Dueling Critics: The BFG

07:22 July 05, 2016
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

An orphan girl is kidnapped by a gentle giant in Steven Spielberg's latest fantasy, The BFG.

Fritz: We're both pretty big Steven Spielberg fans, but our opinions differed on his latest effort, The BFG (based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl with a screenplay by the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial scribe, the late Melissa Mathison). I don't think it's a bad film, but you liked it more than I did. What about it appealed to you?

David: While it is lesser Spielberg and it is protracted and barely has a plot, I do feel it is a nice, wispy film filled with imagination and heart. The beautiful and colorful images are almost meditative, and the performances are a delight. Mark Rylance gives a soul to the Big Friendly Giant who is an outcast, and young Ruby Barnhill has spunk as the feisty orphan Sophie.

What are your reservations about the movie?

Fritz: As you say, it barely has a plot (interestingly, Spielberg said in an interview that one of his notes on an early draft of the script was that it needed more plot). For about 80 minutes, all we learn is that 1.) the girl and the BFG are both outcasts, 2.) the BFG is bullied by his child-eating brothers, and 3.) the BFG creates dreams. You don't need 80 minutes to convey that information. That could've easily been conveyed in half the time.

The inertia of the first 80 minutes is made even more obvious by how much the movie springs to life once the Queen (Downton Abbey's Penelope Wilton) enters the film. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall also do good work as two of the queen's attendants. Once the action shifts to Buckingham Palace, the film develops a humor and an energy it was lacking for most of its first two-thirds. I could even feel the audience at our screening perk up for the final third. The film needed to introduce the Queen to the story earlier or get to her sooner by dramatically cutting down the first two-thirds (the film runs 117 minutes, so it could easily afford to have 15-20 minutes shaved off of it).

David: Yes, the scenes with the Queen are uproarious, and I agree that the movie could have used some judicious editing to pair down the first half. However, I feel The BFG has enough magic in it for me to give it a recommendation. 

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