Earlier this year, the movie Jack the Giant Slayer was released. For certain reasons that I have had on my mind for some time, this movie bothered me. The story is based on the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairytale. While the story is decent, I look at fairytale films as low-budget, poorly conceived fare. I find such genre films could justify a nearly $200 million budget.
$200 million doesn’t seem too significant as the box office take came just short of that amount. However, when one considers that a typical blockbuster film may spend $100 million on marketing alone (!), this results in a significant loss for Warner Bros (source: Hollywood Reporter: ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ Could Lose up to $140 Million). Should such an enormous budget have been approved when there is little to no precedent for a fairytale-based film? (The exception to this is The Brothers Grimm, which is based more on the men who compiled fairytales than any specific story). The film may have been more successful if it had had a much lower and more appropriate postproduction budget. As a student of animation, part of me is pleased that VFX makes up an increasing amount of the budgeted resources for films as Hollywood realizes the impact that good CGI can have on a film’s popularity. The Catch-22, however, is that the overall box office revenue doesn’t necessarily increase, or it doesn’t increase enough to keep up with the marked increase of $100 million+ film budgets. This increasing demand for effects affects the VFX houses and artists most significantly as film studios and producers exert more and more pressure to get high-quality results, while paying as little as possible and forcing effects productions to run on extremely thin margins.
What I find especially disturbing is the attitude that VFX can turn an average movie into a major hit. While it is true that movies with impressive visuals perform better, on average, than other similar, less glitzy films, VFX should not be used as a magic wand to hook audiences. Jack the Giant Slayer seems to be promoting the idea that good storytelling can be replaced with flash and sizzle.
The movie failed to succeed in part because it tried to achieve too much. The astounding amount of money spent on its numerous creature effects and set extensions was more than should have been budgeted to a film that is otherwise less than exciting.