Movies have an uncanny ability to transport you to another time.
Steven Spielberg, irrefutably one of the greatest living directors, has created this feeling in film masterfully over the years. Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, the first Indiana Jones — they’re a few of many classics that thrive off of Spielberg’s directorial magic, absorbing audiences into timeless worlds.
Unfortunately, he’s been in somewhat of a creative rut for the last decade or so. Some say that 2005’s War of the Worlds was his last truly great movie, but I’m of the opinion that his brand of magic started to fade around 2002 after Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. His works since then range from middling to fairly good in quality (just ignore the horrendous disaster of the fourth Indiana Jones).
The BFG doesn’t rekindle that old Spielberg fire, but it succeeds in a different way: by channeling the magic of Roald Dahl, the illustrious children’s author who wrote the movie’s source material. While watching it, I was transported back to early elementary school, curled up in a reading nook and lost in the pages of Dahl’s world of giants and friendship.
Spielberg’s movie is one of the most faithful adaptions of a novel that I’ve seen. Other than a few minor plot changes, it’s a page for page transfer onto the screen. The BFG’s strengths and weaknesses both stem from how immaculately it captures the spirit of Roald Dahl’s story.
The original kids’ book is whimsical, sweet, and comedic: Spielberg’s adaption is all of those things. It follows Sophie, a young orphan girl with few friends and a lonely life. Late
one night, she notices a giant sneaking around the streets of London (quietly, not causing a panic). The giant, upon being discovered, whisks Sophie off to giant country so she will never tell the public about the existence of giants.
It turns out that the giant who kidnapped her is the only friendly one of his species. He spends his time catching dreams so he can deliver them to sleeping children with good hearts. All the other giants prefer to stomp into London to kidnap and eat orphans, are much larger and bulkier, and have names like Fleshlumpeater (a character that Jemaine Clement relishes with villainous glee). Sophie befriends and works with The Big Friendly Giant while hiding from all his brethren.
The BGF has a charming tonal consistency that honors the source material. It’s fun and fanciful throughout, crafting a tale about the mutual benefits of friendship that’s rather overt in its simplicity but never overly saccharine. The tone is perfect for kids and perfectly nostalgic for any adults that grew up with Dahl’s poetic sentiment. For adults unfamiliar with his work — like the friend I saw it with — it might be a bit too childish.
The BFG’s dedication to the book becomes a problem in the pacing department. The first half of the film feels rushed, as scenes that were full of description in the book — largely consisting of Sophie adventuring around giant country — fly by visually. Right when you think you need more, the second half slows down considerably, as Spielberg’s artificial inflation of dialogue-heavy scenes drags it to downright boring.
No matter the movie’s uneven pacing, the colorful visual effects and Mark Rylance’s giddy performance keep The BFG’s tone alive. Rylance delivers the giant’s signature nonsense dialogue with delight and emotes deeply during serious moments. Ruby Barnhill
stands tall on her own as a child actress, but Rylance’s understanding of the material is practically Shakespearean.
If anything hearkens back to Spielberg’s glory days it’s John Williams’ score. It’s affectingly grandiose and personal, complementing the movie’s events with verve. The BFG as a whole strives for such heights, but falls short of true greatness — though a little Dahl joy may be all you need.
★★★½ (3.5 out of 5)