I grew up as a child reading many of the stories of Roald Dahl (and always illustrated by Quentin Blake) I was a big fan. I never read a book from Dahl that I didn’t like and I always thought Dahl’s books made for some great material for film (some ended up being better than others). “The BFG” was one of those stories from Dahl I always really liked and as a kid wanted a live action movie. So, when I heard they were going to make a live action movie and Steven Spielberg would make the movie I got really excited. There is always a charm and a grace to Dahl’s stories that seemed tailor made for Spielberg’s sensibilities.
And that is exactly what we got here a charming and delightful film. “The BFG” not only recalls some of Spielberg’s earlier days of filmmaking (like with “E.T.” or even in a strange sort of way “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) but recalls an age of family movies that we rarely get anymore. The types of movies that are designed around building friendship like “The Goonies”. This movie has shades of old school Disney and of movies like “Hook”. The third act may not have had as much payoff as you may want but that doesn’t diminish the wonder filled journey you would have had up to that point.
The movie’s plot is really simple. One night when a little Orphan girl named Sophie is still awake and out and bed. She is taken by a giant and taken far away to Giant Country. There just when she thinks she is going to be eaten but the giant is actually a vegetarian and is rather friendly. Sophie and this Big Friendly Giant (otherwise named the BFG) spark a growing friendship. Not all is safe though the BFG is actually the runt as far as Giants go and the other Giants love the taste of “beings” and will eat Sophie at a moment’s notice. The two friends end up trying to hatch a plan to stop them and rid them of Giant Country.
As far as plot goes I almost feel like I should issue a spoiler beforehand because there isn’t a whole lot that happens. At the movie’s core it’s about an odd friendship that forms over the course the film’s running time. Sophie is played by Ruby Barnhill and the BFG is played by Academy Award (stealer) Mark Rylance. There have been a number of great child actor performances this year and Barnhill stands with everyone as a well done performance. She carries a large section of this film and matches the veteran Rylance at his every turn.
Rylance himself is at his best in this movie. His character, The BFG, has a speech impediment and acts as a scared kindly old grandfather like figure in the movie. What’s interesting is the relationship between Sophie and the BFG is not that of a parent and daughter (as one might expect), they are equals in the story despite the age difference. Each one brings out something in the other. One’s weakness is the other one’s strength and one’s strength is the other one’s weakness. They are both utterly alone in the world, one is an orphan and the other is a runt mistreated nearly his whole life. That’s really what the story is about in the long run. Spielberg is able to capture that type of relationship with incredible grace. If Rylance and Barnhill don’t work well with each other or if the relationship doesn’t work from a written stage than this movie would utterly fall apart.
Speaking of Mark Rylance and the BFG, the special effects used to bring him to life is another achievement in this movie. We’ve seen plenty of other CGI giants on screen and many just look like big blobs vomited onto film (like “Jake the Giant Slayer”) but here you could almost swear that it’s Rylance in makeup and not CGI. The illusion is almost completely there, the BFG feels like he is as real and breathing. The expressions that Rylance is able to emote and that visual effects wizards are able to capture are nothing short of amazing. The trailers don’t do it complete justice, seeing it on a massive screen does.
Some will argue that not a lot happens in this movie. And that’s true, not a lot really happens in this movie. There is really only a handful of locations and a handful of events. Most of the movie is just left to dialogue in some imaginative locations. I was personally locked into the atmosphere that Spielberg was able to create for the majority of the runtime. When the BFG starts to interact more with the human world, I find a little less interesting; entertaining for sure but less interesting. And the movie does have the same problem as the book where the ending is too clean and doesn’t invite much drama. It’s works okay for the book but for a movie it’s kind of anti climatic. I didn’t need a huge battle or explosions just something of a climax to happen.
Finale aside I walked away from this movie with a smile on my face. The families in my theater seemed to have had a good time as well. I imagine that down the line when the kids that see this movie grow up they will still love it and it will hold a special place in their heart like “Hook” or Dahl’s other adaptation “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” does for people of those generation. The movie has a warm heart and a good sense of wonder. Despite my issues with the ending I had a wonderful time and recall the days before family movies looked more like “E.T.” and less like “The Smurfs”.