The BFG comes to us courtesy of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Disney. The film is every bit as full of whimsy that a pairing between these two would suggest. Based on the novel by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), the film follows a 10-year-old orphan named Sophie, who gets kidnapped by an otherwise Big and Friendly Giant, and finds herself with problems altogether unfamiliar to those from her previous life.
Let’s focus on the good first. The acting in this movie is delightful. Ruby Barnhill, whose name somehow implies a diamond in the rough, is a delight as young Sophie. She’s the culmination of everything charming we’ve gotten from a child performance in a Spielberg film, without those shrill bits that remind us what kids are really like. Sophie is the perfect role model for a child – she’s intelligent, brave, and kind. Her mind is open to the wonders of the world, without the naivety that usually accompanies that trait. Her relationship with The BFG never seems trite because she makes him earn her trust.
Played by Mark Rylance, The BFG is delightful in his own way. He’s simultaneously clumsy and graceful, timid and proud, reclusive and adventurous. Mostly, he’s a beautiful example of a loving individual coming out of an unloving culture. He’s power with responsibility, a superhero who uses his powers to give people good dreams, rather than eat Englishmen. The supporting cast is amusing as well, with Jemaine Clement as the particularly dickish giant, Fleshlumpeater, and Penelope Wilton as the always unfazed Queen of England.
And then there’s Steven Spielberg. This movie is painfully well-directed. I say “painfully” because Spielberg effortlessly injects wonder, beauty, and meaning into every frame in ways that puts most other films to shame. Just compare Jurassic Park to Jurassic World for an example. They have nearly the same subject matter, but Spielberg’s dinosaurs demand awe, whereas Trevorrow’s seem content to just have the camera pointed at them. Spielberg must just live and breathe this stuff without knowing he’s doing it because he supports Trevorrow as if a belief in magic is all it takes to instill that feeling in others.
After all that, I’m sad to say, I can’t really recommend The BFG. At 117 minutes, the movie feels 30-45 minutes overlong. It’s not quite the slog that we got with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy or King Kong, but its meandering plot is reminiscent of his Spielberg collaboration on The Adventures of Tintin. Despite a lot of conversing and special effects, not much really happens in The BFG. It’s like E.T., but if that movie had a third of its cast, and E.T.’s alien nature was treated like a novelty rather than the whole point of the movie.
And then there are the special effects, which are, quite frankly, overused. The BFG and his brethren are pretty and expressive, but too cartoony to ever pose a serious concerning threat. Sapping all tension from an already overlong film might make it less frightening for very small children, but it’s a death sentence for the film’s effect on a mature audience. In the past, Spielberg has used blends of practical and computer effects marvelously, so it’s particularly disappointing to see him fall into the trap of creating increasingly non-tactile films.
The BFG is fine. A skilled editor could probably cut a legitimately good movie from its footage. You could do worse for your summer movie buck, but you could also do a lot better. Spielberg creates an astutely theatrical experience, but you’ll likely want to just stream this off Netflix for family night with the kids.
3D Recommendation – If you have the option, see this movie in 3D. Beautiful imagery and scale are two of the things the movie does best, and the stereography only improves that experience.