‘The BFG’

Steven Spielberg takes a shot at another cinematic fairy tale, with the end results being more ‘AI’ than ‘ET’.

Big shoes to fill.
Big shoes to fill.
I’m very much in two minds about this film.

As a technical exercise, it’s perfect. You can’t fault it, the effects, the characterisations, the way its lit, the costumes, sets, props and editing. Mark Rylance is superb, and is now basically going to be front and centre in everything Spielberg does from here on in (after Bridge of Spies and The BFG, he’s going to be in Ready Player One and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara; no idea if he’ll be in the next Indiana Jones). The BFG is a wholly digital creation, but Rylance’s expressive eyes and smile are very much part of it. It’s a stunningly captured and rendered performance.

There are shots, sequences that are stunningly beautiful.

But… there’s something missing. John Williams score is an underscore, the themes don’t come to the forefront and are in no way memorable. And in parts, the thing just … drags. There is no narrative momentum to it – once the giant kidnaps Sophie, it just sort of exists. He grabs her, takes her back to Giant Country, and has to hide her from the other (carnivorous) giants. But there’s nothing really propelling the story forward, and some of the scenes really drag on. It could be a fault in the writing, perhaps in Dahl’s source material – but the thing is, Wes Anderson was presented with pretty threadbare material in Fantastic Mr Fox and turned it into something very much of its own, quite spectacular. Spielberg’s film has remained faithful to the source, I believe to its own detriment.

There’s a scene in the final act where Sophie and BFG sit down to breakfast with the Queen, which is all nice and quirky and British – the giant has to eat toast and eggs with shovels and pitchforks. But the scene drags on and on, and ends with everyone in the room with explosive green gas farts. So, what was aimed at a bit of Roald Dahl silliness for the kids actually stops the film dead in its tracks, and it never really recovers.

After War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and Munich, I’m more inclined to think that Spielberg’s now got a better touch when it comes to more serious, adult fare than he has done in the past with kids’ films. Perhaps it’s time to put away childish things?

What we have here is a noble misfire as a film itself. We can marvel at the effects and see noble intent, but underneath it, there’s little to recommend. You’d want it to succeed for the parts of it which excel, but among Spielberg’s films which serve as technical exercises, I’d vouch for his wonderful take on Tintin over this one any day of the week.

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