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The UnPopular Opinion: The BFG

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I am sick and fucking tired of CGI. Call me Old School, but there is just something unsettling about CGI. Each and every time I watch a film with copious amounts of computer generated effects, it pulls me out of the film and ruins my suspension of disbelief. When done well, CGI characters like Thanos in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR or Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS films can elevate and enhance the movie rather than being a distraction. From PLANET OF THE APES to STAR WARS, from THOR: RAGNAROK to KONG: SKULL ISLAND, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and beyond, CGI characters created via motion capture have reached a point where they feel as organic as the costumes worn on physical actors in a movie. But, there are some films where the characters are so clumsy and so clearly animated that it undermines any emotional stakes in the film. And, sometimes, the movie is just plain bad and no amount of technological innovation can save it. THE BFG is one of those utter and complete debacles that it is a wonder it could have come from a filmmaker as brilliant as Steven Spielberg.

Based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, THE BFG could have easily become an animated film and worked beautifully. Dahl's magical prose has been adapted as the great JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and fully benefited from the limitless possibilities of animated storytelling. But, Dahl's other most famous work shows the difficulty inherent in the way you bring things to life. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY used the framework of a musical to portray the over-the-top tale of Willy Wonka. When Tim Burton remade the film as CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the movie felt hollow and did not have the same heart as the original Gene Wilder film. With THE BFG, the use of motion capture leaves Mark Rylance's performance as the Big Friendly Giant stuck in the uncanny valley. For an adaptation that Steven Spielberg claims he had been wanting to make for two decades, THE BFG is so utterly generic and forgettable, it is a shame to see all the hard work put into it go to waste.

The UnPopular Opinion, The BFG, Steven Spielberg, Melissa Mathison, Mark Rylance, Drama, Family, Walt Disney

Rather than feel like a Steven Spielberg film, THE BFG feels like another director attempting to emulate and pay homage to Spielberg's body of work. There are some genuine moments throughout THE BFG that showcased Spielberg's trademark style, but the very next scene would somehow undermine it entirely. From the opening scenes of the film set in the orphanage, THE BFG looks and feels like a carbon copy of HOOK. While that Peter Pan adaptation has a dedicated fanbase, HOOK is one of Spielberg's weaker films. Once the action shifts to the island home of the giants, THE BFG becomes inundated with CGI and never quite feels tangible. Spielberg's recent READY PLAYER ONE often suffers from the same issue, but the special effects in that film are relegated to the virtual world of the OASIS while the real world scenes look tangible. THE BFG, had it been wholly rendered in CGI like THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, would have worked so much better if it had not tried to blend the physical with the animated.

And then there is the issue of the film's final act. What starts as a story of a little girl and her new friend quickly becomes a bizarre and surreal comedy involving the Queen of England and an army assault on the BFG's family. Still, this is a Steven Spielberg film that focuses an entire scene on the Queen having to fart. I am all for toilet humor, but this scene just feels forced. It also doesn't work in connection with the rest of the film. THE BFG feels like three very different films cut together: a fantasy adventure about an orphan girl and a giant, a satire featuring the Queen and the battle with the giants, and a heartwarming family tale about a girl finding the true meaning of friendship. Each act of the film focuses on one of these three threads which never truly come together cohesively. Each one could have worked as a distinct feature film and I would be very interested to see what Steven Spielberg could have brought ot each, but instead we are left with this lifeless movie.

The biggest problem with THE BFG is how utterly forgettable it is. It is hard to grasp that this is a film directed by Spielberg and composed by the iconic John Williams. THE BFG was even shot by Janusz Kamiński, one of the best cinematographers of all time. But, the overuse of green screen leaves THE BFG feeling hollow. The mediocre screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison needed to have a lot more of the darkness in Dahl's source material. By turning this into a lighter and more positive story, THE BFG ends up suffering from too much fluff and not enough depth. Mathison, who wrote the classic E.T., should have left THE BFG as dark as Dahl's similar THE WITCHES which remains one of the scariest children's films of all time. Yet THE WITCHES feels more tangible and organic even with the dated special effects of 1990. That film is a cohesive and memorable movie from filmmaker Nicholas Roeg and did not benefit from the slew of Hollywood elites involved with THE BFG. So how could this movie fail to live up to those lofty standards?

As a parent, when I watch a family film I do so from two angles: as my movie-loving self and on behalf of my kids. Those who grew up in the 1980s remember that family films included movies like FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR and THE GOONIES along with the works of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. So, to see THE BFG in comparison to those films really shows the holes in the production. Yes, the special effects are technically proficient, but that quality sacrifices the acting and story elements of the film. If the films of my childhood had been made with the technology of today, they would likely be even better than I remember but that is because they had great stories behind them. THE BFG is a great book with a great story but the film adaptation renders all of those elements moot.

The UnPopular Opinion, The BFG, Steven Spielberg, Melissa Mathison, Mark Rylance, Drama, Family, Walt Disney

You cannot blame Walt Disney as they have taken chances with various films over the years and have perfected the big budget blockbuster through Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Marvel Studios. Even Disney's recent run of fairy tale remakes (except the ALICE IN WONDERLAND films) feel more memorable than THE BFG. The union of Spielberg and Disney should have been a momentous chapter in the histories of both filmmaker and studio but a decade from now, THE BFG will be almost forgotten. At the very least, it will be at the bottom of Spielberg's filmography as one of his worst films. I know that he still has the magic to make a movie as powerful as his prime era of the 1980s and early 90s, but this is not it. THE BFG is a waste for all involved and will surely go down as another example as to how motion capture and green screen can completely sink a film.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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