You can often tell how well a studio believes a movie will be received with the levels of catering provided at the preview being inversely proportional with the quality of the film.
For example: Zoolander 2 gave everybody free popcorn and drinks (not a good sign, and the movie STANK), Alice in Wonderland 2 provided high tea and cakes (that’s some high level audience bribes), and in 2006 for Jackass 2 at the critics screening we were provided with so much gourmet pizza and a slab of beer each that nobody remembered the film but we did all have a very good time.
Before I meander too far away from reviewing The B.F.G. and start reviewing catering, I really think it’s important to point out the food provided at the preview of The B.F.G.: they provided NOTHING.
So high is the confidence that they’re on with a winner here that I received not a single bribe with my free tickets. And how could they not be? It’s an adaptation of a beloved children’s classic, it’s celebrating the 100th birthday of author Roald Dahl, and it’s widely promoted as the first time the powerhouses of Steven Spielberg and Disney have worked together.
Unfortunately though, just like the overpriced popcorn I had to buy myself, the film is somewhat lukewarm.
In The B.F.G. you have the magical Mark Rylance and a kid actor who works perfectly and isn’t annoying (Ruby Barnhill is amazing), you have dialogue true to and taken heavily from Roald Dahl’s wonderful turns of phrase, a great deal of world building to flesh out the situation, and fantastical spectacle in what is almost entirely a flawlessly detailed CG world.
BUT, it all comes together a little flat. It never quite sparkles, and I personally have some big problems with it. Most importantly: they changed the ending.
THEY. CHANGED. THE. ENDING.
Some reviews are critiquing the film for being almost too loyal to the source material, but as I write this, I have my copy of the book open, just to make sure I’m not imagining this. I’m not. Gone is the happy home for unlikely friends, to be replaced with something weirdly racist and border protection friendly with maybe even a hint of “offshore processing”. I don’t know why I find this so unacceptable and I didn’t really care about changes in this years’ The Jungle Book the same way, but somehow marketing the film as a celebration of Dahl’s genius and then changing it managed to annoy me.
This kind of cements and highlights some of the other problems the film has, which, at best, is a perfectly serviceable yet soon forgettable school holidays family film.
The characters lack depth at times, the movie lacks major laughs until about 4/5ths of the way through, and the Disney-fication of what should be somewhat scary beasties is a bit ho-hum. The parade of grotesques that is the hallmark of Dahl and visualised in print by Quentin Blake are sanitised to a high themepark sheen.
The visuals as well, whenever they chose to spin and splatter, are pushing the 3D envelope as hard as they can, and I suspect that the design is more of an experiment in seasickness than audience enjoyment. It almost seems that this film primarily is to teach children to normalise 3D, as children frankly care little for wearing glasses in a movie, and that they should just get used to paying $10 extra for films from now on. It is very much a 3D first film, but unfortunately it does not work quite as they’d like for much of the film. They still capture a world of magic and wonder, but you are pulled out of awe by an imperfect execution.
Although, before I start bashing the film more than it maybe deserves, the frequent farting sequences are pretty excellent.