By Christian DiMartino
I feel no shame in admitting that I have an insanely high standard when it comes to the work of Steven Spielberg. To go further, I’ll say that the only person to blame for such an expectation is Spielberg himself. For making such amazing films.
Since Jaws back in 1975, Spielberg has been breaking ground, kicking ass, and taking names. As an enthusiast, I will admit that not all of his films are masterpieces. But yet I’m perfectly fine with that, considering this is the man brought us Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, to name a few. Nobody’s perfect, they can’t all be perfect, and that’s why I can forgive his latest, The BFG, for its imperfections.
Yes, considering all of those films above, it is a letdown. But you simply just can’t go into this film expecting a masterpiece. But if you’re me, it is sort of difficult not to. This is mostly because here Spielberg teams up with the late Melissa Matheson, who just so happened to bring us what I think is Spielberg’s best work, E.T. E.T. this ain’t. But this is a charming little film with pleasures galore.
Newcomer Ruby Barnhill is a real winner as Sophie, a London orphan who just so happens to spot a giant lurking around at night. To avoid having a witness, he captures her, and takes her back to his lair, where we’re led to believe he’s going to kill her. But we actually learn that he’s the “Big Friendly Giant” (and I, like you, wish the F stood for something else). He’s smaller than the rest of the giants (to the point where he’s bullied), and he’s actually a vegetarian. The title role is played by Mark Rylance, who just won an Oscar for Spielberg’s last film, Bridge of Spies. He gives a warm, lovely performance, occasionally speaking in tongues. This last touch might irk some, but it just drew me to him more.
As for the rest of the movie, well, the plot is fairly thin. I’ll admit it. He has the ability to make dreams and plant them in people. This comes in handy, especially when he gets tired of getting pushed around by his fellow Giants.
I do think The BFG is a good film. It’s visually gorgeous, not only in terms of the beautiful cinematography by Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski, but also in terms of visual effects. It’s also fairly entertaining and it benefits from having Rylance and Barnhill together. You can also feel the spirit of Roald Dahl alive in well in this material.
But yet it suffers from one little thing: it simply doesn’t deserve its runtime. Luckily it is a film that runs on charm (with occasional laughs). And I realize that Spielberg has made three hour epics in this past. But yet there were more to those films. When I left the theatre, I thought back to just everything that happens in The BFG, and you know what? I think I could sum it up within maybe five minutes. Maybe less. It’s a lite, fun movie. But Spielberg has taken a very short book, and stretched it to two hours.
But at least we get our money’s worth. This is a labor of love, and thankfully, not a labor for its audience. Spielberg has made better films, and God willing, he will continue to make better. But this one is good enough.