In other words – spoilers ahead!
Roald Dahl is hands down one of my favourite authors of all time. And by the same process, The BFG is my favourite story of his; and also – you guessed it – one of my favourite all time novels and film. In fact, it was because of the original animated film that I first got into the wonderful world of Roald Dahl and his works. I even played the BFG in a stage production based on the novel! As you can tell, this story is special for me (in fact I recently rediscovered my old DVD of it) so you can imagine how excited (whilst at the same time nervous) at hearing a new film was coming out. Thankfully, I calmed down when I heard Stephen Spielberg was directing it. He’s done some amazing films in the past (E.T. being my favourite of his) so I was hoping that he would do this story justice. It’s a wonderful book and I would hate if this film ruined it.
After seeing the newer film, after having mixed reactions initially, I am pleased to say that – after much consideration – I think this was a fantastic movie. One that is respectful of the source material; whilst at the same time changing it just enough so that newer audiences can enjoy it.
The story follows Sophie, an orphan that has insomnia and sees the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) down the town. The BFG captures her and takes her back to Giant Country, worried that she will tell everyone about seeing a giant and he be put in a zoo. The two form a strong bond as the BFG shows her how he catches dreams and sends them to people. However, they also have to contend with the other giants – all of which are nowhere near as nice as the BFG and live only to eat children. It’s up to them to stop them somehow!
First thing I want to mention positively are the special effects – these are some of the best I’ve seen in a film. But then again I wouldn’t expect anything less from Spielberg! Everything looks perfect and it doesn’t detract from the film in anyway. The characters look spot on and the motion capture is on par with Lord of the Rings with how good it is. The dreams that the BFG look amazing and dart around the screen like wild insects. The landscape of Giant Country and Dream Country, whilst not as awe inspiring as it was in the animated film, they were still pretty amazing to watch. Interestingly enough, Giant Country had a few “human” objects in it, including cars, boats and ferris wheels. Whether it was hinting that Giant Country was previously a human colony, or these were brought back by the giants is never really explained. I guess that’s something you can make you mind up. But either way, from the vast landscapes to the stinky snozzcumbers, everything just looked perfectly realised.
Mark Rylance – an actor whose notable roles recently include Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall amongst other things – is just amazing as the BFG. Thanks to motion capture, he already looked the part, but the minute he spoke I believed he was the BFG. He captured the BFG’s jumbled and nervous wording perfectly and I quickly came to love him as a character. Sophie is played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Her Sophie is a bit more sure of herself and a bit more proactive than in the original film (although Sophie is by no means a Damsel in Distress) and that I really liked. She was a strong female lead and one the children watching this film can support. Although there was ONE bit where she tried a “Bella Swan” moment by trying to kill herself to get the BFG’s attention. That annoyed me a bit.
Other notable performances included Penelope Wilton as the Queen of England and Rafe Spall as Mr Tibbs. Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concordes fame also stars as the Fleshlumpeater, leader of the giants. Strangely, I actually felt the giants were the weakest element of this film to an extent. Whilst in the animated film and book they were portrayed as cannibalistic beasts that ate children without any mercy, here they were portrayed as somewhat more comedic. Not saying that’s a problem, but I never really got the same feeling of dread that I did with the giants – and considering they are supposed to be the antagonists of the story that’s a bit of a bad thing.
In fact, this adaptation kind of eschews the darker elements of this book. Anyone who has read a Roald Dahl novel will know he has some pretty dark themes, but this movie seems to stray away from that in favour of telling something more family friendly. Not a bad thing necessarily, but it would have made this movie a lot more enjoyable if it kept in some of the darkness. That being said, the movie adds in a bit of a tragic backstory for the BFG which does add some gravitas to his character. It’s something that wasn’t in the original tale, but it works pretty well and you understand his reluctance to do a lot of things.
One thing I was surprised about was the lack of feels I got. The ending of the animated The BFG always leaves a lump in my throat. It’s not a bad ending, it’s just highly emotional. Strangely enough, I didn’t get many feels (if any) whilst watching this, which is surprising for a Spielberg film. There were a couple of “awww” moments in there, but nothing too special. Also, I thought the ending was a bit rushed and lacked the confrontation that the previous film did so well, meaning that any emotion it could have had was somewhat lost.
But I will say this. The breakfast scene at Buckingham Palace was hilarious! Actually had me in stitches for most of it – as did the rest of the audience!
It actually breaks my heart that this film did so poorly at the box office – because it actually is one of the most underrated films I’ve seen so far this year. Whilst I’m somewhat biased towards the original story, I do think that Spielberg did a great attempt at adapting the story. He stayed faithful to the original, whilst only changing and updating what needed to be updated. It would have been nice to keep in some of the darker storylines, what we have in the film is great.
Whether you know the source material or not, it’s still a fun little film for all the family to enjoy. Mixing a perfect cast with some top quality effects, The BFG is worth checking out.
I give The BFG a giant 4.5 out of 5!
The original The BFG animated movie (1989) is a classic of British animation – made by classic animation company Cosgrove Hall. It features David Jason (Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses), Amanda Root as Sophie – and even appearances by Mollie Sugden (Are You Being Served) and Ballard Berkley (Fawlty Towers, his last role before his death). Whilst it also takes some liberties with the source material, it is a wonderful, timeless story that has a lot of love put into it. And you’ll probably well up a couple of times as well.