BFG3

Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, The BFG has been in motion picture development for over twenty five years. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that iconic director Steven Spielberg finally was able to take the story to the big screen.

Reuniting with E.T. writer Melissa Mathison, Spielberg looked to give the story of a big friendly giant the movie treatment it deserved. While faithful to the source material, the final product feels a little short on emotion and narrative. With some expertly crafted sequences and effects, The BFG ultimately still feels a bit lifeless.

The movie’s faithfulness to the book allows the simplicity of the story to rarely be altered. An orphan girl named Sophie discovers a giant wondering the streets of London which results in him taking her to his homeland called Giant Country. In this vast green landscape, live dumb horrendous giants that love nothing more than to eat humans. Luckily, Sophie was taken by the big friendly giant (the BFG) who collects dreams in Giant Country and distributes them to people all over the world. The movie progresses on mini adventures as Sophie and the BFG capture dreams and attempt to defeat the evil human gobbling giants.

The movie is a technical achievement in every aspect. The special effect, cinematography, sets, costumes, and sounds are all stand out feats accomplished by an obviously talented team. Spielberg has orchestrated a beautiful looking movie with stunning state of the art visuals. The character design of the Big Friendly Giant himself are eerily photorealistic with weight and details in the design. The colorful, yet, grounded fantasy world Spielberg has created is one that is tailor made for the big screen. John Williams’ score also gives the movie his classic whimsy sounds not too unfamiliar to the Harry Potter franchise.

While The BFG succeeds above and beyond in the technical world, the movie can’t seem to get off the ground in its narrative. This is mostly due to our lead character’s drive. Sophie doesn’t have an urge or motivation to go on this journey. She is literally plucked from her bed and wanders to Giant Country without much to do other than tag along with the BFG. Most of the sequences are beautifully filmed but they don’t amount to anything. One moment the duo are catching dreams, the next they are distributing them, then they are having an elaborate breakfast, and so forth. There are great moments but they just linger in the midst of a wondering plot.

After winning the Oscar for Spielberg’s previous movie, Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance returns in the titular role in a motion capture performance that gives the BFG real life. Rylance produces such a natural warmth with his soft spoken and gentle tone that the BFG, with all of his wacky features and gibberish, is never silly. Some of the BFG’s dialog is a bit hard to understand given his reserved voice mixed with Roald Dahl’s “giant talk” which is mostly semi-gibberish words. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays the precocious Sophie and fairs well with a veteran like Rylance. It’s a fairly small cast but it’s Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton as the Queen of England who really gives this movie some life when she appears. She gives the movie a much needed jolt when it starts losing steam.

It’s hard to discredit The BFG because it gets so much right. It’s an admirable movie but never engaging. It’s hard to tell what audience this movie is marketed toward. The pacing and tone are a bit slow and dark for kids yet the story never fully develops to captivate adults. The emotional marks are also a miss. You know it wants you to feel something but it never earns it. Spielberg is usually an expert in giving even the most sappiest moments some weight be he misses the mark here. At least he never dumbs it down for kids and you need to credit the movie for that (save for a fart sequence that actually gets some great laughs). The BFG is a very well crafted piece of movie making, there is just a disconnection between the audience and what’s happening on the screen.