So The BFG came out while I was in Spain but I have been able to catch up and saw it on Monday. And what did I think after I saw it? It was okay but it could have been much better. Like Bridge of Spies last year I left feeling underwhelmed by Steven Spielberg’s latest offering. I will still never understand why Bridge of Spies got nominated for best picture and was on so many top 10 lists. Beats me! To me both films have the same problems. Neither are awful films but they are both kind of boring and forgettable.
The BFG was my 4th most anticipated film of the year so suffice it to say I am very disappointed by this response but this year seems to be the year of the disappointment at the cinema. Oh well! It’s not a total disaster by any means so let’s talk about it.
Written by Roald Dahl, The BFG, tells the story of a little girl named Sophie who is taken from her bed in an orphanage in the middle of the night by a giant named BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He takes her to Giant Country where he is the only nice giant. The rest like to eat humans or “beans” as they call them. It turns out that the other giants are bullying (another tolerance message for 2016) the BFG and Sophie will have none of it. The BFG is kind of like the Sandman and he brings dreams to humans. Sophie and BFG create and execute a plan to involve the Queen of England to capture the Giants and live happily ever after.
The casting is probably the strongest part of The BFG. Little Ruby Barnhill is a revelation as Sophie. She’s not too adorably cute and precocious but is still very charming. She feels like a real little girl. Also Mark Rylance is warm and natural as The BFG. I also enjoyed seeing Penelope Wilton of Downton Abbey fame as Queen Elizabeth. She gets some much needed laughs especially trying frobscottle, the flatulence inducing soda BFG loves.
In some ways watching The BFG felt a little bit like what a Richard Linklater film would be like if he tried fantasy. It doesn’t have a strong plot but is mostly about relationships and characters talking. The problem is Linklater is a master of dialogue where let’s be honest that has never been Spielberg’s strength. It takes an hour and a half for anything to really happen in the film. Most of it is BFG explaining the world to Sophie.
One thing that confused me is why is BFG the only giant who has a house and a job? He’s the only one that has heard of a snozzcucumber? The giants are never shown going into London to get ‘beans’ as they call it so what do they eat? What do they do all day? It’s like they exist just to bother BFG. They literally sleep right outside his house. Isn’t that odd? They seem horrified when a rainstorm comes in the film but they live outside. Surely they would be used to rain? I don’t remember in the book, but I thought they went and did things in the city. Why is BFG the only one who collects dreams? Who gave him that job? Who told him how to do it? Are there other giants doing it in other cities and towns? You get the idea. There are lots of questions
The production design is wonderful throughout. I loved the jars of dreams and when BFG and Sophie dive into the dream world it looked magical. This will probably sound like an unflattering comparison but the way the dreams looked kind of reminded me of the fairies in The Black Cauldron. I also liked the labels on all the dreams like ‘I is naked at my wedding’. That was very creative. The motion capture on Mark Rylance as BFG was also excellent. It felt like a real character that actually looked that way- not the pasty look in early motion capture films like Monster House and Polar Express.
Spielberg does make an odd choice that I don’t really understand in the narrative. They add a backstory to BFG that is not in the book. In this version BFG had a previous boy that he raised who wore a red jacket. Sophie gets taken to his little room still full of drawings and things. The boy even taught BFG how to read and write. But he was eaten by the Giants. I don’t see what this adds to the story? I don’t know if this was supposed to create tension but it felt unnecessary to me. Sophie is already threatened by Giants. We don’t need them to be more threatening. Is it supposed to make BFG more sympathetic and wounded? I guess but that never really pays off. It kind of ends up feeling awkward more than poignant.
There is some nice humor particularly towards the end which I enjoyed. The scenes where they are preparing breakfast for BFG was a lot of fun. However, it does seem like a little too late.
A film that did this story a lot better was last year’s Paddington. It’s about a creature coming to London and meeting ordinary people, with a baddie out to get him. But Paddington is so much sweeter, funnier and has much more story to keep it going. And Paddington’s visuals are equally strong as in the BFG.
One thing Paddington did not have is a score from John Williams. Honestly I think The BFG is one of the best we’ve heard from Williams in a long time. I loved it!
So in the end The BFG is a mixed bag. Great production values, performances, music, with its heart in the right place. It’s not a bad watch it just could have been great and it’s not. The writing isn’t strong enough for how little plot there is, and I was left asking a lot of questions about the giants and the world presented. If the dialogue had grasped me enough I would not have cared about such questions.
I’m bummed because if this had been better it could have been a real catalyst for new stories instead of remakes for Disney. Oh well. On to Pete’s Dragon, which I don’t care what others say I’m excited for. Ha
I don’t know what grade to give this one because it’s not like I was miserable. It’s passable. I guess I will give it:
Overall Grade- C+