Review: ‘The BFG’ Is Weird But Sincere
Steven Spielberg and “E.T.” writer, Melissa Mathison re-team to bring Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’ to the big screen.
The BFG of the title refers to the Big Friendly Giant that befriends an orphan girl named Sophie. The BFG lives in a place called Giant Country and spends his time capturing dreams from a tree to redistribute them the children of England. They form a great friendship while Sophie tries to help her new friend find a way to stand up to other more monstrous giants.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4
I never read the book. I was aware of it and have read other Roald Dahl books, just not ‘The BFG.’ So, I had no idea what to expect other than it being weird. Sure enough it was a damn weird story, but at the same time there is a sincerity to the proceedings that really makes it work. One part that makes it so strange is how close it follows the book’s structure (I looked up the book’s summary after watching the movie) and like a lot of books it changes tone and doesn’t quite follow the same sort of narrative flow we expect in movies. We’re more accepting of this in books than movies is what I’m driving at. Specifically in the 3rd act there is an extended part of trying to meet with the Queen to put their plan of defeating the other giants into motion. It’s not at all a bad sequence, but it does feel like another film has started playing during this. I’m sure many viewers especially those very familiar with film structure may take issue with this however as I said it is an effective, funny sequence and it really worked. I know a film professor would probably want to pull his hair out, but I feel it’s always nice to see a filmmaker mess around with the format. That’s a good way to describe the film as a whole weird, but Spielberg makes it work. He even upped his game a bit with the cinematography as it’s more interesting looking than most of the time. Also like his friend Martin Scorsese in “Hugo” he really shows off how good 3-D can look when a master is behind the camera.
The other thing that really makes the film work is the acting and special effects. I actually had plans to review ‘Warcraft,’ though now I’m glad it didn’t happen as I’d have to repeat myself. The motion capture animation is even better looking and more realistic than the orcs in ‘Warcraft.’ Again, we’re at a point where CGI is almost to photo real and a lot of the time the only reason I know ‘The BFG’ is mostly CGI is because I know the human body simply can’t be shaped like that. However, mainly it’s the acting. Oscar winner Mark Rylance again creates a character that doesn’t feel like an actor giving a performance, rather like a real being. I feel like he’s the next Morgan Freeman and is just going to continue turning in fantastic performances well into his old age. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill is very strong as Sophie, I see a bright future for her if she continues acting. For a 12 year old she does very well in what I assume must have been a very green screen heavy production. Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones from “Doctor Who”) is splendid in the small role as the indeterminable Queen of this indeterminable time period that the film takes place in. The actors playing the other mean giants are all very good. Supposedly one of the Giant is played by Bill Hader, but I honestly have no clue as to which one that is.
Entertainment Value – 4.5
As much fun as it is to watch an artist grow and develop it is often just as much fun to see them return to familiar territory and see if they still have it. Or what things they have learned in their other films help inform their homecoming. Steven Spielberg’s films as of late have been much more serious and darker (obvious exceptions with “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls”) but ‘The BFG’ feels much more in keeping with some of his older films like “E.T.” or even “Hook”. John Williams contributions to the art of film music is undeniable. However, like most of the film industry his scores have lately moved away from an older lush sounding style to a more minimalist type. With “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” he returned to his roots, but it is with ‘The BFG’ that he goes full on traditional John Williams. Lots of underscore throughout the entire movie adding so much to the atmosphere. If I have one complaint it’s that I never felt truly caught up in the friendship of Sophie and the Giant. And it’s that hard to describe why since there’s nothing really wrong with it, no missteps. It just either really hits you emotionally (like in “E.T.”) or it doesn’t and while it’s a perfectly nice relationship it didn’t have that effect on me.
Now I mentioned earlier that I haven’t read the book, I have a slight amendment to that, I was aware of a certain passage from a documentary on the life of Roald Dahl. They talk about how the editor tried to get Dahl to cut the whizzpopping scene as whizzpopping is essentially farting and this would be beneath them. Roald Dahl being the rebellious kind of guy he was, responded with writing a longer scene where they do this in front of the Queen of England. The documentary discussed how Dahl as a writer uses the tension of the readers to make the scene even funnier and how you see the buildup of excitement with kids listening to readings. Well as that was the ONLY scene I knew from the book, I assumed it was something they’d cut from the movies assuming it wasn’t integral to the plot. Turns out it was and it’s in the movie and I bring this up to illustrate a point about Spielberg’s directing and handling of the scene. The screening that I went to was full of children and I can say it had EXACTLY the same reaction that the documentary described. As soon as the Giant brings out his drink that was earlier established to cause whizzpopping every kid in the theatre could tell what was about to happen and just sitting in pure tension for the “bomb” to go off. It was a great experience to feel this sort of energy in the room and Spielberg does a fantastic job building it up and delaying it for as long as possible before delivering. And it’s not as simple as just following the book word for word, film tension works differently and Spielberg clearly understands that. It’s an excellently told fart joke and this is coming from some who generally doesn’t care for fart jokes.
Rewatchability – 3.5
I’m sure I’ll watch this again, and I have no problem with the idea of sitting through it to show younger siblings. However, that all being said, I can’t say that I’ll be seeking it out to own it. Though if I get it as a gift, there are worse things.
Watch the official trailer for ‘The BFG’ below:
- Entertainment Value
Spielberg gets a chance to show why he's one of our best filmmakers. Make no mistake this is a weird film, but it's the sincerity that really makes it something special. With excellent performances and special effects that add to the magic of the movie. It's a movie that kids will enjoy and adults can appreciate. I give it 4 stars out of 5.
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