That Steven Spielberg sees the world from two perspectives – the wonderment of childhood and the corruption of later life – is obvious from his filmography. He makes these dreamlike, aspirational films about innocence, goodness and beauty, films like ‘E.T.’ and ‘BFG’, using the best contemporary special effects. Then he interrupts them with the brutality of war and the barbarity of human society, making movies like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Amistad, using no effects, just the basic tools of cinema, including black and white film stock.
In truth, it is a simplistic vision that seems to have exhausted itself over the years. Spielberg’s ‘BFG‘, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl story, is not the nuanced or complex vision of childhood or its abuses, as it is intended. The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) is a politically correct protagonist. In the film he is a vegetarian, working class Englishman who mangles the English language because he has never been to school (naturally, that is not his fault, but the result of a faulty educational system). He is a royalist and awestruck by the monarchy and he is also a professional. Like many men of his social status, he has unearthly working hours. He is a nocturnal worker, an astute ‘dream catcher’ who catches a wide range of happy, sad and frightening dreams from a land of illusions. He then walks the streets of London at the ‘witching hour’, handing out these dreams to unsuspecting sleepers.
Roald Dahl’s references to Hamlet (’tis now the very witching time of night’) and Midsummer Night’s Dream are obvious in his story, but given the opportunity, Spielberg makes no use of the sensibility presented. His is the same old tale he has been telling for years – the purity of intent of the little orphan, Sophie, the cannibalistic world outside inhabited by the man eating giants and the correct conformist in BFG (Mark Rylance). That this gentle giant has, in fact, kidnapped Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) from the British Welfare State (she lived in an orphanage) is not emphasized.
Nor does Spielberg seem to see nuances in the Dickensian London that Dahl is clearly comparing the modern city to (‘BFG‘ is set and written in 1982, when Margaret Thatcher wanted to dismantle the Welfare State) ). The novels of Charles Dickens are strewn around, a picture of Queen Victoria is dusted off and then Queen Elizabeth 2, with her mighty British Army, is introduced.
But Spielberg, as usual, goes full steam ahead and makes a great kiddie movie, with superb casting and 3D visuals, and one that is certainly very entertaining. But it is a film, to be honest, that leaves no lasting impact on us.