Friday, July 1, 2016

Spielberg’s ‘BFG’ is a Quiet Masterpiece

Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill star in The BFG. (Disney)
Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill star in The BFG. (Disney)
MOVIE REVIEW
In 1982, Steven Spielberg introduced us all to E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Spielberg directed the movie that was based on a screenplay written by Melissa Mathison. John Williams wrote the iconic music. Wouldn’t it be great if this threesome could come together again for a new project? And if they did, would it have the same magic? I’m here to tell you that they did and it does.
 

Also in 1982, Roald Dahl, the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published The BFG, a favorite story of Spielberg’s own children. Now, 34 years later, we get to see Spielberg’s interpretation of the story and it is pretty much a masterpiece. Unfortunately, like many masterpieces, it may take some time for some audiences to appreciate the film.
 

The BFG doesn’t feel like a Disney film, which isn’t a criticism, it is just different. It has a timeless quality to it and I suspect that more adults will love this story more than their kids. The pacing is much slower than most movies made for families these days and unfortunately, some children will find the story too dull to sit still through the two-hour long film. (Numerous children got up during the screening that I saw, which is almost unheard of for other Disney flicks.) There is some action, peril and humor but overall, this is fairly quiet film, but if you have patience to get through it all, the payoff is worth it.

The BFG
The story begins at 3:00 a.m. at an orphanage in London where Sophia lives. Sophia is a strong-willed but good-natured girl who takes it upon herself to take care of the others in her orphanage late at night on account that she has insomnia. One night, she hears a noise down the street and sees the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He sees her. She tries to hide but he grabs her in her blanket and runs away.
 

Now, the BFG didn’t want to take her, but he knows that if he didn’t, she would surely tell the authorities and they would hunt him down. His solution then is to have her live with him forever.
 

At 24-feet tall, the BFG is definitely a giant, but ironically, he’s the runt of the litter when it comes to his brothers who range from 39 to 52 feet tall. Unlike the BFG, they have a taste for human “beans” and begin to suspect that the BFG is hiding one in his home. They are willing to destroy it for a snack. Sophie begins to learn that she and the BFG are actually have a lot in common as they are both small and are easily picked on. She tells him that he should defend himself against his brothers, but the BFG would rather avoid them altogether.
 

Sophie also learns that the BFG’s “job” is to collect dreams and then gives them to children in the nearby villages while they sleep. She travels with him on his journey to collect the dreams in one of the movie’s best scenes. Later, when the BFG’s brothers return for trouble, Sophie gets an idea to retaliate against them that will require the help of the queen of England and so, the two are off on their way to meet the queen. The journey doesn’t take that long if you’re riding along on a giant.
 

The BFG
About three fourths into the film we finally get to meet the queen of England (Penelope Wilton), who was worth waiting for. Her character is so kind and patient, that she is a joy to watch. Being that she is the queen and all, she has to keep her composure at all times even when things get a little out of hand with her new guests. The queen and her staff interact subtlety with each other using only their eyes which is a nice touch.
 

Spielberg, who has a knack for finding children who can act, gave Ruby Barnhill the coveted role of Sophia who does a fine job of portraying the spirited girl and keeping her likable. When it came to casting the giant, Spielberg says that when he met Mark Rylance while working on the film Bridge of Spies, he had found his BFG. Rylance is totally unrecognizable in the role but perfect. He speaks slowly and fumbles a lot with his words, which just make him more endearing. The two co-stars have a great chemistry together which is good since they carry most of the film on their shoulders. Two lessor actors would not have been able to carry it off so well.
 

It was nice to see a film that doesn’t have much if any marketing ties to it. We won’t be seeing any stuffed giants in the Disney Store anytime soon and there really isn’t much of a threat that there will be sequel. This project was obviously one born out of the love for the story. It isn’t loud or controversial. It is just a nice tale about friendship and family and sometimes that’s enough.

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