‘The BFG’ Review

From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion   

The partnering of Steven Spielberg and author Roald Dahl is one that, in some ways, was always inevitable. Both are cherished storytellers who have managed to span multiple generations, enchanting captive audiences of all ages with their respective works. So to see Spielberg adapting The BFG in what would have been Dahl’s 100th year feels like an appropriate tribute to a man whose work has delighted children for years, and to a man who often had a difficult relationship with Hollywood. One would like to imagine that Dahl would approve of Spielberg and this adaptation, which for all its minor snozzcumbering faults, is so full of heart that it’s not hard to feel yourself whizpopping in delight (pardon me).

When young orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) stays up far beyond her bedtime, she catches a glimpse of a mysterious giant (Mark Rylance) lurking in the shadows of London’s streets. Keen to keep her from announcing his existence to the world, the giant grabs young Sophie from her window and takes her back to his home in Giant Country. There, the two form a strong and caring friendship, one which inspires the big friendly giant, BFG for short, to finally take a stand against his belittling giant clan.

bgg sophie

It’s easy to imagine that one of the biggest struggles when it comes to adapting some of Dahl’s stories is how to stretch them out to fit an adequate run time, all the while remaining engaging. The BFG is one of Dahl’s longer children’s tales but not one with a great deal of incident. As a result, Spielberg’s film, with a script by the late Melissa Mathison of E.T. fame, becomes something of a relationship drama with big dollops of fantasy. It allows the film to let Spielberg do what he does incredibly well – develop relationships and aim to make a CG character someone an audience can fall for.

Unfortunately, this issue of pacing means that a great deal of the time is allotted to developing the world of Giant Country. It leads to a lot of very beautiful imagery, particularly when we bare witness to the BFG collecting dreams, but it does mean much of the second act of the film moves at a pace that is a little too leisurely.

The effects themselves are also something of a mixed affair, as you’re often left in awe at one moment, revelling in the detail of Mark Rylance’s character, and then suddenly being very aware that everything around Sophie’s live-action character is very clearly not actually there. It is strange for a Spielberg film to be quite so inconsistent with effects, but when nearly everything within Giant Country is CG, you have to put it down to there simply being too much work-load, with some shots taking precedence over others.

bfg purple

Thankfully the third act is suitably barmy in the way only Roald Dahl stories are, allowing Spielberg of all people to construct memorable fart gags as well as just commit to the more comedic aspects of Dahl’s story, more so than the more sombre character-driven first two-thirds allowed.

What remains exceptional throughout is the level of performance, particularly from the two leads. Young Barnhill exudes great confidence in a role which asks a great deal of her imagination, while Rylance is an absolute joy, embracing the odd speech patterns of the BFG as well as working incredibly hard to ring emotion from this outlandish character. The reason the film works is down entirely to this relationship, and everyone involved absolutely nails it.

The BFG I think will come to stand as one of the more favoured Dahl adaptations (Danny DeVito’s Matilda remains my favourite) and will hopefully continue to inspire younger generations to discover the works of both Dahl and Spielberg. Both have delivered such wonderful pieces of escapism in their time, and are quite rightfully heralded as masters of their respective mediums. Their combination here does eventually work, and that is down to the strength that they share most of all: a big friendly heart.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Amblin Entertainment,Walt Disney Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company )

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