Fun, but lacks the Spielberg magic we all know and love
Steven Spielberg holds a special place in my heart as a lifelong fan of motion pictures. “Jaws” came out the year I was born. As a child of divorce, I totally identified with Elliot’s isolation in “E.T.”. And of course, Dr. Jones was my first taste of adventure. He wasn’t a super hero. He was just a man. I was pretty sure someday I could be Indiana Jones.
As an older, jaded film critic — I’ve long given up my dreams of becoming a filmmaker (although I have several bad ass scripts lying around, give me a call…) — I still hold a certain fondness for Spielberg, even if lately it seems like most of his movies have been adaptations. Where’s the originality?
Okay. Let’s skip the “originality is dead in Hollywood” stuff for today. “The BFG” is in theatres. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s written by Melissa Mathison (pssst…she wrote “E.T.”) — and yes, it’s based on the book by Roald Dahl.
Let’s just get this out of the way. It’s good. Not great, good. Certainly one of the best of the summer. That’s not saying much considering the awful, watered down summer movie season we’ve seen plummet down a steep hill ever since Iron Man and Captain America broke up.
From what I could tell, Spielberg stays pretty true to the book, at least as much as I could recognize. It’s been a spell since I’ve read the book, but it absolutely feels like Roald Dahl’s classic brought to life. The BFG, (Big FRIENDLY Giant, as I’m having to constantly remind myself) is played by Mark Rylance, who recently stole Sylvester Stallone’s Academy Award out from under his nose at this year’s Oscars — in all fairness Rylance was amazing in”Bridge of Spies” (also Spielberg).
Rylance brings the character to life through the magic of motion capture. It’s an impressive performance, although not quite the realism we’ve seen in the past from Andy Serkis, but it’s still a solid, humanizing performance that only rarely looks more animated than real. The BFG for the most part blends seamlessly into his live action surroundings.
Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie, the human child who is swept into the kindhearted BFG’s life when she catches him rummaging through the streets of London late at night. She’s a cute kid and this is her first big movie. She delivers a fine performance as a precocious orphan who befriends the BFG. But it’s the connection between Barnhill and the motion capture of the BFG that never quite establishes the emotional connection it needs to.
While Spielberg reunites with “E.T.” scribe Mathison, the movie never quite seems to capture the magic and awe he introduced us too back in the early 80s. The movie is fun, interesting and touching, but it just seems to be missing something. Perhaps it’s the humor, which is aimed primarily at younger audiences. Look out for a lot of flatulence jokes. If you’ve read the book, you know what’s up. But the film also pushes 2 hours in running time, which is likely to test the patience of the core audience it’s aiming for.
That being said? It’s a fun movie. It’s Spielberg, so it’s expertly directed and looks gorgeous. Adults may not be struck by the nostalgia of Spielberg the way we are accustomed, but your kids are gonna love it.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Mathison
Based on the book by Roald Dahl
Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Bill Hader, and Jemaine Clement