Is 'The BFG' Related To 'E.T.'? Steven Spielberg Has Choice Words On The Comparison
Roald Dahl’s favorite children’s book, The BFG, was published in 1982. Ironically, this was the same year that the movie’s director Steven Spielberg debuted a little film called E.T. I can’t blame fans for tirelessly trying to find connection between the two — E.T. is oh so nostalgic and a classic. However, the man behind the curtain doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Before the release of the big-screen BFG adaptation (which premieres July 1), adapted by Spielberg, the famed filmmaker flat-out tells journalists — “I don’t compare this movie to E.T.” — while promoting the film in Los Angeles. He explains that the “only real valid comparison” to him is that both stories were written and adapted by the now-deceased Melissa Mathison. But when revealing what drew him to Dahl’s story after working on so many hard, serious, adult-centric films, I find that the similarity between Spielberg’s E.T. and BFG is as clear as day.
In the past few years, Spielberg has become the human equivalent of a history book, directing films like Lincoln (2012) and the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies (2015). He also has The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (a true story) due for 2017 and Ready Player One (chronicling a dystopian future in 2044) for 2018 in the pipeline. Wedged between these stories is The BFG, a breath of fresh air. Or as Spielberg calls it, “taking a shower.”
“I was so covered in history. [The BFG] was like taking a really nice, hot shower. I’m just watching all the history go down the drain,” he says. He explains that this movie was a nice breather from taking on films “reflective of the cynicism of today, the way young people think especially.” Once he laid eyes on Mathison’s screenplay, he says he “couldn’t find a cynical bone in the body.” To Spielberg, there was something undeniable about the playful nature the story lends itself to. “That was such a magical excursion into this fantasy fairytale world… and that was a real relief for me,” he says.
He admits one reason this story is so far removed from E.T. is because he’s a lot different as a director than he was back in ’82. Moreover, he points out the stories’ blatant opposites. “All the kids were E.T.’s giants in 1982 when the film first came out. There’s a lot of interesting opposites. I don’t make the same comparisons that a lot of the people who were favorably comparing it to E.T. coming at out Cannes made,” he says. “When I started reading the stuff coming out, I didn’t agree with it one-hundred percent that they’re similar stories, but people are free to interpret any way they wish.”
That said, it was the imaginative and whimsical nature of BFG's story which stole his heart just as E.T. did, simply because he holds the integrity of finding a story worth telling. And of course, the grabbing opportunity to get those childlike feels.
The one thing that doesn’t change is, when I can find a good story and the story tells me what it needs, as opposed to me overruling all the values of the story to somehow impose a kind of 69-year-old maturity on to a piece that needed more of a kid than an adult. I really feel that a book like BFG or any other movie I see that has young values, can just bring the memories of what it was like being a kid right back to me in a flash, like it can to anybody sitting around the table. You can get your childhood back in a millisecond.
After speaking with lead actors Mark Rylance (who plays the giant) and Penelope Wilton (the Queen of England), it’s clear Spielberg relished in every second of the journey. “He’s incredibly enthusiastic… and I feel enormous freedom to play,” says Rylance. “He laughs a lot. He jumps up and does and goes like this [thumbs up] when he feels he’s got the take, it’s not just, ‘Next, let’s move on.’ He’s really excited. He really enjoys what he does,” the actor explains.
Perhaps unlike E.T., Spielberg faced many technological challenges with this project, according to Rylance. “He was challenged on BFG, I would say. By the technological frontline… I think initially, I could see, even Steven with all this experience, was quite overwhelmed the first few days by what he, as a director, had to keep in his mind,” he says. But Spielberg didn’t allow these hurdles to intimidate him in the process. “He's been totally immersed [in the project],” says Rylance.
Spielberg was so immersed in fact, that he not only verbally, but physically, made movie magic happen in The BFG. Wilton recalls the scene where a firefly-like dream was going up her nose, and instead of allowing one of the stage hands to hold a stick with a ping pong ball at the end (AKA the stand-in for the dream), he grabbed it himself. Wilton says Spielberg, who has seven children, is also a pro at working with kids. “He knows how to keep the energy up without it getting tired,” she says. “He was exactly as I expected him to be except far more hands-on, and extremely approachable and very friendly.”
E.T. fan or not, Spielberg’s magical retelling of The BFG is for anyone, like him, who just wants to feel like a kid again — even if just for a few hours. And who honestly wouldn’t want that?
Images: Disney (5); Giphy