“Paying attention to the past is so important. You need to look at the old films,” states director Steven Spielberg as he sits amongst the cast from his new film The BFG. Questions about this, and the decades of his previous work, set the tone of this particular London press conference. As he jokes with the audience about having to pay his children $10 just to watch an old black and white movie, it surprises me how Disney have somehow managed to separate themselves from this stigma.
With traditional cartoon tales like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and The Jungle Book, children have already willingly experienced Golden Age animation. They are almost ignorant to the fact these are born out of the same era as other films they might be much more reluctant to watch – as Spielberg says – simply because they are not in colour.
So with this said, what is the appeal of live action adaptations of animated films? While acknowledging there are positives and negatives to this process, Spielberg’s objective with The BFG was clear. “The biggest change in how films are made today is back then, you needed to use your imagination to craft an illusion. With the digital revolution today, you can literally put anything on the screen.”
As I listen to him talk, I feel this certainly rings true with the recent success of Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book. Advanced CGI and one physical actor made this childhood favourite really come alive – not only for a new generation of young filmgoers but older cinema audiences reminiscing about the original.
ust a couple of weeks ago, The BFG came to the big screen and was greeted with a similar reception. With themes of childhood isolation and the normal colliding with the extraordinary, this famous story was definitely Spielberg’s bag. Not only does he manage to create the most magical environment with his use of modern CGI but – like so many of his films – he injects that suspension of disbelief through the development of the character’s relationships.
Both Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie thrive at cultivating this incredibly heartwarming friendship – despite one being a big-eared CGI giant and the other an actual small human bean. When asked about his choices with these roles, Spielberg simply puts it down to an “intuitive tickle”. He continued to explain, “I met Mark in the 1980s and known him for a long time. He can do practically anything. The first time I thought he was right for The BFG was actually the first day of shooting on Bridge of Spies – I just got that intuition.” As the rest of the cast talk about working with Spielberg, it is easy to see how this live action retelling of The BFG was a real labour of love and how much this was reflected in their performances, “Steven risks things and doesn’t feel frightened to make a mistake.” Mark Rylance is so matter-of-fact in his response that this is then echoed by Penelope Wilton who plays The Queen: “He [Steven] casts you in the part and trusts you as an actor so you feel very free to do your best work.”
Quietly modest in the face of his cast’s compliments and various comments from audience members about his legacy in the film world, Spielberg shows no sign of arrogance. “I’m just really happy that I get to keep working. I don’t get tired, I love telling stories and working with actors. I don’t wanna sit back on my tush,” he says. The vast experience and enthusiasm he brings to this project makes it easy to see the appeal of this modern adaptation and how just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it has to be absent of traditional cinematic value. “I continue to learn – not just from the films that are made today but those made 70 or 80 years ago.” The BFG also has an extra-special place in people’s hearts as this year marks 100 years since the birth of author Roald Dahl. Over the years we have come to see a varied mix of Dahl’s best-loved stories plucked from page to cinema – from Gene Wilder’s portrayal of the weird and wonderful Willy Wonka to Wes Anderson’s quirky Fantastic Mr Fox. However, if you are anything like me – growing up with the films of Spielberg and the books of Dahl – this gloriumptious pairing will probably see you whizzpopping with excitement while your heart swells at the true sentiment behind it all. One thing is for sure; The BFG is not just for the new generation. Plus everyone loves a fart joke.