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Tuesday
Jul 05 2016

Review: The BFG

Erichere,with thoughts on the new Steven Spielberg release,The BFG.

Spielberg lends his patented magical touch to this film adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's storyThe BFG.  It's the tale of little orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill),who meets a friendly elderly giant (Mark Rylance) who instills dreams into children.  They go off together to Giant Country,where we meet other giants who eat children,and Dream Country,where The BFG shows her how he harvests dreams.  Then they enroll the Queen of England in an attack on the bad giants.

The first third of the picture establishes the meet-cute of our two leads,and it's standard fantasy fare,albeit with a sleek look that blends the live action and CGI material quite successfully into one neat universe.  It's all a little sparkly and cute,and pitched as most kids' movies are to generate response for twinkly endearment.  At the end of this act,when we meet the bad giants,the film gets its first jolt of real gas...

...these creatures are brightly characterized and look like animated guys from a gay bear porn movie.I can't resist any creature who receives nourishment from eating children,and these guys are pretty fun.  They treat actual trucks like their own Tonka toys,and have a demonic joyfulness about them that perks up the soft picture.

The second third,where the BFG takes Sophie to Dream Country,is gooey.We spend a good fifteen minutes following moving light,like the old Tinkerbell routine from the 1960s.  I kept thinking how much better this portion of the movie would be if you were smoking the world's most colossal joint while watching it.


But then the final third,in which Sophie and the BFG enroll the Queen to stop the bad giants,enters a whole different high.  The Queen here is played by Penelope Wilton as if she HAD just smoked the world's most colossal joint.  She's blissfully comic,somehow managing to have her tongue planted firmly in cheek while establishing actual authority and cheeky confidence.  Any movie where the Queen of England and her pet corgis are part of a massive fart orgy is completely okay in my book.

In his first screen performance since he won his Oscar for Spielberg'sBridge of Spies,Mark Rylance does what he can with a pretty one-dimensional role.  He's a nice giant,and that's about it.  But Rylance,in full control of his creepy voice,finds wonderful line readings forThe BFG's made-up and mispronounced words.  He finds a knowing tone that emphasizes the character's ancient age,and he brings out his natural otherworldliness to good effect for fantasy.

Spielberg's films over the last decade have all been similar in that in each one,we see his best qualities (the grace of his craftsmanship,his finesse with complex narratives) rub against his worst qualities (the sentimentality,his dogged on-the-nosedness).  I'm doubtful that we'llget another truly great Spielberg film.His desire to please is now so inseparable from who he is.  That said,few people could carry off the huge audience-pleasing jokes that he nails with seeming effortlessness in the third act ofThe BFG.  I don't think I'm alone in wishing Spielberg would trust the audience more and let his tremendous skill speak for itself.

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Reader Comments (4)

May I ask why the sentimentality is a bad quality?

July 5,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Lincoln was a masterpiece.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterStuart

I seem to be in a minority,but I think Spielberg is getting better.Like Stuart,I regard Lincoln as a masterpiece;and Bridge of Spies and The BFG are astonishing,as good,if not better,than anything Spielberg did in the preceding 30-40 years

July 6,2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

What a strange review.So Lincoln and Bridge of Spies are similar in their "on the nosedness"and "sentimentality"as War Horse and The BFG?Please.

February 17,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

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