Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Reel Review: THE BFG

When the conversation moves to the long and storied career of Steven Spielberg, the word “heartstrings” tends to come up a lot. It doesn’t matter if the man is playing in the arena of sharks, aliens, war, or dinosaurs…one way or another he will find a way to tug those strings within our hearts, which makes his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, THE BFG, in which a young orphaned girl befriends a Big Friendly Giant, the perfect playground for the famed director to play in.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is whisked away from her orphanage by a friendly giant (Mark Rylance), who is tasked with collecting dreams and delivering them to sleeping children and their families. Once in the land of giants, the BFG is tormented by nine bigger-giants, and Sophie decides to help her new friend.

THE BFG doesn’t have a whole lot to work with in terms of plot, and spends most of its time with Sophie and The BFG exploring their surroundings. The story doesn’t have much of a bite until it moves into Sophie looking to stop the tormenting going on that the bigger and meaner giants are inflicting upon BFG. It’s a thinly-veiled anti-bullying message going on inside of Spielberg’s playing around with a Beauty and the Beast theme sprinkled with his own E.T. (1982).

But this friendly giant begins to stumble thanks to the script, which feels frustratingly incomplete. The heart of the story is the relationship between Sophie and BFG, and although some fine seeds are planted, the script seems to fast-forward to the part where they suddenly become best friends for life. It doesn’t feel earned and robs the film of any true heartstrings to pull. The incomplete script also plagues the magical and magnificent world the giants inhabit; although the environments are stunning, the building of the mythology stops short of feeling complete. Exactly why it’s so important for BFG to complete his task of delivering dreams is never fully explained, or even why it’s his in the first place. This robs of the film of any real stakes and a “who cares” vibe when it comes to whether or not Sophie can help him.

There’s still a lot to enjoy in THE BFG. The CGI work in the giants and the giant-land is stunning, and the motion-capture work done with BFG is breathtaking. There’s some clever design-work done with BFG’s home, and even more clever work done with showing how a giant can move stealth-like down a city street. Humor is well-timed, and a sequence with the Queen of England and her staff which turns into a farting-fest has to be seen to be believed.

Acting is split right down the middle. Young Ruby Barnhill, in her first movie role, is sweet in some places but stiff in others, and never really develops a full character. Mark Rylance acts his way past the motion capture to create something memorable. The rest of the small cast, which includes Penelope Wilton (as the Queen), and Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall (as the Queen’s staff), are handled well.

THE BFG tries to go for a sweet happy ending with Sophie and a member of the Queen’s staff (Rebecca Hall’s character), but just like everything else in the script, the moment doesn’t feel very earned and won’t have anyone reaching for the tissues. THE BFG is packed with big ideas and good intentions, but doesn’t see any of them all the way through; it’s a film which takes baby steps instead of giant ones.


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