Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton
One night, young orphan Sophie (Barnhill) catches a glimpse of a giant (Rylance) walking the streets of London, and so to prevent her from telling anyone, he whisks her away to Giant Country. Sophie soon discovers that he has previously been referred to as the Big Friendly Giant due his soft and friendly nature, however Sophie soon also learns that the other residents of Giant Country are not so friendly.
It was of course only a matter of time before Roald Dahl’s book was made into a massive CGI-fest, but of all the directors, the legendary Steven Spielberg would surely be the one to bring it to life with his usual touch of magic. Well, sadly, as visually stunning as Spielberg’s version of The BFG may be, it is very much lacking in any real cinematic magic or indeed emotional involvement due to the fact that it has a particularly weak story.
I can see that the actual story of this film has caused great debate, as this film apparently very much sticks to the story of the book (I personally have not read the book so must assume this to be correct). Well, many have argued that as the film closely sticks to the story of the original book it is therefore unfair to criticise the film for having a weak storyline. This is a preposterous argument as many books are adapted to screenplays for films (‘adapted’ being the key word) and the screenwriters who adapt the book are therefore in charge of what to omit and include in the screenplay as they decide what will make a good film, which (as anyone with half a brain will understand) is a completely different medium to that of the page.
So, no matter how close the narrative of a film is to that of the book it is based on, if it does not work as a film that is the fault of those who adapted it to this medium. This is sadly very much the case with The BFG, as visually stunning as the film may well be (considering its budget this should be expected anyway), it just has a really weak story that is impossible to wholly engage with. There is certainly potential in the story and there are some individually emotionally involving moments, but as a whole there is not only an apparent lack of actual danger, but more crucially there are far too many lazy narrative conveniences and the moments that have could have enhanced the overall drama just feel rushed and deeply unsatisfying.
From an aesthetic point of view, The BFG is beautifully designed, in terms of both the design of the actual BFG himself and Giant Country. The motion capture design of the BFG is beautifully detailed and is brought even further to life by Mark Rylance’s wonderful vocal performance. He captures perfectly the child-like naivety and impeccable good nature of the character to make him a deeply engaging character worth caring about.
As Sophie, Ruby Barnhill is also excellent and gives us a character to engage with, as she demonstrates a good balance between braveness and naivety, as it is her actions that drive the narrative, and these actions do generally feel justified. The depcition of the other giants akso does not work very well, as they are just not as scary as they should be due to the overall tone of the film.
However, these great elements of the film do feel slightly wasted, as the overall narrative just well and truly fails to utilise its potential. The whole structure of Melissa Mathison’s script just feels uneven, with some scenes going on for two long, while others feel particularly rushed. There was also a great initial platform to explore some emotive and relatable themes such as being the outsider and underestimated by everyone around you, or having dreams and ambitions, but the film just fails to go far enough to truly be as emotionally engaging or satisfying as it should be. While the final third is a total anti-climax.
This is of course a children’s film, but children’s films too can have a great story that has a good balance of fun, action and emotional drama. The BFG certainly has some of all three elements, but just nowhere near enough to make it any more than an average and sadly, rather forgettable film.
Unfortunately, Spielberg feels like he is on autopilot for his latest family fantasy film; The BFG is certainly watchable enough, but the weak storyline means it lacks any real magic or true engagement.