Saturday, 23 July 2016

Review: The BFG

Cert: PG / 117 mins / Dir. Steven Spielberg / Trailer

In order to explain my greatest bugbear(s) with Mr Spielberg's latest work, I have to drop some pretty big plot-points which will only hold context with you, dear reader, if you're already familiar with the story. They're called spoilers, and they begin thusly…

Some way into the third act of the film, the BFG character indicates on (well, off) a map that 'Giant Country' is located somewhere between Greenland and Norway. Now, it's about 650 miles from London (where the scene takes place) to the northernmost point of mainland Britain, and when our friendly central character earlier abducted the protagonist in the middle of the night (also in London) he then runs (and jumps, when it comes to the path of rock-stacks over the sea) to 'Giant Country'.

Even accounting for his height of 70 feet or so, he's only shown to be running at around 50mph, tops. Even in a straight line, it's going to take around 12-13 hours to reach the top of Scotland (and this journey begins at 3am, as the story explicitly states), never mind the further distance he has to cover across the sea. Let's be generous and say he can achieve twice that speed. It's possible (although unlikely) that the further north he travels, the less chance there is of him being seen by humans (this will affect his route and add extra time, though). At best, It'd still be around 10am (broad daylight) when he gets to the Highland shoreline, with the girl held in a single blanket (but not wrapped around her) and wearing only a night-dress. While the temperature will increase with the onset of daybreak, it'll also get colder the further north they travel, plus she's being whizzed (largely unprotected) through the air at around 100mph (and the faster they go, the colder it will feel to the captive). Let's be honest, Sophie would have died from shock and exposure by the time they reached Carlisle.

And if you can get over that, you'll have no problem accepting a story where, at its climax, The Queen of the United Kingdom sends a military task-force to blindly invade a previously undiscovered country and forcibly relocate the indigenous inhabitants, all on the assurance of one science-defying person that she's never met before and his radicalised recruit. I'm sure that all looked better on paper….

+ + + + + + +

Now, this film wasn't really aimed at me. The reason my inner-cynic was allowed to rampage throughout the run-time was the disengagement I felt, separating me from the events on-screen. It's not that I actively disliked The BFG at all, more that it frustrated and even bored me.

One of my most recurrent problems of the first two acts is that I couldn't tell when the story was actually meant to be taking place*1. The damp, cobbled streets of London, complete with slightly old-fashioned cars and the orphanage with the wrought-iron signage suggested the 1940s or 50s, as did the apparent lack of modern technology on display (although television gets a mention midway through the script). The rural setting of Giant Country is suitably timeless, then an extra strolls across the London set wearing a bomber jacket and baseball cap. This hung around the back of my mind, nagging at me, until a brief snippet of the aforementioned Queen features her making a phone call to 'Nancy/Ronnie', securing the action firmly in the 1980s. While it's admittedly refreshing to see a movie set in that time-period which doesn't have a Rubik's Cube lurking in every other shot, knowing the setting earlier would have at least given me more cultural grounding for the story.

The animation is superb in and of itself, but the stylisation and physics of the giants never quite sits properly in the real-world surroundings. A work-colleague of mine is looking cautiously forward to this movie, but is worried about the Americanisation of one of her childhood favourites. I'm pleased to say that it largely avoids that trap, although the requisite John Williams score feels a little heavy-handed. Very accomplished, of course (and far more engaged with the film than his work for SW:TFA), but it's always "on", filling in the gaps which the film needs to let it breathe.

And on the actually positive side, I have to say that Mark Rylance is on suitably great form, both in his voice-work and motion-capture performance. The real star of the film is Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, though, especially given the amount of greenscreen work she puts in. She's emotive, sincere and never patronising or annoying, which is almost unheard of for this sort of thing. And yet the closer the film puts the main characters (physically), the less they work together, somehow, and neither character seems to really develop.

Have you ever eaten a cake, baked by someone you know (and whose previous cakes you've loved), full of ingredients you like, which looks nice but seems to taste of cardboard and packing foam? That.

While I'm struggling to put my finger on precisely why The BFG didn't work for me, a movie this noncommittal and anachronistic from the director of Indiana Jones, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the screenwriter of E.T. should be downright impossible, never mind allowable

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
I'm genuinely not sure…

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you're a fan of previous versions of the story, sure.
If it's just the kids that want entertaining during the holidays, Finding Dory comes out this time next week

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For my money? No.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
To reiterate: Ruby Barnhill is superb in this movie.
She's set a high bar for herself, but great things await her

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.
You'll have to explain yourself, though

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The film's got Bill 'voice-consultant for BB-8' Hader in it.
Well, a voice/mo-cap version of him, at least.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Unfortunately I'm not very familiar with the story itself. And while that would certainly put me on the back foot if I'd been watching a sequel or spinoff, it really shouldn't matter here.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. The final third of the story really threw me off. Otherwise I thought the film was enjoyable. Not amazing, but enjoyable.

    - Zach