything there is to say about this movie below. My only new question for the film this time around, is a query as to where the other giants were. We saw lots of people our size, but no crowds of giants. Did Thunderdell have a wife, or any friends? Just wondering!

Suffice it to say that this movie was well worth revisiting, even so soon.

 

 

4 stars

September 6th, 2002 on TV  
   

Thoroughly impressive. I was amazed at the effects, the acting, but most of all, the story, which was presented in a very fresh, new way.

I was really expecting a story and effects (not to mention acting) similar to other ABC miniseries, which is to say mediocre to poor. But I was amazed right from the start. This is an excellent movie. Most of the visual effects were top-notch, though some transitions were too sudden, as with the dead-to-alive sweep across the land. Give the harp time to work its magic! But the harp and the duck itself were wondrous.

The directing was also noticeable in that it was barely noticed. Sometimes actors seem to go over the top with their characters, but here everything flowed very naturally. The actors seemed to work just the right amount of disbelief (for Jack), conniving (Siggy), or anger (Ondine) into their characters.

Most impressive, however, was the story. We come into it not knowing where we stand, and we learn more and more as the story goes on. It was obvious right from the start (at least when we discover that something is amiss) that Siggy has the goose that lays the golden eggs, and that he's keeping Jack in the dark about the operations of his own company.

Jack visits England when he hears of giant bones being dug up and halting a casino project of his. Siggy's misinformation and Jack's naiveté deepen when we find out that the local populace doesn't want the casino. Add to that the strange woman who keeps following Jack, accusing him of theft and murder, and we might be as confused as Jack is. And that's a good thing, because of what follows.

We get the story of Jack and the beanstalk twice in this film, and a third time when the Jack that we know climbs a beanstalk for himself. The mysterious Countess Wilhelmina, who doesn't appear to have aged in 65 years, perhaps more, is found alive. I spent the whole movie thinking she might be the woman with whom Jack escaped the giant, but finally figured out that she was the original Jack's mother, forced to endure, until her crime is absolved by her kin. I was only thrown off because this woman has a very different accent than the original mother. She tells Jack that his family's fortune has been built on a lie, theft at the very least. She gives him (and us) the traditional tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, with Jack the poor boy (and he looks the part of the clown, too), who goes to sell his mother's only possession, a cow, at the market, but ends up selling it for magic beans, instead. Climbing up the resulting beanstalk, he finds the giant's castle, where he helps create a meal for the giant, and finds out about the harp and the goose, which he steals in the middle of the night. It's hilarious to see how his mother survived for years on the giant beans this stalk produced! Did nobody else pass by, wondering where this giant beanstalk led? She and Jack cut down the beanstalk and the giant falls to his death below, and he and his mother live happily ever after.

The giant, Thunderdell, is played like a very dim bulb, and when Ondine claimed friendship with him, I couldn't believe it. That's because I still believed Jack's version of the story. I still think it's wrong to have the archeologists claim a crime site, and that the giant was murdered. They could easily have beheaded him to make the burial easier, after he had died.

When Ondine leaves our world to rejoin her own, Jack gets left behind. He is wanted in that world for theft and murder, because the harp and goose give life to that land. For every year that passes in our world, a single day passes in theirs. From what we see next, after our Jack takes the last bean and plants it and climbs the resulting beanstalk, I can't believe only 390 days have passed. When Jack arrived, they claim it was a paradise. It sure didn't take long to create weapons of war and degenerate into a brutal society. For the people to become violent like that, at least make it 5-10 years later, or 1 year for every century of ours, or so.

And when he is brought to trial, we hear the other version of Jack and the Beanstalk, where Jack was an honored guest in Thunderdell's house, and Ondine was an orphan living under his roof. She and Jack fell in love and spent the night together. But then he left and stole the goose and the harp, and that's when the world started to die.

Jack argues that he is not guilty of what his ancestors did, but the council of giants (Thunderdell was not the only one in this mixed big/small community!) disagrees and sentences him to death, after which the powers of the harp and goose will return to their realm.

But Ondine has started to see that Jack is not at all like the other Jack she had loved, and starts to fall in love again. But it is Thunderdell's son who sways the balance, forgiving Jack and telling her that she simply fell in love with the wrong Jack! He steals some of the transportation devices and they rescue Jack so that he can find and bring back the stolen items.

Of course, they find the goose and harp with Siggy, who (after Jack was away for seven years -a week "up there") took over the company and created the casino anyway. He's been trying to clone the goose, who has been laying golden eggs for almost 400 years! Wow! Needless to say, Siggy is rich. Thanks to the council of giants following Jack and Ondine back, Siggy is removed as an obstacle, and Jack gets to keep his life.

Of course, Jack and Ondine have fallen in love, but I would have rewritten the ending that the screenwriters chose. He goes back to our plane and uses the billions of dollars to help feed the poor (the cloning was good for some things, as they were able to create a pea that could grow in almost nothing, including the "up there" almost dead soil). He pouts until Ondine finds him again, having been granted a week from her home, so that they can get married and have kids who will be 7 years old when they return.

I didn't like the way everything was magically restored at the end. I really hoped that they would have to use Jack's cloned peas (and other types of seeds) to repopulate the plant growth of Ondine's world. Work at it, instead. The harp would help, of course, but make Jack the savior by not only returning the stolen items, but undoing the damage.

However, before the end, I loved the way all of the pieces came together. From the murder (which was committed by Countess Wilhelmina to keep their newfound fortune), to the gentle giant, which I didn't recognize before then. And especially Bran's forgiveness for the murder of his father. That part was the most precious moment.

I could have done without Ondine's young girl outfit and hair -she looked like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! The golden eggs were also waved away as if they didn't know what to do with them. Why does the goose lay gold? To power some ethereal stuff that sustains the world. We didn't need more of an explanation than that, but it looks like they were straining to find something. I really liked Jack's butler, and their worry about him dying at 40 years old, like every single one of his male ancestors. And I imagine that there is lots of history in the other realm, whose giants include Thor and Odin, among others. Interesting. There is undoubtedly stuff here that we could make another story from.

There was also a bit of humor to keep the movie interesting. There was of course the first Jack's dumb looks. But the best parts were very subtle, like the leader of the giants shaking his head at "Romeo and Juliet", looking to the man he had sent into the other realm to give Jack the beans in the first place. Seems that the man decided to write some literature while he was there! The looks that Thunderdell give to Jack and Ondine in the "real" story are also precious. I also liked the way Jack was amazed at how Ondine could calculate time in the different realms so quickly!

This is really the story of how legends are made, and how history is written by the victor. Jack was a thief and a liar, but he ended up with the gold. Nobody questions the fact that the giant was evil, except for the occasional child. The story is also about the consequences of people's actions. Thinking only of himself, Jack doesn't realize what Ondine is telling him when she says the harp cannot leave her realm. He thinks they are being greedy, like he is. And no, Jack is not guilty of the deeds of his ancestors, but he is responsible for the actions, and for trying to undo the damage. Very interesting, and a very good morality tale.

I had trouble with the looks of the actor throughout the film, however, on a very strange note. I find that he looks so much like Scott Bakula, who plays Captain Archer in Enterprise. I kept expecting him to utter some Star Trek phrase! But I like this actor much better...

Aside from some questionable story points, this is one great miniseries, and something that I would definitely consider watching again. I won't be buying the DVD, but I'm going to hold onto it for a while, just in case. I waited nearly 9 months with this show on tape before watching it, because although I wanted to see it, I was afraid of the quality. I was wrong, and had nothing to fear.

 
   

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