The BFG review: Shame on you. You don’t deserve Steven Spielberg
Director - Steven Spielberg
Cast - Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall
Rating - 3/5
We don’t deserve Steven Spielberg. We don’t deserve his unending talent, his pure, raw ability to keep creating, year after year, movies that will be remembered long after he is gone. It doesn’t matter who you are – you could be a CERN scientist, a mass murderer, or an insurance agent – there is one thing that unites us all in these divisive times: Our inexplicable under-appreciation of Steven Spielberg.
We’re getting the film a few weeks after its international rollout, thanks, as is so often the case, to Salman Khan. But these extra couple of weeks has allowed for some careful introspection. You see, The BFG is, by most accounts, a box office bomb. And for a big-budget summer blockbuster - directed by the man who literally invented the genre - to flop, is… worrying.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It’s certainly not because it’s bad. So could it be because he’s too good? Is it because even his minor movies – and The BFG is very much a minor Spielberg film – are so much better than the usual summer rubbish, that we’ve become complacent? Have we, as a global movie-going audience, started taking him for granted?
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Summer 2016 has been, mostly, a slog. And there, in the unstoppable torrent of tired sequels, unnecessary reboots and cash-grab spinoffs, comes Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story The BFG, a sometimes dark, erratically strange, but mostly quirky tale of an orphan girl Sophie and her new best friend, The Big Friendly Giant.
So where were we? Have we moved on from Steven Spielberg? Is it because we simply don’t have patience anymore for quieter, unabashedly emotional blockbusters? Spielberg had his run for the better part of 3 decades, and now, the message being thrown out there is ‘sure, you may be the highest-grossing director in the history of the medium, but now, it’s time.’
Because obviously: Why would anyone prefer a beautiful coming-of-age tale when they can watch metal robots clang noisily against each other for 5 movies instead? Why would anyone want to watch a magical, breathtakingly shot family film when they can watch 2 hours of incoherent action scenes featuring everyone’s favourite superheroes ramming themselves into each other? Why would anyone watch a touching story of two lonely outcasts becoming best friends and taking on the world together, when they can, at the click of a button, watch 5 Minions fart at each other instead?
The BFG is by no means Spielberg’s best work. In fact, it probably won’t even make the top ten. But that’s not because it’s bad, or even mediocre – it’s just that over the course of 4 decades and dozens of great films, Steven Spielberg - with his friends cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams - has spoilt us. Just like Tintin was him making another Indiana Jones (or maybe apologising for Crystal Skull), The BFG is, at least tonally, a throwback to ET.
Spielberg came close to directing Harry Potter once; you could virtually inhale his aura from all over those first two movies. And for a Potter fan like myself, watching The BFG was a lovely reminder of those early movies. If you, like me, have ever wondered what an entire movie centred exclusively on Harry and Hagrid’s countryside adventures would be like, you can thank the ghost of Godric Gryffindor, because The BFG is it. And as for JA Bayona’s upcoming A Monster Calls – I can hardly wait.
Now, let’s take a paragraph and mention Mark Rylance. Like Quentin Tarantino with Christoph Waltz, Spielberg too has found a muse late in his career. And it’s our good fortune that he’s chosen to share Rylance’s genius with the rest of us. His motion capture performance here is as good as anything Andy Serkis has ever done. This is his one-man-show.
So despite all his successes, including this film, it’s still a mystery why we have seemingly made some sort of collective pact, and turned our backs on one of the greatest filmmakers to have ever lived. We’ve discussed and debated him, his movies and his legacy. We’ve investigated the failure (commercially) of this film. We’ve admired his storytelling, which remains as fresh as it has always been - even after all these years. There is no clear answer. So, after careful thought, I am left with just one conclusion: We don’t deserve Steven Spielberg.