Friday, July 1, 2016

Although not great Spielberg, ‘The BFG’ provides laughs, thrills, great digital effects

By Steve Crum
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1982 novel of the same name, The BFG is a big budget fantasy-adventure that deftly combines live action with digital effects. As director Steven Spielberg’s second fantasy-adventure film, the other being 1991’s mediocre Hook, The BFG turns out to be more satisfying but no classic.
Still there is much to enjoy in this gorgeously mounted film, set both in a downtown London of 30+ years ago and a make believe hilly land, aka Giant Country, located many hours away. The collaboration of Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and set designer Rick Carter is frequently stunning. Melissa Mathison’s fine screenplay is her finale, since she died Nov. 4 last year. She previously worked with Spielberg on the screenplay of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Newcomer actress Ruby Barnhill portrays 10 year-old Sophie, who lives in an orphanage located in London’s inner city. Mark Rylance, who won a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, makes a dandy BFG, the “Big Friendly Giant” of the title. The two occupy most of the film’s nearly two hour running time together, becoming close knit friends to the extent BFG becomes very much Sophie’s surrogate dad. This is a relationship that begins, as the film states, during the “Witching Hour,” at 3 a.m. As usual, Sophie, accompanied by an active imagination, is wandering around the orphanage as everyone else sleeps. It is then she hears a noise in the alley outside, and goes out on the balcony to check. It is a 24-foot giant man, replacing a trash can he has accidentally knocked over while rooting around for food and the like. Then the BFG spies Sophie. Naturally, he cannot just leave her so she will inform others, so…kidnap time. 
What seems at the outset to be great cause for alarm soon turns humorously comfortable after Sophie ends up in BFG’s abode located in the center of Giant Land. Their relationship turns supportive, particularly when Sophie’s new friend has to protect her from the rest of the gigantic inhabitants of Giant Land. 
Like other Dahl stories (Willy Wonka and the like), there is a very dark side to the tale—something we always expect in Grimm’s fairy tales too. In this case, we get irritable guys towering in height and strength over BFG. In fact, they relentlessly bully him. And they eat humans, unlike BFG, who is a vegetarian. 
Conversely, BFG’s worthy purpose in life is to use a butterfly net to collect dreams that illuminate the grassland at night. He then places each in individually labeled jars. The intent is to release chosen dreams to humans in need. You want sweetness in a family movie? Look no further. 
A delightful plus is the film’s language, specifically that of our giant hero. As in Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there is a goofy descriptiveness to the giant’s speech. Whereas the Wonka story introduced us to words like “Oompa-Loompa,”  “gobstopper” and “scrumdiddlyumptious,” the BFG laces his talk with “gobblefunk,” “ucky-mucky,” and “whoopsey-splunkers.” There are even more that are “absolutely squiffling.”
A highlight of the film involves BFG and Sophie visiting the Queen of England. There is actually more to it than a visit, but let us leave some spoilers unrevealed. Herein we get the film’s biggest laugh, which makes the bean eating sequence in Blazing Saddles look like a fizzled liftoff at Cape Canaveral. 
Incidentally, this movie is an example of unnecessary 3D format. Audiences will visually enjoy The BFG just as much flat. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+

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