Steven Spielberg's The BFG: The Review

The BFG is Steven Spielberg's first Disney movie and it's based on a famous book by Roald Dahl, one of the world's most notable authors. Those things all add up to some pretty daunting expectations. The film, out this week, meets those expectations, but doesn't surpass them, leaving a suitably entertaining and magical film aimed squarely at the younger people in your life.

Based on the novel of the same name, The BFG is about a young orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who is taken from her London home by a big, friendly giant (a performance capture Mark Rylance). The BFG, as she begins to call him, takes her to a magical world where he collects and manipulates dreams. Sophie realises that, despite his size, she and The BFG share some insecurities, and solving those becomes something the pair embrace with all their heart.

Visually, The BFG is a delight. Spielberg and his long time director of photography Janusz Kaminski have created a human world that feels both modern and ancient, along with a giant world that feels magical on the surface, and gets even more beautiful and inviting as you explore it. I mention this first because the visuals of The BFG are the best thing about it. The textures, the colours, the physical representations of dreams, it's a world that's quite pleasant to spend some time in.

Movie Review: Steven Spielberg's The BFG Is a Magical Movie... Mostly

What's interesting about that warm feeling the film exudes is that it doesn't quite start that way. As the film begins, you feel that Sophie is a bit of a bratty loner. The BFG is also a bit off-putting, as his flighty nature seems to stunt the story. But pretty quickly, the performances start to win you over. Through their actions and interactions, Sophie and The BFG become more heroic, lovable and engaging.

After about 10 or 15 minutes of unease, as the story almost too quickly moves ahead, things finally click for the characters. There's a similar evolution to The BFG's language, which is a backward, broken English that's hard to deal with at the start, but at some point becomes almost an in-joke between Sophie and the audience.

One place the movie feels a bit thin is the story. The screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison is very faithful to Dahl's book but, that story is so simple and surface, it never really feels that significant. Things start quickly, the world is built, Sophie buys into everything and before you know it, the story is way off on this fun, but seeming random tangent, before wrapping up. Everything about The BFG is very narratively driven and despite a few fun surprises, the themes are worn proudly, and obviously, on its sleeves. The lack of depth or subtlety certainly under cuts the film's impact.

Overall, The BFG is a really good film that suffers mostly because of circumstance. Steven Spielberg, Disney and Dahl are such powerful names that you expect E.T., Snow White and Willy Wonka rolled up into one. It's not that. It's simple, sweet and silly. There's nothing hugely wrong with it. The visuals are beautiful, the John Williams score is entrancing but it never becomes something more.

There's not that E.T. flying over the moon moment. Belle coming down the stairs or Charlie winning the chocolate factory. A few moments come close, but The BFG never exceeds the expectations it built upon itself. It shouldn't have to but, with this pedigree, you hoped it would. Expect nothing but a nice little movie and you're bound to be happy.

This story originally appeared on Gizmodo


Comments

    Two things holding this movie back:

    1) The name. I loved the BFG book as a kid, but the book came out in 1982 and while titles like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have already been immortalised in film, he's becoming a bit more obscure these days and "The BFG" could mean a bunch of things, even ignoring the fact that the default extrapolation of "F" any time it's used in an acronym is generally not "friendly". Retitle it The Big Friendly Giant and you sell a few more tickets. There's a name that evokes family-friend fantasy, and moves away from the twisted psychopathy that Dahl tended to exhibit in his stories that children love but doesn't usually translate well to film.
    2) Launch competition. I get that it's Summer in the US and that means families storming the cinemas eight times a week like a platoon of cabin-fevered marines on shore leave but who at Disney said "hey here's what we do, we put our weirdly titled obscure story adapted from a 35 year old children's novella into a dreamlike CGI-fest up against our own goddamn sequel to Finding Nemo, arguably one of our most successful titles ever"? Because he needs to be taken behind the shed and given a bit of a seeing to with a big stick.

    I saw it on release with my kids (8 and 6). It really is just following the book's plot, which is great for children but adults might find it superficial. The film makers trod a fine line though. Making the villains too scary would have bumped the rating to a PG I feel, but would have given the film more tension. Given that the whole tale is a journey of an underdog to rise up against bullies, the film could have made the villains more substantial and menacing. I feel they could have aimed this at a young teen market rather than an under-10 market.

    I always found the BFG as a pretty boring book even when I was the target demographic, so I'm not at all interested in this, or taking my daughter to see it. There's no other word to describe the plot, it's just boring.

    I didn't enjoy the casting, I imagined Sophie to be more gentle and less confident, that's why when she met the BFG she developed into being a confident young lady rather than a shy young girl. Also i imagined her to be skinnier and blonde in appearance.

    Also i imagined the BFG to be a bit softer too, I never imagined him to have the dialect he had in the movie and to have a fuller old man's face. To me it looked like the BFG has had a few Guinnesses in his time.
    But that is what happens often in the transition from book to movie, it's never how you imagined it.

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