Water and light are older than the earth itself. The beginning, we are told, consisted of God and water. The waters were deep, and God vibrated upon their surface like that guitar string stretched beneath the dash of the jeep in Jurassic Park that Special Dinosaur Effects Supervisor Michael Lantieri plucks to preconfigure the approaching Tyrannosaurus Rex in a glass of water. Steven Spielberg came up with the effect while sitting in his car listening to the band Earth, Wind, and Fire and seeing the bass in the song scatter his image in his rear view mirror. THRUM! THRUM! THRUM! THRUM! The presence of God reverberated throughout the deep waters of primordial earth.
And then there was light, because God called for it. And God sees for the first time, and what God sees is good. So there is day and night – water and light – and God is pleased there at that time, THRUMing and watching the light shimmer across the surface of the deep.
And a lot of things came after that – sky and land and vegetation and stars and the moon and creatures of every kind and then people to take care of it all. And the people and God stood together on the edge of a pool in the starlight after a long day of caring for the other creatures, and the people knelt down to take a drink to slake their thirst, held some of that old water in their cupped palms, and marveled at the light from heaven dancing in their hands. “Is this magic?” maybe Eve asked. “Yes,” said God, “All of it is magic, and all of it is very good.”
The BFG, Steven Spielberg’s latest film, based on Roald Dahl’s book, is in awe of that same simple, old magic. The story unfurls with the unhurried pace of a child exploring a forest marveling at bugs found beneath logs and birds singing in trees. The movie’s most indelible moments are those that span the divide between the boorish and the beguiling, such as in one of the film’s first shots when the streetlights shine on the sign of the orphanage where our heroine, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill, proving again that nobody works with child actors better than Spielberg), lives, revealing a multi-colored patina, or when a quartet of drunks splashes noisily through a puddle in a pothole in the street, scattering the light from the nearby tavern delightfully. The mundane is magical when you have the eyes to see.
Those bits are on the boorish side and show the beguiling breaking through, but it works the other way in The BFG as well. After Sophie is whisked away by the (Big, redundantly) Friendly Giant (using a digital effect that nostalgically mimics rear-projection techniques, presumably in an attempt to awaken the child in adult viewers’ hearts), she is taken to the place where dreams come from, a place she gets to by taking a leap of faith—another Spielberg stand-by; the first of two in the film—into ancient waters filled with dancing lights. While there in that magical place, she learns that the most wonderful things the Giant knows are the sounds of ants walking on leaves, spiders spinning their webs, and heartbeats. He hears this all with his great ears. Magic is in the little things we often pass over, he implies, in the very elemental bits of creation. If only we all had such ears to hear.
Sophie catches flitting dreams in that place, and they sound remarkably like the geese that pass over her orphanage every night while the little insomniac keeps watch over the house rather than not be able to sleep. She may have traveled an immeasurable distance to an unplottable place while in the BFG’s care, but the wonderful things she discovers there have their antecedents in the place she’s always known.
The BFG is a perfect summer movie, because rather than blasting our ear drums with surround sound explosions and blinding our eyes with lens flares, it invites us to slow down, breathe, and hear and see the simple, old magic all around us in the simple, old creation God made many, many years ago. The BFG wants us to appreciate the patina on an old sign, the sound of grasshoppers clicking as they jump-fly through the grass, twilight filtering through the atmosphere and illuminating the surface of a lake. It wants us to take child-like joy in both a bowl of strawberries with whipped cream and a good fart. It’s a movie for children and for the children still giggling in our adult hearts. The BFG is wonder-filled and wonderful. See it and hear it if you have the necessary ears and eyes.