FILM REVIEW: THE BFG
BY SCOTT PETERSON
You have to admit that on paper, the idea of combining one of the greatest directors of all time in Steven Spielberg with the Walt Disney brand must have had studio executives at the House of Mouse envisioning fields of green (dollars). Throw in Roald Dahl’s classic children book about a big, friendly giant and have long time Spielberg collaborator Melissa Mathison (E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial) write the screenplay and you quickly have the recipe of a can’t miss Summer blockbuster guaranteed to entertain the masses all while making Disney just enough money to finally finish that room add-on renovation that Cinderella’s castle so desperately needs. Yes, on paper we had all the ingredients for all players involved,including the audience, to go home humming When You Wish Upon A Star and living Happily Ever After. What we have instead is an uneven film that looks spectacular but has an emotionally hollow core. The BFG is a Bentley with a Honda engine. It isn’t that the film is a complete failure, because The BFG is far from it. I essentially walked out of the movie with only two feelings. The BFG feels like a tremendous missed opportunity and more importantly, to me The BFG didn’t feel like a Steven Spielberg movie.
Set in Great Britain in the 1980’s, The BFG starts off strong as we meet an adorable, orphan insomniac named Sophie (a terrific Ruby Barnhill). Sophie spends her late nights/early mornings wandering around her dark and sterile looking orphanage. Sophie hears a clunking noise outside and breaks one of her rules by going to the window to have a look. Never go to the window. What starts off as a few alley cats knocking over a garbage can, quickly turns into the gigantic hand of someone or something hiding in the shadows. Sophie’s jaw drops as she sees the giant hand pick up the knocked over garbage can all while having enough courtesy to replace the lid. Terrified, Sophie scurries to her bed and hides under the covers. The giant, feeling outed, plucks Sophie from her bed and bolts through Great Britain, up a mountain, and into Giant Country.
It is here we are formerly introduced to The BFG (Mark Rylance) which stands for big, friendly giant. The BFG is a gigantic presence to Sophie with his huge ears and ear to ear grin, but in Giant Country, The BFG is actually a runt and luckily for Sophie, he is a vegetarian runt. He is constantly bullied by nine other giants led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). Unfortunately for Sophie, the nine other giants are cannibals and can smell her a mile away. The BFG and Sophie both bond fairly quickly as the big, friendly giant goes out of his way to try and protect Sophie from the horrors of Giant Country, while Sophie teaches The BFG to defend himself. The BFG also lets Sophie tag along while working his day job which consists of catching and bottling up other people’s dreams which he calls “Fizzwizards”.
Some of the best scenes in The BFG take place between the nine bumbling giants trying to catch Sophie for dinner and The BFG’s attempts to keep her concealed. There are some incredibly impressive visuals on display here as Spielberg really emphasizes the size differential between not only Sophie and The BFG, but also The BFG and the nine other giants. Another somewhat amusing and redeeming quality in The BFG is the giant’s interesting twist on the human vernacular. He calls human beings “human beans”, and a word like cannibals comes out sounding like “can-knee-bulls”. The rest of The BFG focuses on the giant’s trip to Great Britain to get the Queen’s help and a couple of flatulent dogs.
The kids at my particular screening of The BFG absolutely LOVED the film. The theater was drowned out by giddy giggling and laughter, so in that regard, I guess Disney and Spielberg succeeded in what they set out to accomplish. My problem is that all the people involved in the making of this film know how to make great movies suitable for ALL ages. Look at Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and most recently Finding Dory. These are all immensely entertaining movies that will all most certainly land on my end of the year best list. So, when it comes to entertainment the whole family can enjoy, the game has certainly been raised. The BFG is simply void of any of the magic that has become synonymous with the name Steven Spielberg. There isn’t one scene or moment that is particularly memorable or stands out from the rest. I spent most of The BFG’s almost two hour run time tediously looking at my watch. When was the last time a Steven Spielberg film was met with a resounding shoulder shrug?