Monday, July 18, 2016

The BFG (2016)

I can't blame anybody but myself for this pick. I trusted director Steven Spielberg's name on it and very little else I heard or saw. The comparison is frequently made with E.T., but this is not very much like E.T., although the Extra-Terrestrial in that one, and the Big Friendly Giant in this, may have something of a resemblance and the same amiable dispositions. The BFG lives on its special effects, of course, and much less so on the story, though it comes from Roald Dahl (whom I know only by general reputation). These days, the hero is always a plucky girl rather than boy, which is probably as it should be. I note it only in passing. Her name is Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), she is an orphan already old for her years, and she's very likable. An insomniac, one night she observes the giant skulking around London. When he notices her watching him he kidnaps her and takes her to Giant Country. Sophie dubs him the BFG. It turns out he's the only vegetarian in a crew of human-eating giants. Somehow the Queen of England becomes involved. It gave me a pain. I don't care much for royalty, even less when they are convenient to a narrative. The BFG is family-friendly mostly because the BFG (Mark Rylance in CGI) is such a kindly gentle figure. There is a fair amount of gluttony and other sins on the part of the rest of the giants, and multiple scenes built out of fart jokes. Look, I don't have anything against fart jokes. But while The BFG can be funny, it's never funny enough. And it's warm but not quite warm enough. Maybe that's the CGI. It takes the suspension of disbelief a little too much for granted. Among other things, the BFG collects dreams in jars, which becomes a significant plot element. Yes, you heard me, dreams in jars. I saw this at a morning show the day after the 4th of July (which would make it the 5th of July). Families were in attendance and a good time was had by all, as far as I could tell, but they also felt perfunctory and uninvolved, as if still a little dazed by fireworks and the long day before. Spielberg knows how to charm with film in his sleep, and I suspect that might be what he attempted here. I didn't say he could always charm with film in his sleep. The effects are solid, though nothing is new. For example, the first we see of the BFG is a shadow on a building, which directly recalls the first we see of a UFO in the final cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a shadow on a truck and the moon-soaked countryside. Spielberg has been using that trick and others for decades. I didn't see The BFG in 3D, which might have helped with the dreams in jars thing. Unless you're a family, move along. Nothing to see here.

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