‘Giant Slayer,’ ‘Movie 43’ this week’s ‘highlights’

Philip Philmar as Cook in the action adventure movie 'Jack the Giant Slayer.'
Philip Philmar as Cook in the action adventure movie 'Jack the Giant Slayer.'

Moviegoers’ interest in fantasy, from superheroes to the supernatural, has prompted a subgenre of movies derived from fairy tales. It has not, based on recent evidence, been welcome.

One of the problems with the form has been making it accessible both to kids for whom such stories are still new, and older folks who will have to pay for the tickets — and, in some cases, fork over the premium for 3-D showings. Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012 solved the problem with an unabashedly PG-13 approach that essentially warned kids off but promised thrills for older children and adults.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which came to DVD and Blu-ray a week ago, pushed even further, taking an R rating. The result was bashed by critics (14 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and tepidly received by U.S. audiences but did do well overseas — and did so with a budget that according to Box Office Mojo was about a third of Snow White and the Huntsman’s.

This week delivered another addition to the form, the much-discussed dud Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner, $28.98 DVD / digital set, $35.99 Blu-ray/DVD / digital combo, $44.95 for combo with 3-D Blu-ray added). The director, Bryan Singer, had an impressive pedigree (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns). The ads promised a big, exciting variation on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

But reviews were about evenly divided, and even with global revenues added it was a money-loser. Such a bad one, in fact, that it prompted stories like Vulture.com’s one asking, “Why did Jack the Giant Slayer bomb?”

The answer, it turns out, goes back to the notion that the makers of a movie should have a clear idea of what they are doing and whom they are doing it for. Fast & Furious 6 knows exactly what it is, and that its audience expects fast cars and big stunts more than deep themes and subtle performances. The new Man of Steel knows that, whatever may be the flaws in Batman or Iron Man, Superman needs to be more straightforwardly heroic; it also recognizes that a story with so much death of loved ones is best told PG-13.

Jack the Giant Slayer, according to Vulture, started out as an R-rated action epic, then was reconsidered as a family film, and ended up PG-13. With a story that is even more kid-focused than the more fundamentally scary Snow White or Hansel & Gretel, the rating probably drove away younger moviegoers while, as one executive told Vulture, “it certainly wasn’t a film that an adult would have any interest in seeing.”

Yet, for all that, Jack still did better with audiences than the unfortunate, low-budget, here-and-gone Movie 43 (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray / DVD combo). You have to be pretty special to end up with a single-digit rating on Rotten Tomatoes, let alone a 4. Richard Roeper, for one, called it “the Citizen Kane of awful.” And this for a movie whose cast included Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, and more, working with more than a dozen directors. Around the time it was released, as Entertainment Weekly noted, it had two actors, Jackman and Watts, who were up for Academy Awards as well as the Oscar host, Seth MacFarlane.

But all were put in service of a series of loosely connected comedy sketches shot over four years when directors and cast were available. Winslet and Jackman were caught first, as Catherine Shoard reported in the Guardian newspaper, then that deal was used to woo other actors — although some managed to get out once they realized what the film was. Which is, to put it as tastefully as possible, a lot of very gross jokes.

Indeed, what might be the funniest thing about Movie 43 is that it was done so cheaply, it appears to have turned a profit. And people wanting a glimpse of all the stars in odd circumstances will help it draw even more bucks on Blu-ray and DVD.

Also of note this week: Dustin Hoffman made his directing debut with Quartet (Starz / Anchor Bay, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray), a well-received film about a group of musicians in a retirement home thrown into upheaval when a former partner joins them. The cast includes Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, and Billy Connolly.

Down video road

Amour, the Oscar-winning foreign film, will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 20. The first season of DaVinci’s Demons comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 3.