The BFG (2016)
The BFG (2016)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: July 1st, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Rafe Spall, Adam Godley

 


 

W

hile living at an oppressive orphanage, young insomniac Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) wanders the halls during the witching hour, pondering the whereabouts of the numerous missing children that seem to vanish in the night. When she spies a tall, lanky giant roaming the streets – and it notices her back – she’s nabbed by the lumbering beast and whisked away to “giant country,” a far off place whose residents exhibit epic proportions. Soon discovering that her captor, the BFG (Mark Rylance), is actually a gentle, vegetarian behemoth, unlike the nine other gargantuan man-eaters that inhabit the countryside, she quickly befriends the aurally proficient colossus. Learning of the BFG’s mystical profession, and his troubles with his bullying brethren, Sophie sets about devising a plan to rid the land of the nine brutish monstrosities.

If witches, wizards, dragons, and orcs are part of high fantasy, then the bumbling giants of “The BFG” are surely low fantasy. And they’re made much worse by the insufferably precocious little girl at the center of the tale, afraid of nothing and blissfully ignorant (and impervious) to injury, even when facing the kind of certain doom that inexplicably evades the human characters in “The Avengers.” Just because Steven Spielberg’s latest venture is clearly aimed at young children, particularly with the basis on Roald Dahl’s much-loved book, it doesn’t mean he can ignore intelligent entertainment value. Plenty of other juvenile fare has transcended its target audience to enthrall maturer crowds.

But here, there’s very little on offer for older viewers. When reference is finally made to a previous child who endured the same kidnapping (or rescue, depending on the perspective), the film generates a welcome sense of gravity, emotion, a deeper connection, and the foundation of a powerful friendship – but this all takes place an hour into the picture. Before that, the whimsical adventures are of the airy, CG-heavy kind, substituting genuine mysticism with darting lights, bright colors, plenty of fog, and cavernous environments. The set designs are indeed grand, as are the special effects surrounding the giants (each of the evil juggernauts are better conceptualized than the big, friendly one), but such diversions no longer set a project apart; every other blockbuster out there excels at visual trickery. It’s not enough to overcome an unoriginal “The Wizard of Oz” vibe between the real world and the fantasy realm, or the ungraspable fairy-like qualities of living dreams, or the dream-blowing insemination that resembles something out of “Minority Report” or “Slither.”

“The BFG” contains plenty of visual magic, but very little movie magic. It’s especially odd that when a completely fantasy-based predicament arises, the solution is largely grounded in reality, going so far as to use military equipment against the unconvincing physics of oversized bullies. It’s as if “Jack the Giant Slayer” was toned down for kids (basically removing the action yet leaving the immature gags about bodily excretions and flatus), but mixed with the artificially adorable illiteracy of the BFG’s verbiage – or a family-friendly take on the brilliantly slangy language from “A Clockwork Orange.” At least the manufacturing of dreams is an amusing idea, though the movie carries on far too long (it’s ironic that Dahl’s writing was crafted with the intention of combating short attention spans), with a feasting scene in particular that grinds to an unbearable crawl. The material is familiar territory for Spielberg (“E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Hook,” and even “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” all deal with fish-out-of-water fairy tales), but that doesn’t mean he should continue tackling properties with which he’s comfortable. Perhaps this kind of story has been adapted and seen too many times before, but Spielberg’s vision here is uncharacteristically tiresome and uninspiring.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10