I Is the BFG
The BFG is a family film of the fantasy genre, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as the titular giant as well as Ruby Barnhill in her first major role as a young orphan named Sophie. The BFG is an adaptation of the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, and tells the story of the rebellious and insomniac orphan Sophie, who spots a giant in the streets of London one night. The giant brings Sophie to his home in the faraway land of Giants Country, where he turns out to be not only a Big, Friendly Giant, but also a small giant compared to the other mean, immature and bloodthirsty giants that roam the land. And the film is essentially about the friendship that blossoms between Sophie and the BFG, as they ‘frolic’ about while attempting to deal with the other scary giants.
Steven Spielberg has long been elevated to legendary status from his incredible portfolio of directorial efforts (if he even calls them that). From Jaws to Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg has directed and produced a plethora of films, including several Oscar nominees and many more which are considered classics today. Many, however, argue that Spielberg has been increasingly hit-and-miss in the past decade, with the disastrous performance of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as the personally underwhelming Bridge of Spies serving as evidence for this common sentiment. Nevertheless, one can only walk into a Steven Spielberg film with hope for what the veteran filmmaker can conjure up in his first feature film with Walt Disney Pictures. Can the mouse bring out the lion yet again in The BFG?
The BFG definitely has the mark of a seasoned director as well as both creative and technical talent, as expected from such a reputable studio and director. But where this seventh Roald Dahl film adaptation shines in its visual effects and camerawork, its pacing and plot issues make the BFG more of a passable family film with many redeeming qualities rather than a good movie with a few flaws. It’s a feel-good film which children and families can enjoy on the weekends, but it is unfortunately far from Spielberg’s best, despite its empowering message.
One of the most obviously well-done aspects of the BFG is its visuals. The colour palette used throughout the film is astoundingly rich, with often colourful settings that give the BFG a mystical, fantastical feel that you’d expect from a fantasy child-friendly film. Even a particular real-life building that is featured in the film looks much better than it ever has in real life, meaning that the levels of saturation can seem excessive, but in a good way.
The camerawork is also a highlight of the film, as the use of Simulcam (featured in James Cameron’s Avatar), especially in the BFG’s home, takes the viewer through the uniquely designed settings seamlessly, as though we’re being taken on a ride with many special attractions to marvel at. The elaborate animations combined with the solid CGI work on motion capture giants as well as the vibrant colours and John WIlliam's recognisable music style make for several ‘Wow’ moments in the first and second acts of the film.
Mark Rylance’s stumbling, word-jumbling BFG is a far cry from the accused Soviet spy from his previous film, but under Spielberg’s direction and his own adaptive skillset, the BFG himself is the charming, likeable and personality-filled character that the name suggests. The character of Sophie is a fiery, enthusiastic dreamer, full of both innocence and a sense of adventure. And this is played out beautifully by the bold Ruby Barnhill’s, who undoubtedly had to act in front of lots of green-screen and motion capture actors. This may have resulted in me taking a while to believe in her character and motivations, but it didn’t take long for her to win me over.
Where The BFG has its biggest issues is in its third act. Having never read the original Roald Dahl book, I was surprised to see the plot progress the way it did after Sophie comes up with a plan. Though this was interestingly unexpected, a particular scene which takes place in a palace soon started to slow the film’s pace, and this ultimately led to me losing interest in the film’s final half hour. Thought the scene was a good opportunity to show off the film (and Dahl’s) quirkiness and imagination, it came at a cost of the overall flow, and one can only wonder if this was a result of the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay not being executed to its full potential quality, or just another instance of a scene in a book not translating that well to the big screen.
Roald Dahl is known for his endless source of creativity as a storyteller, and this is very apparent in the BFG, with names such as Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler featuring along with several other wacky giant names. But despite all this, the film never goes as far as to have a distinguishable climax, and though this may also be because of the film’s way of staying true to the source material, my overall experience of the film never reached a satisfactory level. Not even the enthralling visuals could surrogate my lack of interest in the story as a whole. Adding to this disappointment was the attempted humour throughout, which may be good for families and children, but sadly doesn’t hold up in a world where Pixar films have become the gold standard of being witty, humorous and insightful for both children and adults alike. Yes, The BFG isn’t completely targeted towards my demographic, and it may well be an extremely good adaptation of the book, but as a film it should be judged based on my opinions on the film itself, so many apologies to anyone who might take offense at this.
The BFG isn’t one of Spielberg’s best, but it is far from his worst (That dubious honour might go to Crystal Skull or 1941 based on who you talk to). At the end of 2016, the BFG will be remembered by critics as a passable film overall with great visuals, whereas for families, children or fans of Roald Dahl, it may well be a highlight and a joy to watch. Make no mistake, the BFG is by no means a bad movie, but by its director’s standards, a year without any Oscar nominations may as well be a bad one. But that’s no reason to not continue believing in great future Spielberg films, as well as the great family films that are sure to come.
Overall Score: 6.8/10