The BFG Review
Roald Dahl’s The BFG is given a Spielberg-esque make-over in this humorous and wacky film adaption of a giant and his relationship with a young orphan girl, Sophie. The BFG is instantly reminiscent of Disney classics from the 50s and 60s such as Pollyanna or Alice In Wonderland but also pleasingly seeks to pay homage to other great Dahl adaptions like Matilda and The Witches. But it’s not all plain sailing, although Spielberg is an expert director he flirts with an over-animated visual world which sometimes results in otherwise moving scenes of friendship between Sophie and The BFG appearing almost fake; it is of course hard to film twenty-foot giants and children alongside each other in a realistic and gelled way.
But ignoring the awkwardness of watching his vastly differently-sized characters interact with each other, Spielberg does indeed manage to capture the mischievous humour and dark quirkiness of Dahl’s literary world; utilizing fanciful anagrams, Dahl’s intensely bizarre settings and the non-age-specific appeal, Spielberg redeems himself.
The book, upon which the film is based, was published in 1982 which was coincidentally the same year that Spielberg released ET and both works feature the development of an unusually transformative relationship between a child and an other-worldly being; and both films pivot on a reversal of roles as the vulnerable partner in both unlikely friendships soon proves they have much to teach the other and Sophie does not disappoint, indeed she manages to rescue BFG from his bullying brothers despite her diminutive stature and age.
Mark Rylance is exceptional as The BFG; he’s a goofy, warm country bumpkin who is also able to exhibit a deep sadness and both his accent and body language are pitch-perfect. But The BFG is ultimately a two-hander and any professional actor sharing the screen with Rylance and his immense talent might have problems and sadly these are magnified by Roby Barnhill’s naïve performance. However it’s all a matter of rehearsal and practise, Barnhill begins the film as wooden and over-animated but as the narrative progresses she seems to ease into the role, which demonstrates the need for ample rehearsal when dealing with inexperienced actors. Other familiar faces are found in Penelope Wilton, playing an unusually friendly Queen, Rebecca Hall, in a very forgettable part as the Queen’s assistant, and the usually tiresome Rafe Spall who is actually brilliant as the Queen’s silly butler.
But even Mark Rylance playing a twenty-foot giant is not quite enough to distract from the occasional dated element to Dahl’s story and world-view, like when Sophie calls for the help of the Queen and brings BFG to Buckingham Palace to meet her, things become overly sentimental and twee, and the overall pace is somewhat slow; there simply isn’t as much giant-drama as you might expect, there’s just a lot of slightly dull child to giant conversations.
Speilberg is not afraid of utilizing technology to bring his cinematic worlds to life and The BFG is no exception; he uses a hybrid style of film making, blending live-action with performance capture technique, meaning that it was mostly filmed in live action, rather than being filmed separately and then merging the human and digital performances in post-production. It is, of course, utterly impressive how Spielberg and his team have managed to create this film and the technology is impressive and certainly recent, but watching it in 3D made some scenes look like pure and flattened animation, detracting from the film’s potential realness; indeed Rylance’s BFG looked, at points, superimposed into the shot. However maybe to a child’s eyes, the film’s primarily targeted audience, this may not matter and might indeed be something of a bonus.
BFG was a fun and enjoyable film to watch, mainly because there is something wonderful about watching a story you read as a child come to life, however your adult, cynical self may at points find the silly dialogue slightly jarring and the overall pace slow. Still, Spielberg’s BFG is something of a quirky, dark fairy-tale which pleasingly meshes perfectly with Dahl’s literary intentions.