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Independence Day:

Resurgence • The BFG

June 30, 2016

Independence Day:

Resurgence (**) PG 13

Independence Day: Resurgence is one of those films that critics were not allowed to screen before its official release. In other words, the studio seems to have no faith in the picture so the feeling is that banning press screenings is an attempt to unleash the thing on an unsuspecting public with as few reviews as possible in an effort to cash in before the bad word gets out.  In the case of this film—a sequel that was, by the way, twenty years in the making—it helps to remember that the initial Independence Day outing back in 1996 was not the great film that our nostalgia tinged memories may have us believe. It was basically just an updated 50s sci-fi film that was as derivative as the worst films that came out of that era, but mainly got a pass due its special effects that looked pretty good back then. The characters were all stock but filled with good performances from great actors who were trying to do their best with the hackneyed material. Even though it had its flaws, it was easy enough to take.

So now we have the long gestating sequel, a film that brings back pretty much every actor from the original’s cast with the exception of the MIA Will Smith, who presumably was busy working on the forthcoming DC comics film Suicide Squad.

William Fitchner, Jeff Goldblum & Brent Spiner in ID: R

Or maybe Smith just felt the material was beneath him. Who can truly say but the writers do make it a point to let the audience know that his character is as dead as disco.

The plot involves the aliens perpetrating another attack on mankind after gestating for twenty some years. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch and Viveca A. Fox all return from the first film and are joined by fresh faces such as Liam Hemsworth. With such a great cast it’s too bad that the film chooses to focus on the generic action set pieces rather than the human drama. The first film managed to successfully balance the action stuff with the character driven scenes but the balance is much farther off target and it hurts the film in the long run. It doesn’t help that the film has five credited screenwriters either, which is never a good sign.

The humans do their duty and I guess I don’t have to tell you how it all ends up except to say that, yes, the door is left wide open for a another sequel possibility wherein we take on the aliens on their home turf. Come to think of it, perhaps they should have used that idea for this film and maybe things would have gone a lot more in the film’s favor.
     
The BFG (** 1/2) PG

The letters BFG in the title of Steven Spielberg’s new film are used to describe the lumbering giant at the center of the picture, who kidnaps a young orphan and whisks her away into a land of similar sized beings, developing a friendship with the girl along the way. And no, the letter F in the acronym of the film title doesn’t represent a certain word ending with an ING that you might think that it does, although the title character is a pretty big fella. No, the giant in this film is of the friendly sort, hence the abbreviated title, which actually stands for Big Friendly Giant. In fact, he’s such a likeable chum, spouting gibberish and malapropisms, that he almost saves the picture from a story that meanders way too often. Almost, but not quite.

The BFG is based on a book from the pen of Roald Dahl, most famously known for another children’s book you may have heard tell of called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill in Spielberg's The BFG

Not as many folks realize, however, that the writer also penned the script for a James Bond film once upon a time, You Only Live Twice. Even though Dahl was adept at scripting films, I think there’s a reason why, to my knowledge, he never took a stab at BFG. The book was too thin to sustain a 110 minute running time and he probably instinctively knew that somehow. For some reason, director Spielberg felt the burning desire to turn the book into a film and enlisted his former screenwriting collaborator from days gone by—Melissa Mathison, writer of E.T., who passed away last fall and has a dedication reading ‘For Melissa’ in the film’s credits—to handle the task. Mathison has done what should she could but there’s simply not enough of a substantive story to warrant a feature film and that’s the film’s major flaw.

The film works best during the opening and closing half hours. In the first half, the giant, Runt, (Mark Rylance, fresh off his Oscar win for his supporting role in Spielberg’s previous film Bridge of Spies) kidnaps Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan who happens to catch sight of the giant one night. Afraid that Sophie will tell the world of his existence, Runt takes Sophie off to his world where he’s constantly besieged by bigger and meaner giants and is unable to stand up to their bullying nature. Sophie and Runt eventually wind up as a guest of the Queen of England during a final sequence that also includes probably the single best flatulence gag you’re likely to see this year.

The special effects in The BFG are simply amazing to behold and are, perhaps, enough reason to warrant seeing the film on a big screen. If it’s a compelling story you’re looking for, however, then you may have to look elsewhere, I’m afraid.

Both movies are at the Carmike in Hickory & other area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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