Skip to main content

I's not having the foggiest idea in the world.

The BFG
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Big Friendly Giant? Big Fucking Git? Baggy Flaccid Grind, more like. I can only account for the generally positive critical reception to The BFG being down to the Hollywood royalty status reserved for Steven Spielberg these days. Audiences weren’t going to buy a lame duck, though, which is why it rightly bombed. This is the director’s weakest picture since Hook, and while it isn’t an outright disaster the way that sorry spectacle is (Dustin Hoffman honorably excepted), it suggests, ironically, that the mastermind behind one of the most successful kids’ movies ever (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, in case you were wondering) comes a cropper when he expressly attempts to chase that audience. The BFG is dramatically inert and comedically inept (the latter never the director’s strong point when he’s trying too hard for it, as he is here) and visually unappetising. Perhaps it’s time for the ‘berg, just turned 70, to bow out gracefully? Or accept that he no longer has it when it comes to filling multiplexes.


The tester will be his next, Ready Player One, which unwisely finds him diving into the ‘80s nostalgia he was a key figure in fashioning the landscape for, which smacks of playing with fire. But, in the post-mortem on The BFG, you can readily point to a giant’s fist of reasons for its failure. Expanding a slender tale to a two-hour movie is probably top of the list, particularly since there’s minimal drama, wonder or awe to fill the void.


Then there are the effects, which I suppose give the reliable Mark Rylance a passing resemblance to Quentin Blake’s original artwork, but entirely fail to convince that they’re anything other than motion captured, CG renderings (but then, only a bloody ijit would think it made sense to try to give Blake’s art a “realistic” rendering). On top of which, we have the inevitable Janusz Kaminski cinematography; the odd vista aside, his clinician’s approach feels entirely inappropriate to the warm, inviting hues one would expect of a family movie. You can feel him longing to get back to East Berlin. As for John Williams’ score, dragging the poor guy out of retirement for Star Wars and Spielfests isn’t doing his legacy any favours; he’s clearly all out of ideas and inspiration.


Having tepidly navigated the dubious waters of a larger-than-life, silvery-haired protagonist with a peculiar inflection who engages in child abduction (and who makes fast friends with royalty) without alluding to ‘70s BBC TV presenters (but it’s alright, this is set in the ‘80s… oh, wait….), Spielberg settles into a story that…. doesn’t go anywhere. Slowly. Not helping matters is that, while Rylance is fine, if uncommanding, Ruby Barnhill is never in danger of lighting up the screen in the crucial role of young lead Sophie. The problems are mainly director-based, though, as the ‘berg fails to instil even a modicum of momentum into a meandering and unengaged story (perhaps, given it was Melissa Mathison’s final work, he was reluctant to prune it).


There are encounters with other giants (Jermaine Clement is on good vocal form as Fleshlumpeater, but alas there’s scant mirth for him to dig into; he ought to have been given a long leash to improvise) and dream spreading (like everything else here, they are sadly literal and unmagical). There’s also farting (far too CG and not nearly naughty enough, if you’ll pardon the far too likely), and you can practically smell the ‘berg’s embarrassment over it. We also encounter Penelope Wilton’s Queen, oddly not portrayed as a cannibalistic lizard (or she’d no doubt join forces with the bad giants), who farts less than regally (a pair of corgis blowing off and express training across the palace floor did raise a smile, but that was about the only incident that did) and whom the BFG, the Ed Snowden of his kind, betrays the other giants to.


Spielberg never gets the tone right, or the visuals. The BFG is never whimsical or playful enough, bouncy enough, spirited enough, anarchic enough or dark enough, funny enough, and all far too (if you’ll pardon the far too) literal to embrace Dahl’s flight of fantasy and benign/warped silliness; one quickly comes to the conclusion that live-action wasn’t the way to go, but I think, more to the point, tired old Steven wasn’t the guy to make The BFG, unless Disney (for whom it’s his first picture; someone won’t be asked back) wanted something to send kids into actual dream land 10 minutes in.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.