The BFG is directed by Steven Spielberg and is based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The film stars Mark Rylance as the titular BFG and also stars Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, and Bill Hader.
A live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG seemed like a natural calling for the likes of Disney and director Steven Spielberg, the latter being someone I've always associated with being a savant when it comes to applying a gentle, human touch to concepts and ideas that are usually morbid and occasionally violent. And while something like The BFG is a far cry from the likes of Spielberg's Schindler's List, Dahl's novel still sports a darkly comic attitude that keeps it from being total children's fluff. So that is to say Spielberg didn't need to make heavy adjustments to the source material in order to help the film maintain its family-friendly vibe, while also not being too kid-friendly for all the adults in attendance. But somehow, Spielberg finds a way for the film to seem perhaps a little too gentle and kind for its own good, which may be a positive or a negative depending on your personal perspective.
If you've read the novel, the general story remains intact: ten-year old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is an orphan who lives in a London orphanage where she suffers from insomnia. One night, she looks out her window and spots a giant roaming the streets. The giant notices Sophie and snatches her up, taking her back to his home in Giant Country. The giant explains that Sophie must stay with him for the rest of her life because she saw him and cannot be allowed to reveal that giants exist. Sophie is also barred from exploring the rest of Giant Country, as nine other man-eating giants roam the country and would eat her if they spotted her. Sophie soon finds out that the giant gets picked on frequently by the other giants, being called "runt". Sophie, who decides to call the giant the "BFG" (short for Big Friendly Giant), decides she must formulate a plan to help the BFG be free of the other giants cruelty forever.
Because of how Spielberg takes such a tender approach, The BFG refuses to do anything overly emotional, no scene attempting to make you cry, make you angry, or make you feel any kind of extreme for one particular emotion. I don't mean Spielberg's direction as a necessarily bad thing. It just seems like Spielberg didn't find the source material family-friendly enough, refusing to allow any of the darker details of the novel to slip in unnoticed. The end result is about as safe of a family-friendly movie as I can recall seeing in some time, which is fine more than anything.
- Visually, The BFG is incredibly striking. Rylance does a magnificent job of portraying the BFG through motion capture, and the film as a whole is delightfully colorful and luminously alluring. The BFG reveals himself to be a dream catcher, where he goes and catches dreams and passes them onto sleeping humans. He obtains the dreams by travelling to the mountain top in Giant Country that is home to a giant lake known as Dream Country. The dreams come in the form of brightly colored balls of light that the BFG likes to put into special jars, and they make the BFG's house look like he's getting ready for Christmas. If I was grading The BFG strictly by its visuals, it would get an A+ in a heartbeat.
- During some scenes, it becomes clear that The BFG is a lot longer than it has any right to be. No scene makes this more clear than an unreasonably lengthy breakfast scene involving Sophie, the BFG, and the Queen of England. The BFG is provided piles and piles of just about every breakfast food imaginable, and this whole scene in which we watch the BFG eat all this food and find out that he hates coffee goes on and on for about 10-15 minutes, when it could be taken care of in about five. Some other scenes don't have much going on in them, stagnating the plot even when it seems like it's moving along nicely. I'd say the movie would have been more effective if about 15-20 minutes were shaved off that run time.
All in all, The BFG is mostly successful with what it wants to do: be a gentle fantasy adventure that minimizes its darker components through Spielberg's direction, creating a completely harmless family-friendly film that children and adults alike can equally enjoy. Despite Spielberg's best intentions, it comes nowhere near being one of his absolute best. But at the same time, it's far from his absolute worst. It's all a better-than-average outing that does just enough to likely keep itself in people's mind for the near future. Although given that this was the first time that Spielberg directed a film for Walt Disney Pictures, I would think time will remember this live action BFG for plenty of years to come.
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