The Cannes gala ritual is always the same. The auteur and the cast walk up the Tapis rouge to the top, where they are greeted by Thierry Fremaux and turn around to face the phalanx of photographers and fans. It’s all transmitted on the big screen at the Lumiere, as the audience watches the likes of Blake Lively in resplendent blue on the red Palais steps, her long train splayed behind her, followed by “The Artist” husband and wife team of Michel Hazanavicius and Bérénice Bejo. Steven Spielberg got book-ended standing ovations at the premiere screening of “The BFG,” and the warm-hearted family fantasy played fine to the crowd.
“The BFG” landed mixed reviews (here’s Indiewire’s take), possibly because this old-fashioned Roald Dahl fantasy about giants in England falls on the saccharine side of the Spielberg spectrum, falling into the genre occupied at the top end by “E.T.” (also written by the late Melissa Mathison) and the Peter Pan and Wendy style of old-fashioned Anglophilic children’s fantasy represented by “Hook.”
Mark Rylance as the friendly “runt” giant who befriends a young orphan (Ruby Barnhill) adds grace and richness to the movie, but the decision to shoot the giants as stylized CG creatures is strange. (Spielberg says this is the only time he has worked with the same actor four films in a row—Rylance is committed to two more films including “Ready Player One.”
At the Carton Beach after-party, Spielberg was exuberant about how much fun it was to shoot the movie unfettered and unrestrained, letting his imagination run wild. He had always wanted to do the giants this way—it’s clearly his conception to have them be “fantastic,” as VFX master Joe Letteri (“Avatar,” “King Kong”) can do anything at this stage. As “The Jungle Book” is an animated movie with one live actor, “The BFG” is a live action movie with animated giants—the equivalent of “Jurassic Park”‘s dinosaurs. The fact that they are humanoid is the problem, as is their scale—remember the Ang Lee Hulk hopping through the sky? This giant does the same, and it doesn’t calibrate as real. Neither does scooping up Sophie in his hand.
Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and husband Frank Marshall also came to Cannes; Kennedy told her Disney bosses she would have to see through this movie, which she had been developing for seven years. Participant’s Jeff Skoll and David Linde, now financial partners with Spielberg, are looking forward to having distribution at last via Universal and Focus Features.