DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Melissa Mathison • PRO: Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • MUS: John Williams • DES: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg • CAST: Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance
Spielberg is cinema’s arch mogul/everyman, the bearded baseball-capped mystic who’s been on the pulse of the moment like no other since forever; christening us with that powerful sense of childlike wonder and awe that washes over audiences, lighting up hearts and imaginations with hope. This is part of the unwritten, unspoken pact of going to see a Steven Spielberg film. I’ve known this since I was three feet tall.
But that whole Spellbinding audiences with genuine hope kinda deal, that only really works as long as Spielberg genuinely believes in it. But under the surface, The BFG feels more like rote obligation, rather than genuine desire. The directorial and narrative choices are pedestrian, obvious. Skin deep at best. It’s hard not to feel Mr. Spielberg’s dropped the ball somewhat, his games been off, hit and miss the last decade, as if he just doesn’t believe what he’s saying anymore. And it doesn’t seem like it’s just this movie, this is beginning to seem bigger than that; bordering on a loss of faith. The BFG’s filled with fleeting moments of magic and humour, but it’s a struggle, something just feels strained and off form about the whole thing; and that makes me a little sad inside because if Spielberg’s lost faith, what hope is there for the rest of us…
The BFG is a far cry from the stellar craft of E.T. And these films, from the get go were born for comparison. Given that both films were helmed by Spielberg and written by E.T.’s Melissa Matteson, not to mention the obvious thematic similarities. Both films centre around a blossoming friendship between two lost souls searching for something more. It’s impossible not see how this films yearning for a similar sentiment, yet it’s so clearly forcing it, that it falls flat on its face with inauthenticity. Part of the reason E.T. worked so well was the characters, even “E.T.”, were all grounded in a behavioural and emotional reality, which is borderline non-existent in between the farting, belching and burping of The BFG.
For me, there’s one reason to see The BFG, and one alone; Mark Rylance. The man’s a Godsend who seems in tune with strange omnipotent forces, giving a performance straight outta the head of Zeus. He grounds the BFG with an earthshattering simplicity and candidness that radiates throughout. But in the end even his gigantic sense of humanity, can’t save this cartoonish vison of Dahl. Every time Spielberg reaches for the stars with The BFG, they just pass right through his fingers. Ultimately, this is a kid’s film. But it’s one that placates children, rather than engages, and this is perhaps the simple difference that makes E.T. such a classic. Spielberg’s Spielberg; God knows I love the man, but in the bigger picture, The BFG is probably just as forgettable as a fart in the wind.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The BFG is released 22nd July 2016