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BFG, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Plenty Of Giants But Hardly A Peach"
2 stars

For moviegoers of a certain age, “The BFG” may well be the most-anticipated title in this summer’s battle for domination at the multiplex. After all, not only does it mark Steven Spielberg’s latest return to the realm of fantasy filmmaking, it also reunites him with the late screenwriter Melissa Mathieson for the first time since they collaborated on a little thing called “E.T.” in the service of bringing the 1982 book by the equally beloved Roald Dahl, the creator of, among others, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factor,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Matilda,” to life. It sounds like an absolutely foolproof combination of elements that could potentially send older viewers into a reverie of nostalgia for their own childhoods while allowing those with their own children to the same kind of wonderment that they experienced when they first saw “E.T.” or read one of Dahl’s stories. Alas, something has gone terribly wrong along the way because while it does contain occasional moments of genuine wonder, they are too often overwhelmed by the combination of an overstuffed visual style and an underwritten screenplay. While the end result may not be a complete disaster, anyone doing a preferential ranking of Spielberg’s filmography will undoubtedly find themselves placing it closer to “Hook” than to “E.T.”

This is especially frustrating because it starts out nicely enough. In 1980s-era London, a young orphan girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) wakes up in the middle of the night and catches a glimpse of a gigantic figure in a hood sneaking around outside. After catching Sophie looking at him, the giant (represented by a motion-capture version of actor Mark Rylance) reaches through the window to pluck her out of bed and, after employing a number of ingenious methods to keep from being spotted on the streets, spirits her off to a faraway land known as Giant Country. Considering the fact that giants are known to relate to children in the way that you or I might relate to a pizza roll, Sophie is understandably concerned about her immediate fate but before long, she realizes that BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant, though fans of the “Doom” video game might argue the point) is actually a big softy who quickly charms her with his oddball malapropisms (such as calling strawberries “strawbumbles”) and his preference for eating a nasty vegetable known as a Snozzcumber over her.

There are other giants however—this is Giant Country, after all—and they, led by the fearsome Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement), both tower over the comparatively tiny BFG and have no compunctions against eating kids. Horrified by their behavior, BFG does everything in his power to protect Sophie from the others and, as a way of trying to compensate for the cruelties committed by others of his kind, regularly ventures into the upside-down world of Dream Country in order to gather the ingredients for good dreams that he surreptitiously blows into the minds of kids while they sleep. Realizing that his brethren have indeed been sneaking into London to snatch and snack on little kids (not shown in any way, it should be noted), BFG decides at last that something must be done and, with the help of Sophie, he returns to London to offer his help to none other than the Queen herself (Penelope Wilton). This meeting, it should be noted, soon devolves into, of all things, an extended sequence revolving around flatulence as the entire court, including her majesty, finds themselves breaking wind after sampling BFG’s preferred beverage, one where the carbonation bubbles float down. Yes, this film has Steven Spielberg utilizing elaborate and cutting edge CGI technology in order to present viewers with an extended fart joke.

The entire Buckingham Palace sequence is probably the low point of the film—it isn’t especially funny, it doesn’t add much of anything to the plot and it goes on forever—but long before it arrives, “The BFG” has already been floundering for quite some time. The chief problem here is that there is precious little story to be had here and what little there is just is not especially interesting when all is said and done. Having not read the original Dahl book, I cannot rightly ascertain whether this is a fault of Mathison’s screenplay or if it comes directly from the source material. Regardless, the simple fact is that while the relationship between Sophie and BFG is cute enough, it doesn’t have enough inherent power to drive a film running nearly two hours long. Take a film like “E.T.”—that did not exactly have the most complex narrative but it still worked beautifully because Spielberg and Mathison were able to find a number of inspired variations on its basic theme and also offered up both a convincing relationship between E.T. and Elliott and a number of fleshed-out supporting characters that further helped to move things along. Here, the relationship between Sophie and BFG sort of works but nothing else seems to click.

Both the screenplay and the film seem strangely underpopulated as Spielberg seems more interested in exploring the various worlds that he and his army of technicians have brought to life than in having anything of substance actually happen in them. For example, there is a lovely extended sequence in which BFG takes Sophie to Dream Country to show her around while harvesting dreams to distribute during his journeys. It is a beautiful scene (perhaps even more beautiful in 2-D, where Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography will not be dulled down because of the 3-D glasses) but since there is no story of consequence to hang it on, it just doesn’t quite pay off. Similarly, the other giants, although fearsome enough at first glance, never really seem like much in the way of a plausible threat—a major disappointment since Dahl was famous for putting dark material into his children’s stories on the basis that they could handle it, perhaps even more so than their parents. The film touches on a number of themes that he has explored in the past—children on the bumpy road to coming of age and the convergence of reality and fantasy being chief among them—but he has had more interesting things to say about them in the past than he does here.

“The BFG” has its momentary pleasures—the performances by newcomer Barnhill and Rylance, whose last collaboration with Spielberg on “Bridge of Spies” earned him a Supporting Actor Oscar, are good, some of the visual treats are indeed exciting (especially the look at Dream Country) and there are a few decent laughs along the way for good measure. More importantly, it doesn’t delve completely into schmaltz as Spielberg has done in the past with material aimed directly at children, such as his segment of “Twilight Zone—The Movie” or the monstrous “Hook.” And yet, on some basic fundamental level, it never really clicks and the whole thing just becomes wearying after a while. Little kids may get a kick out of it but viewers whose ages have reached double-digits are likely to find the whole thing to be a bit tedious after a while. Hopefully as a result of his innate goodness and sense of fair play, perhaps BFG will visit us in the middle of the night with concoctions that will allow us to dream a better movie than this one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27546&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/30/16 11:25:26
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User Comments

7/15/20 Dr.Lao Slow moving but not without charm 3 stars
8/04/16 jeanne Great special effects but everything else is horse-shit. 2 stars
7/22/16 teddy crescendo Laughable garbage and so murderously embarrassing. 1 stars
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  01-Jul-2016 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Dec-2016


  DVD: 06-Dec-2016

Directed by
  Steven Spielberg

Written by
  Melissa Mathison


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