A Stupid Opinion about The BFG Movie

3 Jun

Over the last 18 months I’ve read a lot of children’s literature while teaching English to Korean children. More often than not I’m bored to death with the Captain Underpants, the Arthurs and the Katie Kazoo Switcheroos to the point where I water down literary theory and writing techniques and watch a classroom of blank faces as I give the most rudimentary explanation of allegory or metaphor solely for my own amusement. But I get a little more interested every few months when I get to read a Roald Dahl book. It’s not just me though, the kids seem to perk up more too. The students try to understand the story more and one class even grasped the concept of similes while reading one of his books.  Thus, proving a universal truth that children everywhere love Roald Dahl. His imaginative stories tickle the children’s minds in ways much different from CGI films pieced together by slightly different sight gags and word play. Then combine Dahl’s stories with simplistic style of Quentin Blake’s illustrations and there is a nice uniform feel to his books that instantly puts children of any age, from any country at ease and piques their interest in creative fiction. As a teacher, I’m a fan of the books. Which is why I’m a little upset that Steven Spielberg is going to direct the feature version of The BFG.

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The BFG is a story of a Big Friendly Giant who takes an orphan, Sophie, to giant land after she accidentally sees him blowing dreams into the room of a kids on her street. It’s a fun little book that has some nice world building and plays with language in an especially whimsical way, even by Dahl standards. And being a fan of cinema I would usually love to see a beloved book come to the silver screen, but not a Dahl book and not by Spielberg. He’ll make a fine movie, but I don’t want to see his version of a Roald Dahl book. Well, at least not one as fantastical as The BFG. This book is going to require a lot of special effects and at this point of his career he’s just going to make The BFG into The CGI. And I don’t care how much Andy Serkis enjoys wearing spandex and ping-pong balls, but I don’t want to see more motion capture giants. Or anything thing from the mind of Spielberg or his team of creative mercenaries. 

I feel not every book needs to be turned into a film. The trend of seeking out properties that already have a built-in audience is miserable. By making movies and TV shows from books, comic books, articles and twitter feeds it is just a step toward discounting the original creations. There is the argument that adapting brings a new audience to the original, but for every one person inspired to read a the original because of the movie there will be a hundred who will come to think of the film as the only variant of that story. Which isn’t a bad thing, but without understanding the nuances of filmmaking, cinematic techniques and the same type of filmic grammar as there is taught about the written word the film versions will just be empty intellectual calories and delegated to the snack shelf in the pantry of pop culture. I’m glad there is going to be more of Roald Dahl in the world via Spielberg’s The BFG, but I’m sad that now the unlimited reach of children’s imaginations will be lassoed in to contain the CGI world portrayed on-screen. Every generation will produce its own great art, but this constant piggy backing, remaking and rebooting seems to be society saying “Everything’s been done. Nothing is original. Might as well not try.” Which could very well be a product of the unlimited access we have to information. Every good idea can be found before and therefore it’s just easier to draw TARDIS in a thousand and one different ways or relaunch Star Wars, Batman and everything that already has a loyal audience. It is a sad era. Can art change or are future generations just doomed to continue to paint Darth Vaders helmet and call it art? Jonathan Franzen is right when he says “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” And without good fiction not only will there continue to be no new properties to adapt into movie trilogies, but it also means that I will have suck it up and find some new way to teach Korean children English.

-C.Charles

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