The BFG is a big-hearted, visually stunning fantasy film that lacks the emotional oomph to be a great fantasy film. By no means is this a condemnation. The BFG is a wholesome array of PG humor and fart jokes that will tickle the most cynical of preteens and illicit a chuckle from adults sitting in the audience. What’s impressive is how Steven Spielberg manages to strike a balance between the corny narrative and the colossal technical requirements required to pull off this adaptation.
For the fans of Roald Dahl’s source material, you can rest easy as this adaptation is remarkably faithful to the book. The film opens with a spunky orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) being abducted in the night by a gargantuan hooded figure who creeps around the streets of London. She’s whisked to a land of wonder and spectacle known as Giant Country. Sophie meets her abductor, and it’s none other than the BFG ( The Big Friendly Giant), a fearsome figure who’s as gentle as they come. The BFG is played – through the use of motion capture technology – by Academy-Award winner Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies). He’s made it his life’s mission to spread pleasant dreams to all the children throughout the world. Unfortunately, not all the Giants are as caring as The BFG. The nine other giants, including The Fleshlumpeater and The Meatdripper, would rather treat kids more like snacks than human beings.
The heart in this film radiates from Rylance’s portrayal of the title character. He portrays The BFG with such warmth and compassion that it’s hard not to smile when he’s on the screen. Rylance’s character exhibits a great deal of compassion towards Sophie, not only because of his concern for her well-being but he genuinely has her best interest at heart. One of my favorite moments was when The BFG stashed her away on his pirate ship because the other giants were close by. It might not seem like a significant moment, but it was huge because it was the first time that we saw The BFG treat Sophie as if she were his own daughter. He didn’t care that the giants would likely pummel him once they discovered his new companion, his only concern was the safety of young Sophie. It demonstrates true, honest, paternal love and attention.
The BFG is a visually superior film because of Spielberg’s attention to detail and ability to create wealthy/colorful new worlds. One of the biggest hurdles this movie has to overcome is finding a way to create actual giants using CGI, but in such away that isn’t too glossy or CGI-ish. They bypass any hurdles by paying the most attention to the actual facial expressions the giants make. These character’s personalities are found in their face, and they got it right. Rhrough facial recognition technology and CGI, they were able to not only create these incredibly detailed characters (you literally see every nook and cranny in the giants face) but have these characters convey a real genuine human emotion.
Giant Country is a marvel to behold. Spielberg strikes a balance between the lush green terrain the sparkle that seems to radiate from every corner of the giants home.
Where this film suffers is the lack of any emotional backbone. This is isn’t that surprising because the late Melissa Mathison’s adaptation of the story is very true to the source material. Dahl’s novel isn’t a story that packs much of a punch in the end. The book is a simple tale of the power of friendship and so is Spielberg’s adaptation. While the simplicity of the narrative shouldn’t sway from paying to see it this weekend, just go in with reasonable expectations. Not all films are meant to win Academy Awards; some are meant to teach a lesson and put a smile on the audience’s face.