James V. Hart was responsible for writing one of the most affectionately remembered 'What If?' stories in 1991, Steven Spielberg's Hook, as well as adapting Bram Stoker's Dracula for Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film of the same name, on a more literate level than many of the previous adaptations from the likes of Hammer Films - and John Badham's 1979 version for Universal, starring Frank Langella.
Filmed for television through Disney in 2001 and released on DVD, Jim Henson's Jack And The Beanstalk - The Real Story provides another intriguing 'What If?' scenario, taking the classic fairy tale template, turning several key elements on their head, and utilising the best elements of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, plus some nifty CGI effects and landscapes.
Jack Robinson (Matthew Modine) is a corporate executive who is developing a casino in England, but during the digging of the foundations, some mysterious bones are discovered and a freak lightning storm results in the injury of two employees. The development is halted and Robinson's second-in-command, Mannheim (Jon Voight) reports of a law-suit.
One night during dinner, Jack is confronted by a mystery woman, Ondine (Mia Sara) posing as a journalist, who informs him that the bones hide a dark secret of his ancestors - and a tale of a beanstalk, golden eggs, and a world above the clouds…..
You may be familiar with the tale of Jack And The Beanstalk and you might go into this with reservations, but by the end of it, you may well be enchanted as this writer was by an inventive, witty and visually stunning fantasy that flips the well-loved elements into a comment on greed and human growth.
Matthew Modine is suitably cast as the bemused executive who lost his father at a young age and is trying to find an answer to the predicament he finds himself in. He is backed up by a great supporting cast with the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Sara, Voight, James Corden, and Richard Attenborough (in one of his last screen performances) amongst others.
For parents who are introducing their children to the joys of fairy tales, it will provide thought-provoking storytelling and an interesting perspective which will not detract from the enjoyment of the narrative. Fairy tales are dark morality tales which, as children, we embrace in a simple idea of good vs evil. Here, the so-called villains are given a humanity and a depth of characterisation and if you have forgotten the joys of reading these stories, you might just want to revisit them, whatever your age.
It's a shame this only made it to the small-screen, as Jack And The Beanstalk is a very clever fusion of fantasy and effects that would rival Fellowship Of The Ring which was released around the time this premiered and would have added choice to cinemagoers.
JIM HENSON'S JACK AND THE BEANSTALK - THE REAL STORY (2001) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BRIAN HENSON / SCREENPLAY: JAMES V. HART, BRIAN HENSON, BILL BARRETTE / STARRING: MATTHEW MODINE, MIA SARA, VANESSA REDGRAVE, SARA, JON VOIGHT, JAMES CORDEN, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH / RELEASE DATE: 12TH JUNE