THE BFG (Entertainment One/Disney)
Dir. Steven Spielberg, Script. Melissa Mathison
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill
Plot: An orphan is abducted from her bedroom and taken to a secret place no one can find her. But at least her kidnapper’s friendly!
There is no human being existing (especially one reading this sentence) that has not sat around a TV with their family at least once in their life and watched a Steven Spielberg film – this is an irrefutable fact. Spielberg is not just the best blockbuster filmmaker in history; Spielberg invented blockbuster filmmaking, quite literally (the term ‘blockbuster’ was first used in reference to the huge queues outside cinemas of people waiting to see Jaws). So I’m sure you can understand that, when the announcement was made that Steven Spielberg would be doing a big-budget family film, an adaptation of one of the world’s best loved children’s writers, I was beside myself with joy and nostalgia: for a little film nerd like me who grew up watching Jurassic Park and E.T. (even E.T.‘s screenwriter is aboard for this movie), its like the Second Coming.
Sadly, The BFG will probably not become as quintessential as some of Spielberg’s other blockbusters – in fact, this is one of Spielberg’s weaker films in general. Yes, there’s no denying that the master craftsman is there, working away behind the camera, as it seems The BFG is only a decent watch due to the sheer force of Spielberg’s creative will. Because, while there are many scenes which are genuinely brilliant and beautiful, there’s a lot of filler that feels like filler while you watch it. Looking at The BFG‘s near-two hour runtime, I can’t help but feel like they could have lopped half of that to the wayside on the cutting room floor, such was the sheer thinness of its plot. Watching The BFG is like eating toast with butter and jam dolloped right on the far edge of it – when you finally get to it its admittedly very nice, but the grind through empty burnt bread beforehand takes a bloody long time.
And yet, I have to say that it’s very difficult to criticise this screenplay, for two reasons: firstly, Melissa Mathison passed away a few months ago, and I feel like saying ‘her final screenplay was a bit rubbish’ probably wouldn’t play well at her eulogy. Secondly, the main gripes I had with it were taken from the original Roald Dahl novel, and as much as I like to say ‘THE BOOKS DO NOT MATTER’, the bizarreness of the BFG’s language is something that can’t be omitted. As such, the first 20 minutes are one hell of an adjustment period, and this isn’t helped by the fact the plot takes double that time to actually get going, as anything the opening half-hour promises is forgotten by the end. In certain scenes however, Mathison’s dialogue is perfect – The BFG is one of the more emotive films of the year, and the way Mathison makes you feel incredible sympathy for a child-snatcher is truly remarkable. The eponymous giant is a midget amongst his peers, often picked on for his size as well as his veganism (in the fact he does not eat ‘human beans’), and some action scenes, which are essentially big-budget bullying sequences, are actually a little hard to watch.
And this is down to the man playing the BFG himself. Mark Rylance is one of the most gifted actors I’ve ever seen. I confess I’d barely heard his name before he was cast in Spielberg’s last effort, the Oscar-nominated (if a little undeservedly) Bridge Of Spies, which earnt him a Best Supporting Actor win from absolutely nowhere. And to anybody who thought that was a fluke…a million eggs on your face. Rylance is truly staggering as the giant: despite having to deal with the bizarre sayings of his character and his stunted line delivery, Rylance makes the BFG so incredibly resonant, so human – he’s so good he could make you shed a tear for Genghis Khan. You truly feel for him, and its testament to an absolutely brilliant performer that Rylance is able to grab an audience and completely arrest them. He’s definitely one of Spielberg’s best finds, and another discovery in the young Ruby Barnhill is further proof of Spielberg’s superb eye. Barnhill has a really strong prescence, and she makes orphan Sophie independent and brave, but also reminds you that she’s afraid. The rest of the supporting players are pretty irrelevant – the entire film hinges on the Rylance-Barnhill relationship, and luckily for a film that doesn’t have too much going on around it, it works impeccably well.
Spielberg directs The BFG wonderfully too – his images are especially striking, and the movement of his camera is excellent as well. The opening 5-10 minutes have effectively no dialogue, and yet you learn almost everything about the two main characters: only a master director can convey so much through mise-en-scene. The BFG is as colourful as a Gay Pride parade, and just as well-intentioned: Spielberg proves that he still has some child-like magic in him, despite his more serious offerings of late. I really wonder why some critics have called Spielberg out of touch, after The BFG nose-dived at the box office – sure, Spielberg wasn’t able to bring in audiences, but The BFG is a terrific family film. It’s a shame however that the first hour is such a grind; although it looks great and there’s a couple of engrossing scenes, there isn’t really a plot, and the complete lack of familiarity while inside ‘Giant Country’ makes you feel like there’s another three years on the runtime to overcome. But, with Spielberg doing typically remarkable work off-screen and Rylance doing remarkable work on it, The BFG ends up growing into your heart despite the warnings of your head.
BEST WATCHED: I think it’s cinema worthy – even if only because we can’t take a genius of Spielberg’s level for granted.
Although he’s been around for more than 40 years now, Spielberg is showing no signs of stopping – if anything, he’s becoming even more prolific. His next film is The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a drama for which he has cast Mark Rylance (repetitive, but why the hell wouldn’t you) and Poe DAMNeron himself, Oscar Isaac, assumptively now free of the Play-Doh head casing he filmed X-Men: Apocalypse in. After that’s complete, Spielberg moves back into book adaptation, filming one of the most fervently anticipated films in recent memory, Ready Player One, continuing his newfound love of rescuing actors from the travesty of Apocalypse by casting Tye Sheridan, as well as Me, Earl & The Dying Girl breakout Olivia Cooke in the film. And yes, he’s got a familiar face in a supporting role.
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