What two movies for kids and adults, written and directed by the same two people, did my five year old request, all by himself for movie night?

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About twice a week my son will ask me if it is Friday yet.  When he asks it very rarely is, usually he hits me up on a Tuesday or Wednesday.  His goal with this line of questioning is to find out, not the day of the week, but if it is movie night.  One night a week, Friday, we make pizza and watch a movie.  He normally gets to choose, though sometimes his mother or I will intervene depending on if it is something too old for him or something terrible that we just can’t sit through.  We have done the terrible thing a couple of times, and as much as I love Robert Rodriguez, you could not pay me to sit through Shark Boy and Lava Girl again.  This Friday I convinced him to try watching The BFG, which is on Netflix right now.  If you are not familiar, it is based on the classic book by Roald Dahl about a Big Friendly Giant (BFG) who takes a little girl, Sophie, to giant land and schools her in giant ways and the ways of dream catching.  The movie was directed by Steven Spielberg and written/adapted by Melissa Mathison(RIP).  I was more excited than Max was going in.  Honestly he was never that interested in the movie.  He has seen the trailer and I think the bad giants scared him off a little but like many things, we asked that he try it and if he didn’t like it, could turn it off.  About 45 minutes into the movie I noticed that we were both a little squirmy.  Possibly for different reasons, Max might have been a little scared, but more than that I think he just wasn’t very interested.  So, he asked to turn it off and requested we watch something else.  And since we had a deal, that’s exactly what we did.  What was interesting was what he asked for next.

When asked what he wanted to watch he replied, “ET”.  I blinked for a second before responding because, as a movie dork, I knew that ET had the same duo behind it as The BFG.  Spielberg and Mathison were again the director and writer of the movie.  Though very different in many ways both stories share a very similar skeleton.  A child makes a new friend who comes from someplace far away.  Through that relationship the child learns something about the world that forces them to grow in ways they never expected.  That is a very simplistic breakdown but the bones are all I am talking about here, mostly because I found the choice such a strange coincidence.  That choice got me thinking about the two movies and why one might be so much more successful than the other.  In this case I think ET is a much more successful movie for kids than The BFG, in most ways, not all.  As movies go they couldn’t be more different in tone, setting, look or feel.  Only those themes in the bones of the story I mentioned might connect them.

Max has seen ET before and I took note of both his reaction and mine when we rebooted with the new movie.  The first ten minutes of ET have no dialogue at all.  It is al visual set up for the title character being stranded on earth and our first interaction with someone only known as Keys in the credits.  He gets this name because for 75 percent of the movie we only see his waist where a set of keys dangle.  It is that fact that will also clue you into the detail that you rarely see many of the adults faces until close to the last act of the movie.  We are very firmly planted into the place of being a child and what it looks like from their point of view.  This process is so smooth and magical that you can’t help but be carried along from that opening without even thinking about the rest of the world.

The BFG on the other hand was based on source material, Mathison adapted the book onto the screen so she had a guide to follow and some restrictions as far as content.  BFG is magical at moments, especially in the last half of the movie, but I watched Max as he tried to settle into it and he just couldn’t (though this might have been his age for some of it, he’s 5) I found myself having the same reaction.  I can’t say enough about some of the really magical moments in the movie.  The sequence when the BFG takes Sophie to catch dreams is beautiful and the farting sequence with the Queen of England is amazing for so many of the right reasons.  The heart and soul of the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of Mark Rylance who plays the giant.  He does so with all of the emotional gravitas that you would expect from an actor of his caliber and he almost save it from losing its connection to the viewer.

I’m not sure if I am trying to compare the two movies or not.  You almost can’t, and I wouldn’t even be here considering this if not for my son’s strange choice.  In the end I think The BFG is just misses that thing that connects to humanity Spielberg has aspired to in the past, you can see it trying, and it almost hits the right chord at the end, but flounders.  There is something about being put into the mindset of a child that is just delicate and difficult.  The BFG has its moments but they are just that, moments.  There are many reasons the movie might not have worked for Max, but the fact that it didn’t work for me, a movie by one of my all-time favorite directors, tells me that maybe it’s aim was just off a little.   ET was the first movie I ever cried in.  I remember that feeling of connecting to Elliott in such an immense and emotional way that it just left me sobbing as a child.  Though this kind of reaction is not necessarily what The BFG subscribes too, I think it might have needed a nudge in that direction.

The BFG 

Grown-ups:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Kids:3 Stars (3 / 5)

E.T. 

Grown-ups:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Kids:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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