All my life, I’ve been a fan of Disney. For that same stretch of time, I’ve been a fan of Steven Spielberg. Both the Disney studios and Spielberg’s production companies, Amblin Entertainment and Dreamworks, have created some of my favorite movies of all time. The BFG combines the two, and I feel that it’s a movie worth seeing before it leaves theaters.
The movie is based on a book by the late Roald Dahl. I never read the book, but I did see an earlier animated adaptation in the early 90s, strangely enough on The Disney Channel. I liked that animated movie, but I love what Spielberg did with the material. To sum up the plot briefly: Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a young British orphan with insomnia. Awake one night, she is suddenly and surprisingly taken away by the BFG (Mark Rylance), or put longer, the Big Friendly Giant. Unlike the other giants who reside in his valley, the BFG is a kind one who specializes in catching and taking care of dreams and nightmares. Sophie and The BFG form a friendship, with Sophie encouraging The BFG to stand up to the other giants, and The BFG becoming a father figure to Sophie.
I was captivated from the opening credits, when the current Walt Disney Pictures logo was followed by the Amblin Entertainment logo, which I was pleasantly surprised to hear had John Williams’ logo music accompanying it. That music hadn’t been heard since the 1988 VHS debut of E.T, and in its’ own way, the music signaled a return to fantasy for Spielberg. Many of his films in the past decade have been about serious subject matter. While they’ve gotten Oscar nominations, and wins in the cases of Lincoln and Bridge Of Spies, despite how good they were, they lacked magic by dealing with real-life subject matter.
One of the highlight of the movie is John Williams’ score. Williams and Spielberg, with some exceptions, have been a team for more than 40 years now, and their collaboration continues to amaze me. One of the best pieces from Williams’ score is “Dream Country”, the music that accompanies The BFG and Sophie as he tells her about the work he does with dreams. Seeing The BFG and Sophie gathering dreams, and the occasional nightmare, in a magical land upside-down in a lake (you’ll have to see the movie to see what I mean), is a reminder of what Spielberg and Williams are capable of when working together. The music sounds like it could’ve come from Raiders Of The Lost Ark or the aforementioned E.T.
I also thought the special effects were amazing. Normally motion-capture is unnerving, as a lot of characters tend to look like they took a trip to the Uncanny Valley. The special effects in this movie, though, made Rylance and the other actors playing giants (including Jemaine Clement as the villainous Fleshlumpeater and Bill Hader as the apologetic-too-late Bloodbottler) look natural, or as natural as you would expect real giants to look.
I wonder why this movie has been doing so poorly. People are saying it’s Spielberg’s biggest bomb since 1941, and not even the reviews, which have been good, for the most part, were enough to save it. Some have put the blame on Disney for devoting more resources and promotion to Finding Dory, which I also saw recently and loved, and also for possibly spiting Spielberg for returning to the Universal lot for his filmmaking. Others have said that it’s Spielberg himself who has lost his way as the definition of blockbuster has changed. Still others have put the blame on the title. While Roald Dahl was a well-known name up until his death, nowadays one usually thinks of the words “Big Fucking Gun” when they hear the initials BFG.
While I find Spielberg at the top of his craft with this movie, I can say that there might be some truth to the idea that the blockbuster has changed. While all movies are fantasies (even documentaries bend and shape reality to support the viewpoints of the filmmakers), it seems that live-action fantasy is now the almost-exclusive realm of the superhero, whether they’re the fun ones of Marvel or the grim ones of DC Comics. Fantasies like The BFG, on the other hand, are primarily the domain of animation now, and while this movie did have lots of CGI effects, it was still nominally a live-action film. As my own film-making attempts were limited to a video I made with a childhood friend, and some projects in my 12th grade video class before problems with the students and the commute to school each day took me out of the class, I really wish I could hazard a better idea as to why this movie appears to have failed.
All I know is this: In my opinion, if you want a movie for the entire family to enjoy, don’t miss this film. In my opinion, this is a worthy heir to the Spielberg classics of the 70s and 80s. Finally, in my opinion, this movie deserves some recognition at the Oscars next year. Although Disney will probably be making their animated films the primary focus, I hope that, in terms of nominations, Disney can give this movie the love it neglected to give it in marketing and promotion.
If you’ll excuse me, I think I may end up with quite the Whizzpopper because of what I ate today. What’s a Whizzpopper? See The BFG and find out for yourself.