In the world of cinema, I option to see films at the theater any possible time that I can, as the theater offers the most purest form of escapism I can imagine. As the lights go dim, and trailers play, you prepare yourself for whatever is to come. Then, just as you have finished mulling over what films you are (or are not) going to see next month, the lights completely extinguish. It’s just you, the screen, a projector, and the creative world that plays out before you.
A great film under the spell of a great director, cast, and crew, should eloquently transport you, and whisk you away to some other borderline-ethereal experience. This is pure escapism.
When cinema works best, be it indie films or the latest blockbuster fare, these experiences are when I feel most comfortable and at peace. A great film experience can, change a life. I hope and trust the world of filmmaking will continue to surprise me with experiences like these. Moments where all real-life responsibilities disappear; all safeguards turn off; and I can be encapsulated by the world that someone else has created, and now wishes to showcase.
I am, and always have been, a die-hard Steven Spielberg fan. In the world of filmmaking, this is one man who has continued to show excellency and utmost professionalism in his ability to do all that I have mentioned above. I attribute an unheard of level of respect to him for making my favorite film of all time, Jurassic Park. He and his crew brought to life a world that I have always wanted to be real. I live and breath the essence of Jurassic Park. It is my life-force, and has been since I was a toddler. I can name every character, quote every scene, and make the exact same sound effects whenever they happen. I can imagine and describe every costume, set design, and brilliant shot of the entire film. And yet, every single time I watch it, I still watch it with new eyes. It is pure escapism for me.
So, as Spielberg has encroached over 40 years of filmmaking, and having presented very unusual artistic patterns over said years (some understated highs, some notable lows), it absolutely pains me to say what I am about to say:
The BFG may be Spielberg’s worst film to date.
A few excellent performances from an incredible cast, and another beautiful score from John Williams, cannot save the film from: a horrendously sporadic screenplay; questionable uses of CGI; and some of the most jarring tonal inconsistencies I have ever seen before.
Ugh… I hate drawing this comparison to a notoriously worse film, but have you ever seen Nothing but Trouble, the Dan Akyroyd fever dream film? It’s similar in execution.
The film, based off of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel of the same name, follows Sophie, an orphan girl, who accidentally gets swept up into the magical world of giants in a nearby dimension. When she befriends a Big Friendly Giant, the two must help each other in stopping a series of other evil giants who are kidnapping and eating children in London.
The film does follow the novel pretty closely. However, therein lies the first initial problem. It shouldn’t. Or, at least it should make a decision between the following two options. Either A: Make a live-action adaptation, but divert from the novel on plot-points that are going to be or look or feel ridiculous in live action, OR B Make a completely animated film in the style of Adventures of Tintin, and tell the story as it is. The final “finished” film is somewhere dangerously in the middle, and begs for clarity. By being so oddly in the middle, the more outrageous scenes come off as odd when compared to the grounded reality scenes, and the grounded reality scenes come off as outlandish to the more outrageous scenes.
It’s a strange Catch-22 that leaves the audience perturbed and tired. Furthermore, it is distracting, and removes the excuse of “this is a movie meant for children.” How can it be meant for children, when an adult can’t make heads or tails out of how to interpret the laughable plot? Spielberg’s critically-hazed children’s film Hook is more tonally consistent and thought-out than this mess.
This film suffers from impeccably abhorrent tonal inconsistencies, for which I mostly blame the screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, who is famed for penning the eloquent masterpiece E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. A shame that she returns to the foray with this incoherent mess. Per example, a scene in which the evil giants suspect that the BFG is harboring Sophie, they decide to scour through his abode in search of her. The music and scene play out fairly slapsticky, which is not a genre or tone that had been presented thus far in the film towards the grander scheme of the story. More so, in tandem with this scene is a moment where Sophie discovers the lost chambers of a deceased boy who used to live with the BFG. It is supposed to be this quiet moment of discovery for her, but it is lost with the gigantic “funny” mess that is the moment with the giants.
How can an audience know how or what to feel, when it is being simultaneously fed two different emotions, both so jarringly different than the other?
Scenes like these are all over the place, and range in tonal variations. Some scenes ask the audience to jump back and forth between awe and discovery, then to nightmarish horror. Some ask the audience to be fearful, and then to laugh, all in a matter of seconds. These are things that I would assume a master like Spielberg could pull off if need be, but with a story that doesn’t need these emotional competitions, I don’t see the point of them.
What doesn’t help is that the scenes are edited so drastically close in succession to each other, as well as the pacing being either fast or drawn out. This leaves little time (or ample time) to mull over what exactly happened in the scenes, but unfortunately, to the point of questioning why they are even important. I, for one, found frequent Spielberg editor, Michael Kahn, to be at his absolute worst with this film, as scenes bounced to and fro from each other, with little to no precedent.
There are no stakes or goals throughout, or at least until some character makes one up. And then, when the characters must focus on the goal, it is quickly dealt with, just in time for some other nonsensical scene to appear. The best this film has to offer are the performances and the score. The film features a cast of A-List actors, all of which are mostly performing in motion-capture. Mark Rylance, who previously performed in Spielberg’s more recent venture, “Bridge of Spies” (a film I was also unpleasantly disappointed by), turns in an excellent performance as the titular character. Joined at his side is Ruby Barnhill in her feature film debut, and she absolutely steals the show, delivering a very emotional performance throughout. In supporting roles is an absolutely stellar cast, ranging from Bill Hader, Jemaine Clements, and Rebecca Hall. In an utterly useless role as an assistant for the Queen of England is one of my favorite actors of the last decade, Rafe Spall (if you have not seen him in Black Mirror’s White Christmas, do so immediately). He is reduced to a minute character with little to do in the film. He, unfortunately, mostly stands around during the most ridiculous segment of the film, in which Sophie convinces the Queen of England to use military force against the giants in Giant Country.
Finally, the score. John Williams returns to the mantle after taking a hiatus from Bridge of Spies and delivers another beautiful modern-Spielbergian score, reminiscent of his work in A.I. Artificial Intelligence which is arguably some of his best work to date. I found myself tearing up a little just at the score alone. Literally. Just the score. Definitely not the film.
Aside from these two aspects, there really isn’t much more to discuss. The cinematography is occasionally beautiful, but distracting more often than not. The special effects were fairly well done, but also distracting at times. The negatives absolutely outweigh the positives. Horrendous screenplay, tonal issues everywhere, and borderline experimental editing throughout ultimately leave for a tiring film. As a Spielberg fan, I have seen him venture from non-stop hit after hit through multiple decades (1970s through 1998), on to a series of films showcasing a new, personal, artistic discovery (2001 to 2005) and most recently to a series of unusual ventures that seem to represent a desire for expression. And I will always be an ardent fan of what comes next.
But with The BFG I feel he has made his worst to date, and I found that I could not escape to this abhorrent world he showcased.
Written by: Jake Sanders