Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie Review: "The BFG" (2016)

© Walt Disney Pictures

I'm going to try to keep this one [kinda] short. For me. I know, alert the media. The reason being is that I feel bad about hating this movie so, so much. It is, after all, for children, directed by one of the greatest directors of all time, adapted from a book by one of the most adored authors ever, and the trailer made me tear up without fail. All the ingredients were there, and yet this new version of The BFG was unexpected, insufferable garbage. Worst of all? It was so boring.

You know the story. Ten-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) may be a dreamer and a reader, but she's also considered a bit of a stubborn troublemaker at the orphanage where she lives. As all wild spirits are wont to do, Sophie is happiest wandering the halls playfully late a night alone—that is until one night when she spots, out by a lamp post on the street, a Giant (Mark Rylance). He, naturally, spots her, too. Fearing she'll reveal his existence to the world, he snatches her up and whisks her away to Giant Country, where he's made his long-time home in the bowels of a hillside.

When Sophie notices that this frightening 24-foot creature isn't all that frightening at all, he reveals himself as the Big Friendly Giant and a curious friendship blossoms. But this real-life dream catcher isn't alone in this world, and the other, larger giants certainly aren't as friendly. Instead, they're human being eating machines, and it's up to Sophie to convince the BFG that only he can save the children of London from being snatched from their beds by revealing the existence of giants to the world. Easier said than done.

The story isn't the problem. In fact, keeping most of the original story intact is all director Steven Spielberg (but mostly writer Melissa Mathison) does right. As the story develops in this cinematic version, however, it becomes immediately clear that we're in for quite a slog. Introductions are what they are, and Sophie and BFG get there quickly, but Spielberg then spends a significant amount of time bouncing pointlessly around throughout BFG's home and world and work and thoughts and dreams... without ever really revealing much.

The same scenes and conversations continue to happen, from the back and forths to London to the bone-crunching "evil" giants continuously bumbling their way in and out of the action. Smell a human, Look for it, Find Nothing. Smell a human, Look for it, Find Nothing.... rinse and repeat. Some scenes last an inexplicably long time (re: that bloody awful breakfast scene at Buckingham Palace) and contain really stupid moments that we're forced to endure unnecessarily, while other more important moments (the final battle of the giants) are over in a flash. How could you be expected to focus on the meaningful connection between Sophie and BFG in a film so poorly constructed?

Author Roald Dahl is known for playing around with tone, not to mention language and theme. He was a master at experimenting with the unsettling nature of childhood and magic—but Spielberg had no idea how to handle one of Dahl's most famous stories. That's what infuriated me, because he should have. This is the guy that brought E.T. to life! How could he so drastically miss the mark with basically the CGI equivalent of E.T. meets Peter Pan? He simply tries so hard to be important, to pay the necessary credence to the story, that the movie inflates with its own sense of stunted self-awe—and then bursts like a balloon.

Small pieces of the film were beautiful, like the way the dreams themselves were animated, almost tangible and so emotionally affecting. But anything enjoyable (including the adorable Ruby Barnhill) was overshadowed by the messy tone of the terror mixed with slapstick, that it took everything in my power to not furrow my brow and scowl at the whole thing. Had I expected less, perhaps I wouldn't have viewed it so harshly. But as Roger Ebert might say, I hated hated hated this movie.

Hey, turns out this wasn't so short after all. Oh well.

Rating: ★½ / 5 stars

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