Cannes 2016: Steven Spielberg's 'The BFG' Lacks Any Magic or a Story
by Alex Billington
May 17, 2016
Not even snozzcumbers can fix this film. Why did it feel so bland and so pointless? It's hard to make sense of it. Steven Spielberg's latest film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic book The BFG, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Oddly, it seems very out of place here. It's definitely a kids movie, to a fault, as it's the kind of kids movie that you can't really enjoy unless you're younger than 16 years old. And that's not the case for most kids movies (see: Pixar). Spielberg does his best to bring stunning visuals and great performances to the film, but it lacks that magic touch of his previous work, and seriously lacks an actual story. There's a young girl, a friendly giant, lots of snozzcumbers, the Queen of England, but not much else.
Even from the first 20 minutes of the film, I was already wondering where the heck this script is going and why there seems to be no actual story structure. It starts out with a gorgeous shot of London, to establish location, then immediately jumps into the opening lines with newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. From there she meets the "big friendly giant" barely a few scenes later, played through performance capture by Mark Rylance, and they're already off to giant land without much context or setup. At this point I'm already so disinterested in where things are going, that by the time the plot actually has some interesting twists – including a fizzy soda that makes everyone fart, and an encounter with the Queen of England and her corgi dogs – it doesn't add anything to the experience. It's fun to watch, sure, but really that's about it.
Part of the big problem is the lack of any magical, emotional feeling at all throughout the entire film. If it's supposed to be an inspiring and empowering film for kids, then it's supposed to have a nice message that they can latch onto throughout. That message seems to be that our dreams are important and can help take us places or change the world. However, these dreams are realized quite literally as colorful, fairy dust-like dancing characters locked inside jars stored at the BFG's home. But they never amount to much. And even though they go to various beautiful places in giant land and the real world, these visuals feel empty. Which is quite weird because that's not normally the case with Spielberg, and I can't figure out what went wrong.
The marketing is pitching the film as comparable to Spielberg's classic, E.T., but it's nowhere near as good as E.T. by a long shot. That film I can rewatch anytime and still be impressed by it, no matter how old I am. However, The BFG seems to be a one-and-done experience. Maybe it will connect better with young kids, and maybe some people will have fun with it; hopefully it finds that audience. Rylance playing the BFG is wonderful and there are a few very charming moments (like the scene in the teaser image above) but these moments are so far and few between that they don't leave any lasting impression. Which is unfortunate because this film could've been much more magical and inspiring, but sadly that's just not the case. Oh well.
Alex's Cannes 2016 Rating: 5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing