When I watch modern day Spielberg, my skepticism with how they turn out only manages to rise up higher than ever because my enjoyment of his films ever since the 2000’s had begun seems so difficult to come across (the best of his output since then, however, is none other than A.I. Artificial Intelligence). With Bridge of Spies showing itself as a nice rise above where his modern work usually lands, I was hoping that The BFG would be able to play upon the effect that made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial work as effectively as it did with its sentimentality but instead I found it all the more troublesome as it remains in my head. Sentimentality has always been one of the key elements to Spielberg’s films, and while it works within certain scenarios there are those cases in which it almost feels like it can get too much to a point it becomes a distraction. With The BFG, it sadly falls into the latter.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, there could have been much more coming along when the same people responsible for bringing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to life were brought on board, not only with Steven Spielberg as the director but also with Melissa Mathison as the screenwriter. When I was much younger, I used to read Roald Dahl’s books all the time, so when I saw that it would be Steven Spielberg of all people putting his own touch upon the wonderful tale of friendship between a young girl and a giant (the Big Friendly Giant, or the BFG), I had a good feeling that it would also keep many of Dahl’s personal touches towards the story in mind given as it was a tale dedicated to his daughter, who died tragically at the age of seven. And yet, I only got half of the Spielberg that I wanted for such a tale to be told and the other half presented something so alienating.
When I talk about the one half of Steven Spielberg that I like which is being presented in this film, there are many moments of sentimentality that come into play which, to some extent do work for the effect of Roald Dahl’s story. Add that together with Melissa Mathison’s careful writing, given what she had been able to create for E.T., and a great sense of promise only comes by – especially from the first moments which Sophie and the BFG share together. Ruby Barnhill’s performance, one that’s relatively fitting in the context of the film, together with Mark Rylance’s work under motion capture adds up to more when one feels the sentimentality hitting by, the sort that gave certain films of Spielberg’s the impact which they carried. They are sentimental in the way that they feel very personal and innocent, and on that count, The BFG could have been more.
Unfortunately, when I talk about the other half of Spielberg which I’m seeing in The BFG, it comes from how there are many points in the film that ultimately become so disconnected because even with his respectable aims for the personal touch that gave Roald Dahl’s original creation its impact, it still feels like a hollow product in the very end. Spielberg knows how to employ the sentimentality as a means of putting a great effect upon his storytelling, but the problem in the case of The BFG lies within how the moments never create their impact as a result of how empty many other aspects, ranging from the characters’ motivations to the bonds all feel, for instead they are reinforced in a manner that they just never feel expanded upon, and instead come off as nothing more than plot devices. Soon enough, a near two hour long film’s running time can be felt and suddenly The BFG ends up giving the experience of being something much longer.
It is hard enough to capture Roald Dahl’s wide imagination onto the screen, something which many adaptations of his work, whether they range from the famed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox, although The BFG tries to recreate such vibes to a respectable degree. Whether it be from the design of the giants to their own homeland or the castle sequence (which contains a great sense of humour to the film’s effect), much of Dahl’s imagination feels so perfectly handled especially with Spielberg’s eyes responsible, but a certain point comes along where it only becomes a struggle to tell where the intentions are heading because of a clear sense of disconnect that bogs down most of the film. It was a good attempt, but never enough to stand out.
My mind is still conflicted in regards to how I feel about what The BFG had left upon me, because there was a part to which I recognized the effectiveness of Spielberg’s tendencies that made me want to like the film much more than I did. It’s from the sentimentality which Spielberg lays upon Dahl’s story that I appreciate, for it carried once again the personal touch that Dahl intended for his story as a memory of his late daughter. It was from the hollowness of the product where I was only struggling all the more, and this seems to have been what has kept me from enjoying many of Steven Spielberg’s more recent output. It reminded me so much of The Adventures of Tintin, another inventive entry from his body of work (especially in terms of how it employs Uncanny Valley, a method of animation I’ve quite frankly never been a big fan of especially when the entire film is designed in said manner) that ultimately felt so lacking in much elsewhere. Spielberg isn’t the filmmaker whom he was during the 1970’s and the 1980’s anymore, but lately it’s a struggle to find enjoyment in his work because many of the touches that created the impact of his greatest works are noticeably absent. Sadly, The BFG falls under that pile, with many of the rest.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison, from the novel by Roald Dahl
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer
Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 117 minutes