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The BFG – Movie Review

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The BFG – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Around the turn of the current millennium, Steven Spielberg was the top contender to direct the first Harry Potter film. Although he turned that down, some glimpses of what that pairing of director and source material might have entailed appear in The BFG. Upon tackling Roald Dahl’s story of the titular Big Friendly Giant befriending a young orphan girl, Spielberg has been smart to keep the British wit and imagination intact. Despite the size of its central figure, this is a small film in many respects, which adds a lot to its charm and whimsy. As driven by the chemistry between Sophie and the BFG, this is yet another example of Spielberg knowing how to tell childhood stories.

From the first shots of Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography giving London a glowing appearance, it’s already obvious the sort of Spielberg we’re going to be treated to. This is the Spielberg of E.T. and Hook and that magic is consistent all through The BFG. With the swooping camera and Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg’s production design aiding him, he takes us to Giant Country and turns it into a believable world one would want to explore. This BFG is a grandfatherly type with grand intentions and a respect for children. In a way, he mirrors both Dahl and Spielberg’s view that the young are the ones who find light out of the world’s darkness. Mark Rylance’s gentle performance comes through in the motion-capture marvelously. With both The BFG and The Adventures of Tintin, Spielberg has proven the most understanding of how to utilise the technology.

Making her feature film debut, Ruby Barnhill gives an exceptional performance, providing Sophie with a confidence and a curiousity. She helps make the growing friendship between her and the BFG believable. Steven Spielberg has always had a knack for finding promising child actors and Barnhill is his latest discovery sure to have a lengthy career. The later scenes she shares with the Queen, played with royal delight by Penelope Wilton, are some of the funnier and wittier scenes Spielberg has directed in his career. They are also an example of Spielberg and late screenwriter Melissa Mathison not tampering with the material. Most Dahl adaptations, even the better ones, tend to Americanize his stories and The BFG prefers to celebrate its British heritage rather than try and modify it for an international audience.

There are portions of The BFG that feel a little slow, but nonetheless work as character moments necessary in developing the story. The bigger giants are fairly standard evil villains, but that’s merely continuing their characterization in the book. Them wrecking the BFG’s home leads to one of the film’s highlights, featuring an unbroken shot as Sophie finds clever ways to hide from the child eaters. It’s those scenes of whimsy that show Spielberg’s incredible hand at directing these sorts of tales. He also does a remarkable job with atmosphere and contrasting the streets of London with Giant Country. The decision to keep the setting in the 1980s is smart, as it presents a timeless feel and shows him truly returning to the Amblin films so cherished by many of a certain generation. John Williams’s score ends up being the most derivative element of The BFG, as he appears to pluck cues directly from his previous work in Harry Potter and Hook.

It’s remarkable it has taken this long for Steven Spielberg to direct either a Roald Dahl adaptation or a film under the Walt Disney banner. These three imaginative forces coming together give you precisely the sort of magical and charming adventure one would expect. Spielberg is a master of his craft, able to bounce between genres and audiences and create something special almost every time. He knows how to absorb the viewer into a time and a place and The BFG is filled with wonder and heart. The film also works as a fitting book end to Melissa Mathison’s career, with both The BFG and E.T. being characters who manage to tap into a child’s life and improve it with their very presence. The BFG is a worthy family film that does not deserve to be lost in the summer sweepstakes.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison