Yeah, a pretty big f****n’ guy!
Ten-year-old Sophie (Sophie Barnhill) is an orphan, pretty lonely, bored and not quite happy with her life. So, it’s obvious that she’s definitely ripe and ready for any adventure that she can find, even if it just so happens to be by the side of the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). While she’s initially scared of the Giant, she soon starts to realize that there’s something more to him than just being monstrous and talking funny; he’s actually quite sweet and actually wants her to feel comfortable and happy being around him. After all, the Big Friendly Giant feels as if he can’t let her go back to the real world, where she’ll most definitely be going on and on about the Giant, making everyone suspicious and worried about its actual whereabouts. And while, for a short time, Sophie and the BFG are getting along just fine, fellow, meaner giants like Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and others, start sniffing around, looking for something to eat, giving both Sophie and the BFG the idea of how to stop these big, bad and evil giants once and for all.
Steven Spielberg is at that stage in his career now where he doesn’t need to appease anything, or anyone. He doesn’t need to prove anything to himself, or to anybody else, as he’s basically done all that a director and storyteller can do. He’s basically done it all and now, for the time being, it seems like Spielberg is just going to do what he wants, when he wants, and however he wants it. After all, with all the great movies that he’s done, why shouldn’t that be the case?
And heck, when Disney’s footing the bill, the time for play gets even more fun and grand, right?
Well, yes, it actually does. That’s why a movie like the BFG is, oddly enough, a neat little experiment of his; while he’s made family-friendly movies in the past, by far, none of them have ever equaled the silly, childish play of the BFG, not to mention that it’s source material, from Roald Dahl, is also a bit odd for Spielberg’s tastes. He’s been weird before, but Spielberg has never gone to the full limits of weird and fantastical that he has to with the BFG and that’s one of the main reasons why it can be such a joy to watch. You almost get the feeling that Spielberg himself is having a blast trying on some new skin for once, not having to answer anybody, or prove that he’s still got the talent that he was praised so heavily for back earlier in his career.
Now, with something like the BFG, he’s going to try some new things out and, in the process, enjoy himself while he’s at it. He’s like the old man who, once he gets the chance to finally retire, soaks it all in by changing his schedule around a whole bunch, while also still maintaining the usual, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, and bedtime. Except that in this case, Spielberg isn’t retired, nor showing any signs of such, and he doesn’t need to change his whole schedule around.
Cause honestly, after watching the BFG, it reminds me a lot of what Spielberg is capable of doing: Making any story, no matter how weird or realistic, compelling to watch.
The first act of the BFG is quite great because it’s actually somewhat different from what we’re used to expecting with Disney-approved kids movies of this nature. Rather than being all about the visual splendor and grandeur, Spielberg allows for his film to take a slower-approach to the relationship between the BFG and Sophie. A movie of this nature, with a much-less inspired director, would have shoved all of the talking and character development to the side for more special-effects and wacky, wild action, but Spielberg is not that director. He knows that in order for us to actually end up giving a hoot about this tale at all, we have to spend some time with these characters, get to know them a bit, and also realize just what the heck is at stake here.
And it all works out, too, because Mark Rylance and Sophie Barnhill are both pitch perfect for their own respective roles. Rylance gets a lot to do with the BFG, because it’s a performance that’s solely reliant on his facial-expressions – all of which come out beautifully in the special-effects and makes us feel like we truly are watching a giant (not that I’ve ever seen one). While it would have been easy for Barnhill to get mixed-up in having to basically act towards a tennis ball the whole time, she actually works pretty well with it; we never get the sense that she’s talking to the mid-air, nor that she’s outmatched by Rylance’s spark and wit. Together, they have a nice chemistry that transcends being what we normally expect from one like this, and it’s mostly due to the fact that Barnhill and Rylance seem to be enjoying themselves just as much as Spielberg is, but with the add-on of more conviction.
Always need more conviction.
Of course, the BFG isn’t a perfect movie, as we can come to expect with this latter-career Spielberg. The movie clearly has three parts to it; the first being good, the last being fine, and the middle one being pretty terrible. Getting to know these characters means slowing things down, sure, but the movie also decides that there doesn’t need to be an actual, driving-plot to really keep things interesting. It’s almost as if Spielberg decided to himself, at that point in time, that everyone would be so enamored with the BFG, that any sort of compelling story didn’t need to be explained or, better yet, even hinted at. Problem is, the movie never seems to get going with its plot until, well, it’s way too late. And it’s barely under two hours, making a rather long kids movie, but an even longer movie once the middle-act comes around.
But then Spielberg gets his act together, brings us to London in a last-minute twist that’s funny, sweet, and oddly enough, kind of interesting. Spielberg knows how to comedy in general, but never has really displayed it so much for kids, as often as he does in the BFG and if anything, the last-act is a perfect showing of that.
Now, if only we get more fun from Spielberg.
Consensus: While a bit choppy in the story-department, the BFG finds Spielberg in a relaxed, but enthusiastic mood, trying new and fun things out, seeing how well they all work out, and allowing us to watch it all play out.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire