Monday, August 01, 2016

The BFG (2016)

Film: The BFG (2016)
Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall
Director: Steven Spielberg
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

It's hard to reckon with, but I don't know that I can remember a single, solitary summer in all of my years of watching movies (and there are quite a few at this point) where I have been more disappointed with the outpouring of product at my theaters.  Yes, there have been the occasional bits and bobs worth cooing over, and I'm still shocked at how good a couple of movies from the early spring were, but this summer has been an absolutely dreadful endeavor in my opinion-frequently giving out tired, rehashed product that it's hard to remotely become excited about; honestly-is anyone really, truly, geared up about Suicide Squad that actually likes movies that don't accompany a video game (that was only meant to be mildly condescending)-it looks like yet another bout of the exact same interpretations, and even actors that seem to be giving thrilling performances (Viola Davis, Margot Robbie) are now sandwiched in a film I have no interest in seeing.  I may eat my words on that (I'm not seeing it in theaters unless a critic I trust gives it an absolute rave), but so far I've been nothing but disappointed, and somehow that even crossed over to the latest film from Steven Spielberg.

(Spoilers Ahead) Spielberg, quite frankly, seems to have three different avenues for his films: either prestige historical drama (Schindler's List, Munich, Lincoln), comic book-style Sci Fi/Adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Minority Report), and then films that are clearly lensed for his inner-child (ET, Hook, The Adventures of Tintin).  In my opinion, he is at his most successful artistically when he is making excellent outings in the Sci-Fi and adventure realm, but clearly aiming them at adults.  He has made multiple great pictures, and some of them reside in each of these columns, but Sci-Fi and adventure are where his best work as a director and a storyteller take place.  Unfortunately for us, this is the column where he is least successful-that of his inner-child.

Perhaps it's because Spielberg, intensely wealthy, privileged, and 70 this December, is so far out from his childhood that he can't relate to either ageless stories nor tales that have some modernity, but even with the help of someone who never lost his gift with connecting with his younger audience (Roald Dahl), Spielberg seems incapable of creating something as magnificent as ET so many years ago.  Here we have a young girl Sophie (Barnhill), who through a series of circumstances finds herself befriended by the BFG (Rylance), a large giant who takes her to his world and there they start to create an uncommon friendship, one that leads them to take on the odious and mean giants who have been eating people up-and-down the English countryside.

The film has some moments of wonder, as only Spielberg can create.  I loved the sequence where they are catching different types of dreams, and it shows a dedication to world-building that Spielberg hasn't shown in recent fictional pictures, giving us the minutia that made earlier films like AI: Artificial Intelligence so fascinating and brilliant (what-it's a truly great picture, and if you don't think so I don't know what to do with you).  But most of the film is fairly predictable, surface-level stuff that feels pinched from a Paddington book rather than something that will age well.  Queens (Penelope Wilton shows up as QEII) and giants might seem like the sort of thing that will age well because they are part of stories that history has remembered well, but the reality is that the entire film feels dusty-like a movie you would have seen in the 1980's, and doesn't have enough modernity.  Look at a picture like Paddington, which is treading on familiar ground, or better yet 90's films like Babe or Matilda-they hold up because there is a central heart to their celluloid that is lacking here.  Perhaps because Spielberg doesn't seem to have enough invested in Sophie the person, just Sophie the young and impressionable child.  There's very little given about her direction as a figure, and all of her personality traits seem to be driven out of a need for the plot and something more organic.  The picture would have gained greatly if it'd grounded her scenes a bit, giving us something other than stubbornness and a devotion to "doing what's right" to cling toward.  No child is naturally that good-natured and kind-why is she?  As it is, her character feels like a blank slate which is wrong when you have mostly side characters that read as two-dimensional, save for a magnetic Mark Rylance as the title character, almost saving the picture, but not quite.

The film underwhelmed at the Box Office, so I'm not going to assume too many people have opinions here, but if you do please feel free to share them as I'd love a discussion.  As a Roald Dahl fan, were you impressed with this story finally coming to the big screen, and which of his works are you hoping is the next to be translated?  Which Spielberg are you the biggest fan of, and do you think he'll ever make a truly revolutionary film again?  And can John Williams get a nod for such a trifle of a thing?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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