Ten-year-old Sophie is in for the adventure of a lifetime when she meets the Big Friendly Giant. Naturally scared at first, the young girl soon realizes that the 24-foot behemoth is actually quite gentle and charming. As their friendship grows, Sophie’s presence attracts the unwanted attention of Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and other giants. After traveling to London, Sophie and the BFG must convince Queen Victoria to help them get rid of all the bad giants once and for all.
In recent years our good friend Steven Spielberg has been dishing out biopics and war films (War Horse, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies). But with the BFG, Spielberg allows himself to unleash his creativity and imagination that made him popular as a filmmaker in the first place. The film holds the same amount of magic and nostalgia as E.T or Jurassic Park. It’s whimsical, humorous and at times emotional.
Of course, we have to also give all due credit to Roald Dahl, who conjured up this simple, but enchanting story of a young orphan and a Big, Friendly Giant. His book was then exceptionally adapted by the late and great Melissa Mathison(who was also the screenwriter of E.T) . Her screenplay was then Moulded and translated by Spielberg, who did a fantastic job of bringing the characters up off the page and onto the screen. The film shows his visionary approach to directing, and displays the power of his imagination.
The film, by all means, isn’t for everyone. It is certainly no “intellectual” and I’m sure that the film buffs in the audience could identify dozens of plot holes. It is not thrilling, nor is it romantic. It tells a very basic story, and it’s loaded with “cliche” Spielberg nostalgia. But if you are a fan of Dahl, Disney, Spielberg or the Magic of Cinema, this is a must see. It’s a feel good story, captured in the most magical way. Forget Harry Potter and his wizardry, this is real Magic.
I should be surprised that The BFG didn’t do better this opening weekend, but I’m not (Pixar when they have something audiences want do so well that no one can come close), and with Secret Life of Pets out on Friday it doesn’t stand much of chance of being a financial success. But as an artistic success it is a minor gem in Spielberg’s filmography. It says a lot that a man who has been working over 45 years in movies can still make things so delightful, seemingly effortlessly, like the flick of a wrist in visual grandiosity and wonder, with his band of collaborators (Kaminski, Williams, Kahn, and here in a grand finale Mathison as writer, and Rylance who is now like Tarantino/Waltz, I can’t wait to see more work from them).
He, from Dahl’s book, keeps on giving us things to look at and marvel. But it’s a little tricky in a way; it doesn’t move at a very fast-frenetic pace. Things move in a pace where nothing is too rushed, and Sophie discovers things in a way that moves more in a, do I say ‘old fashioned’ way? Ironically the film uses motion capture technology, and yet it’s more advanced by now than from a decade ago with Polar Express. So what I would say to any parents worried their kids might be, well, ‘bored’, a) have a little more faith in your kids’ attention spans, and b) this may be something that will bring children over and over for years to come. If it’s not a success immediately it will be in the long run with audiences.
I may be slightly biased since I loved the book as a kid (I remembered enough, some things were ‘oh yeah’ moments), but movies get screwed with all the time in adaptation, for better or worse. What works so well is the combination of a strong emotional core between Rylance as BFG and newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie (she could, under the wrong direction, be cloying, but she is given just enough to show the wonder and discovery and also the intelligence that Sophie should have) with the whole world created that the giants live in, the BFG’s cave. What’s impressive too is that it’s not sapping for sentimentality, the emotion’s genuine between the actors, so that when characters separate at a key point (due to a past instance with a little boy and the ‘human bean’ eating giants), it resonates and makes an impact. Oh, and then at one point there’s a Mel Brooks level fart joke. The BFG is a movie with a great sense of humor and often if it’s not worth a laugh a smile will do.
It surprises me the most to see many critics (not all, but more than I’d expect) say this is a lessor film from him, like he made another 1941 or Hook or War Horse. If I find someone make a defense of War Horse but spit on this movie, I don’t know what to do for you. It has conflicts (the monstrous giants), it has surrealism (this is basically in essence Inception for kids), and it has a heart that means to be beating in the face of cynical a-holes. It’s such a good movie I almost forgive England for leaving the EU!
Will it be one of my favorites of the year, or on par with the last time Spielberg and Mathison brought together two lonely souls in a fantastical narrative? No, but few films are. It’s a fitting follow-up though and seeing it on a big screen is one of the events of this summer for me.