The BFG: Director: Steven Spielberg Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Witton, Jemaine Clement Running time: 117 minutes
If you’re looking for a film to watch with your kids this summer that will keep them happy but won’t put you to sleep, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG is an excellent option. It tells the story of an unlikely friendship developing between precocious Sophie, an orphan in old-time Britain and the big, friendly Giant, a gentle-hearted deliver of dreams. The film is visually stunning, with rich colours and warm lighting which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Spielberg has struck an excellent balance here of heart-warming moments between Sophie and the BFG versus the terrifying encounters with the cannibalistic giants who mercilessly bully the BFG. The BFG pulls at our heart strings from start to finish and that is the film’s greatest success as it isn’t easy to keep an audience emotionally engaged for such a long amount of time, especially children. That being said, unfortunately this film really is long and it would have benefited from a tighter edit and shorter runtime.
Excuse my bias, but Spielberg is a cinematic genius and this film gets so much right. Once again teaming up with John Williams (who has created all of the best scores Hollywood has to offer; Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T, Raiders of the Lost Ark to name a few), the score perfectly induces heart swells and terrified gasps and maintains a sense of whimsy and wonder that makes it a true pleasure to experience. The CGI giants look fantastic, with Spielberg masterfully employing glimpses, shadows and silhouettes to introduce the giant before giving us a close-up of the giant’s face peering at Sophie through the curtains. You can see Quentin Blake’s (the illustrator Roald Dahl worked with) artistic influence both in the character designs of the giants and in particular in the book the BFG is writing which is awash with Blake-like illustrations. This was a welcome nod to the source material and helps to engage the adult audience’s sense of nostalgia, which as we all know is a powerful cinematic tool; why else would the industry keep rolling out remakes?
As Dr. Harvey O’Brien pointed out, children will watch a violent movie like Jaws or Total Recall without batting an eyelid but as soon as you introduce tension and a child character that they can identify with then the real fear sets in. The film executes the scenes with the horde of mean giants beautifully; the camera pans in circles as Sophie climbs and hides behind various set pieces and there were audible gasps in the theatre as the giants came close to seeing her. The way the camera follows Sophie is reminiscent of platform gaming and it works really well.
As I’ve said, The BFG is a fun, well-executed romp that has something for all the family. However, there is a slight case of the sagging middle and other such pacing issues which are a real let down. The film has such a strong opening, with the slightly ominous yet beautiful English town that is evocative of a stage play and the contrastingly lush and naturalistic Giant’s country providing us with plenty to look at as we get to know Sophie and her twenty-four foot friend. When Sophie and the Giant pass through a beautiful lake to catch dreams at the Dream Tree the film hits its peak, and unfortunately it never fully recovers. While there are some nice moments in the Buckingham palace between Sophie and the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, at this point the film loses some of its magic. There is a long and drawn out fart joke which failed to make even the youngest kids laugh at the screening I attended and the reason is likely that the build-up to the gag took too long and consequently fell flat, especially since there was already a fart gag earlier on in the film. The climax of the film loses tonal clarity; it’s unclear whether we are supposed to be rooting for the giants or the Queen’s army. At the thirteenth hour, the BFG sends dreams to all of the Giants, bar Fleshlumpeater, that teach them the error of their ways and cause them enormous guilt that would seemingly prevent them from eating children ever again. This begs the question, why not leave them to live on Giant’s country to try and reform? The film does not provide an answer and that may leave audiences unsatisfied.